Possession and Prospect
by JOSEPH IRONS
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Sunday Morning, January 25th 1852
THIS the apostle calls the mystery of grace. Nay more, "the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles;" plainly intimating that there is something secret, something unknown to the world, and something which the carnal mind cannot discern, something which dead men cannot understand in real Christianity. And then the apostle states, in positive terms, what this mystery is. It is "Christ in you" not merely around you, not merely in your worship, it may be there, but not "in you." Real Christianity is "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
Now when this portion of Holy Writ dropped upon my spirit in sleepless
hours, and in indescribable anguish of body, I thought a little after this
manner: "Why it is just thirty-four years gone by this very week since
I opened my commission for God in Camberwell, in Camden Chapel, on this
very subject;" and, though this was not the text, it came to the same
point. The text, as some of you will recollect, on the 21st of January,
1818, was, "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, the
first and the last." Now I take you to record this day, that "Christ
in you," Christ the sum and substance of the gospel, Christ, the salvation
of His Church, and her covenant Head, has been perpetually my subject these
thirty-four years; and if I live so many more days, I hope to maintain it
to the end; but I have no idea of being detained much longer. Well, then,
I went on in my meditations (I cannot help telling you how these ruminating
thoughts will roll over one): When I came to Camberwell, thirty-four years
ago, I had a tolerable phalanx of the same dynasty about me. There were
the Stodharts, and the Heaps, and the Reeces, and the Bailies, and Denhams
here, who, you know, have gone home lately, and there were many more of
this description. Where are they gone? I trust they are all gone home to
glory. I venerate the names of every one of them. But who will God raise
up instead of them? I can find plenty of silly boys, that have learned to
be divines by a little Latin and Greek, and a little store of Popish Arminian
divinity along with it. There are scores and hundreds of them, you may have
a dozen a piece for each town and village in the kingdom if you want them.
But, I ask, where will you find the Heaps, and the Stodharts, and the Reeces,
and the Bailies, and the Denhams, as I have named them? Where are we to
find such a man (though without pretensions to any great attainments in
education), for faithfulness
And now I will invite your attention, as far as I am able, to the language which I have read, as the basis of our discourse. There seems to be two things contained in it, and they may be given forth in two words, possession and prospect. The possession is, "Christ in you" what the man of God has in Him he has in possession; the opening prospect is glory "the hope of glory."
I. Let us a little closely examine this sacred secret, which the apostle calls the glorious mystery which is to be made known to the Gentiles "Christ in you."
Now no man shall outrun me in the value I set upon an orthodox creed, upon Bible truth, as such, in theory. If we are wrong in that, we are not very likely to be right anywhere. But I know there is such a thing, and there may be such a thing, as being quite correct in theory, and fatally, eternally wrong in the state and standing before God; therefore I want to bring matters to a close investigation. I should not think it worth while to waste my time by asking you who you generally hear, or where you generally go, whether you are an Episcopalian, or a Nonconformist, or any of these (I was going to call them) paltry questions, for such they are compared with the great realities; but I should simply like to ask, whether you are become an habitation of God through the Spirit; whether you are really inhabited by Deity, that is the great secret. If you search the word of God, beloved, you will find that this grand secret relates to each Person of the glorious Trinity, as well as to Christ Himself; for the Father saith, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." (2 Cor. 6:16) The language of my text turns upon the second Person of the glorious Trinity. It is "Christ in you." Not merely about you, nor among you, though some have been silly enough to put that in the margin, but that will not do. Well, you know the Holy Ghost makes every elect vessel of mercy a temple for Himself to dwell in; and He not only inspires, but He sanctifies, and purifies, and cleanses, and furnishes the temple, for His own occupation, for time and for eternity. Now that is Christianity. I give the Churchman all he wishes as to his rites and ceremonies, I shall not quarrel with him about them; if he likes to have his steeple twenty feet higher than it is, if he will build it at his own cost, I have no objection; if he likes as many more bells, I have no objection to them, provided he will not ring them to disturb my sleep, for that is a nuisance. I will let him have his way in all these matters, but if he will come to the question seriously, and I ask him, What will you do when you come to die? How will you cross over Jordan? What will be your state, and position, and condition, when you enter into the presence of the heart-searching God as your Judge? Then, you know, he begins to talk to me about his rites and ceremonies, and I say to him, "You great fool, they would sink you into the bottomless pit if you had nothing else;" and I leave him with a faithful warning. But, if he will come to the point, I will tell him that my Christianity amounts to nothing less than Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost inhabiting my soul, making it "a habitation of God through the Spirit."
Now, see what a manifest change is wrought where this takes place. The heart of man is compared to, and spoken of, as a habitation of dragons, as a cage of unclean birds, as a haunt of every unclean thing; nay, some are represented as being inhabited by seven devils, and another by a legion of devils. What! beings such as these to be rescued, and so delivered, as so brought out, as to be "a habitation of God through the Spirit!" That is a marvellous change, that is what mighty grace effects. It is that which the powers of darkness dislike, it is a change "from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God;" (Acts 26:18) a change from depravity and uncleanness, to holiness. This is the language of the word of God, and this mighty and marvellous change is never effected by any external efforts; it is only by the power of the Spirit of God dwelling within.
Now look, just for a moment, at the privileges which this introduces (for I feel I have not strength to illustrate). I can only just name these things and pass on. Look, I entreat you, at the privileges which it opens to us. Chosen by paternal love, redeemed with precious blood, and made partakers of life Divine, and put in possession of all that belongs to heirs and joint-heirs "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ." (Rom. 8:17) Look, I pray you, at what it is to take such standing as this in the exercise of living faith, and see all the purposes of God enacted in my favour, all the promises of God, "yea and amen," certain to be fulfilled for the purpose of supplying my necessities, as long as I travel on in this wilderness, all the privileges of the household of God, particularly those which relate to adoption, introducing the soul into participation of them, so as to come to Jehovah's throne with "Doubtless, thou art my Father, though Abraham be ignorant of me, and Israel acknowledge me not." And if we look for a moment at the sanctification, the purification, the supply of grace, the food for all the family of God, the defence amidst all their enemies, the certainty of being made conquerors, and more than conquerors, what shall we say of the privileges of the man in whom Christ dwells? "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
And what shall I say of the orthodoxy which it teaches? Now I do think there is such a doctrine in all the word of God but which may be viewed in connection with this grand secret of my text; nor is there a doctrine which must be received and appropriated by you or me, but in connection with the language of my text. I take it to myself after this manner: If Christ dwells in my heart, I am rooted and grounded in Him, and He becomes the life of my soul. Then, as St. Paul has it, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." That is a plain, straightforward statement. Then it must follow that the amazing love, electing love, sovereign love of God my Father, decreed that it should be so, and gave me to Christ and Christ to me, in order that it should be so. Then it must follow, that my justification is as secure as the throne of God, and the life of Christ, for if He dwells in me, and is my life, I stand accepted and complete in the Beloved. Moreover, if I view for a moment the vast importance of sanctification, I discover it concentrated in Christ, and that He is my wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification too, and I only appropriate it, and know it, as faith is in exercise, because His obedience, and His holiness, and His perfect work are mine.
Well, then, if I look at "the fruits of righteousness," which are said to be "by Jesus Christ," I must wait till I hear the voice of my Beloved saying, "In me is thy fruit found;" and we have no fruitfulness but in union with Christ. "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth must fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast off as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."
Let me just go on. I can only name these things, but I hope the Lord will put a blessing on the few hints which I am attempting to drop. There is one thing more in this part of the subject that I would just invite your attention to. I mean, the relationship. That word relationship is worth a thousand worlds. To know that God is my Father, and that I am His child, that Jesus is my Bridegroom and Husband, and that I am wedded to Him, that the Holy Ghost is my Comforter and Teacher, and indwelling Witness, and the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost recognize me as a member of the household of faith, and are training me up for everlasting joy, that is something worth knowing. What is life worth? What is there at all revolting in departing hours, if this relationship be well sustained? To be brought home! Here at school, there in my Father's house; here, sometimes in a dark room, there, in the full blaze of celestial light; here obliged to buckle on my armour, and to be engaged in hot conflict, there putting on the crown, and to have done with the conflict for ever. Oh, my soul seems to look out for this with sacred delight and holy anticipation. I cannot, while it is upon my mind, help saying, that when I heard that the good man Moody had gone home to glory, "Really it does seem hard that I should be detained upon earth amidst all my afflictions." I hope God will forgive me this, but I cannot help it.
II. Just pass on to mark the second thing we proposed in the text "the hope of glory." We may sometimes cry out, as in one of our hymns,
"Who can tell what glory is?"
"The hope of glory." Here, beloved, we stand upon different grounds from the world. The worldling can have no hope beyond the grave. He may hope to increase his riches, save a fortune, retire to a country residence, and so, as he thinks, get rid of care; but what is his hope beyond the grave? What is his hope for eternity? Dear Gunn used to say, and he put it down once upon paper, "What is before the worldling when he closes his eyes upon the world?" He put it down in two words. "Annihilation or damnation." I confess I was amazingly struck with the expression when I first met with it. What is before the worldling? What hope has he to look beyond things terrene? He answers, "Annihilation or damnation." He then adds, "The first is an impossibility; the latter an inevitable consequence." I do not wander that the apostle should say, "If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable." Our hope goes beyond; it is "the hope of glory." And what is that? I do not know that I can attempt any explanation beyond what my Lord and Master has given. He says, "He that overcometh, shall sit down with me upon my throne" what a throne! "even as I have overcome, and am set down with my Father upon His throne." Well, then, the hope set before us in the gospel is nothing less than being enthroned with Christ, sitting down with Christ. I have heard of some proud worms glorying in the thought, when they get to certain dignities, of what they term "enthronization." That is Popery, though some mock Protestants will assume it. I look down upon it with contempt. I would not accept of their enthronization; but I am waiting for mine; and when the hour comes to put an end to the struggles of this poor sinking frame, I shall enter into glory, endless rest, dignity, and honour, likeness to Christ, the very life of Christ in the soul consummated, and all its powers put forth, to be engaged affectionately and intimately with Him for ever and ever. I was going to say, night and day; but no, no, there will be no night there.
When I look at the expression, "glory," "the hope of glory," I try to draw something like an illustration from mortals. A rich man glories in his riches; a mighty man glories in his might; a wise man glories in his wisdom, paltry things, after all, to glory in are these; they last but a little while. But he that can glory in this, saith Jehovah, "He knoweth that I am the Lord, which worketh righteousness and judgment." He has got something to glory in. If I cast an eye, as I am enabled sometimes to do, within the veil, I ask what glory can consist of for me? A cloudless sky, a spaceless expanse, a serenity of calm never to be disturbed, joy unspeakable, a full reward of Divine merits bestowed upon a poor worm; the highest hopes that have ever been cherished more than realized, and the whole extent of Divine promises performed and carried out.
Just go on to glance at the association in the hope of glory. With whom am I to be associated? I have often looked with deep feeling at that prayer of the Psalmist, "Gather not my soul with sinners." It would be hell enough for me to be with sinners, without any judicial punishment. "Gather not my soul with sinners." But the prospect, the happy, the bright anticipation of taking my station within the legion of angels that are ministering spirits, among the multitude that no man can number, redeemed out of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, God's ministers that have gone before, saints that are travelling thither, all redeemed with precious blood, and made capable of enjoying God, the prospect of such an association to me is very delightful. There will not be a word to annoy, not a sentence to offend, not a jarring note in the songs, but one everlasting, harmonious hallelujah to God and the Lamb engage us all. "The hope of glory."
Go on just to mark, that the presence of God will be the most consummate part of the association. It is all very pleasing to anticipate being associated with all the martyrs, and all the patriarchs, and all the prophets, and all the eminent saints that are gone before, I should like the company very much, but still they would be to me like a body with a thousand members and no head, if they were all. Now what I want, and what I anticipate in my hope, is the realization of the presence of Jehovah, Father, Son, and Spirit, dispensing all the bliss, sustaining all the inhabitants, communicating all the glory, and receiving the revenue to His own precious, glorious name. What! will the Father smile at my soul, and say, "That is one of my dear sons; he was an Ephraim once, and as accustomed to backsliding as ever Ephraim was; but he is my dear son, my child, I have taken him home?" What! will the Redeemer look, and say, "There is the purchase of my blood. I well remember the agonies of Gethsemane's garden for him; and now he is given to me to come and sit down with me upon my throne?" I remember, also, that the same Holy Spirit who first brought me to Christ convinced me of my need of Him, and created within me a capacity to enjoy Him, must be there; the very air of heaven must be the breath of the Holy Ghost. Well, then, with such a hope of glory, surely I may come to the same conclusion that the apostle did, and as the poet did, when he wrote,
The Apostle John, from whom the poet has taken it, says, "Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure." It may be taken for granted that the man who does not love the purity of the gospel as much as the principles of the gospel, has no part nor lot in either. Wherever the gospel comes, there is a purifying tendency; therefore the apostle were commissioned to say, when they began their message to the Gentiles, that God "put no difference between them and us, purifying their hearts by faith."
But to pass one. The hope of glory, a permanent residence, a permanent home, a perpetual peace, an everlasting life from which we are to go out no more, ought not such a prospect, beloved, the hope of glory like this, thoroughly to wean us of earth? That is the thing I want; and if no other object is attained by these few hints which I have dropped this morning, if nothing else is accomplished but this, it will be worth my making the effort, if you and I should be hereby weaned from earth, withdrawn from things of time, meeting all the trials, and cares, and sorrows of the wilderness with a holy composure that should characterize a regenerate man, and settling all with, "It will soon be over, and I shall be in glory" that is what I want to bring my mind to.
Now all this is based upon new covenant securities, not left contingent upon human caprice. Here lies the distinction between the course of my ministrations for these thirty-four years among you, and the strain of modern divinity. Contingencies, proposals, overtures, and the like, constitute the divinity of the present day, imported from Rome, and tending to throw England again into the lap of the old harlot; indeed, she is already drunk with her fornications. But the course which I have pursued, and mean to pursue as long as I have breath, is certainties, not contingencies. God's method of saving sinners does not leave Him in doubt as to whether He can or cannot succeed, that would be to undeify Deity, and deify the creature. Now I have always maintained, and mean to maintain in opposition to this Popish divinity, that the hope of glory, being Christ in me, leads me back to ancient settlements of Divine love, and I naturally ask, "How is it?" If Christ be in me, the life of God in me, then I must be in Christ, according to covenant arrangements, and by vital union, then it must follow that paternal love has settled it so. The responsibility of Christ has secured it so, and the invincible operations of the Holy Ghost prove it so.
Then comes the translation. Now that translation our brethren, one after
another, are obtaining and getting possession of, while others are left
on the journey to work a little longer in the vineyard, to fight a little
longer in the campaign. I confess for myself that I look with envy on those
who have so neatly escaped, so nicely slipped out of the dirt-hut, and got
possession of their mansions; and then I read the apostle's statement, "We
know that when this earthly house of our tabernacle shall be dissolved,
we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
I do not wonder that he adds, "For in this we groan; not that we shall
be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of
life." (2 Cor. 5:1-4) There is nothing very very lovely in the unclothing
part of the business; there is nothing very lovely in the benumbed limbs,
the pale visage, the expiring groans; there is nothing very lovely, we admit,
to poor nature, in the unclothing part; but what is it to be "clothed
upon," to be covered with the robe of righteousness and the garments
of salvation, and decked with all the jewels of the Holy Spirit's graces,
and being for ever with the Lord? The prospect is so bright, the securities
are so good, the foretastes are so sweet, that they seem to me to sour everything
on earth, and bring one to Paul's standing, when he said, "I have
a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better."