The Scale Of The Blessedness: Or, Blessed Saints, Blessed Savior, And Blessed Trinity.
A continuation of Nearness To God The Felicity Of Creatures.
Adapted from a Sermon By
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! Psalm 65:4 ESV
We come to the third and last part of the sermon by Isaac Watts titled Nearness To God The Felicity Of Creatures.
As a dreadful result of the fall, man was separated from God and therefore separated from all true happiness. And since that time, fallen man has been trying to fill this void, in search of happiness, in the things of this world. But it is all in vain. He runs perpetually from object to object, but finds everlasting disappointment: Shadows, and deceitful hopes, flatter, and tire, and delude him, until, finally, he lies down and despairs in death.
This is the case of all of us by nature; we live away from God, and wilfully blind to our own happiness. But the wonderful and amazing news is that God, in his grace, has chosen and already called many to himself again! He has established the church on earth; he has appointed means for our return, and invites all to approach him.
The Psalmist seems to have been keenly aware of this, when he wrote the words of this song; Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts: From which this doctrine, Nearness to God is the foundation of a creature's happiness, was derived in the first two parts of this sermon.
And when we considered the three main ingredients of true happiness, the reasonableness of the doctrine was highlighted, that is to say, the contemplation of the most wonderful object, to satisfy all our desire after knowledge; the love of the supreme good, to answer the utmost desires of the will; and the sweet and everlasting sensation and assurance of the love of an almighty Friend who bestows upon us all the good which a wise and innocent creature can desire. In this way, all the capacities of man are occupied in their highest and most perfect exercises and enjoyments.
Now it is God alone, the great and ever-blessed God, who can provide us with all these materials of blessedness, who can heal us, and who can so engage and entertain all the powers and appetites of our cleansed and renewed hearts.
Having seen the arguments and proofs supporting this doctrine, we then considered various reflections for our information and help.
And then we considered the several degrees of happiness, that Christians comes into, according to their advancing approaches toward God.
1. The first was the privilege of hearing the gospel, of having the word of God accessible.
2. The second degree of blessedness was reconciliation, the Holy Spirit opening eyes so that the gospel may be truly believed.
3. The third degree of blessedness was what the saints and angels in heaven experience there.
4. And then fourthly we considered the blessedness of Christ in his approach to God, and what joy and comfort this ought to give us.
We come this morning to the fifth, or supreme degree of blessedness.
V. Our admiration may be raised yet higher, if we go beyond all created nature, and lift our thoughts upward to the blessedness of the three glorious Persons in the Trinity. All their infinite and unknown pleasures are derived from their ineffable union and communion in one godhead, their inconceivable nearness to each other in the very centre and spring of all happiness. They are inseparably and intimately one with God; They are eternally one God, and therefore eternally blessed; Nor is their blessedness, or their nearness, a dull inactive state: Knowledge and mutual love make up their heaven, so far as mortals dare conceive of it, and so far as we are allowed to speak of God in the manner of men.
First, we consider the aspect of knowledge.
An eternal blissful contemplation of all the infinite beauties, powers, and properties of the godhead, and of all the operations of these powers in an inconceivable variety among creatures, is the glorious employment of God. His own knowledge of infinite truths, whether wrapt up in his own nature, or unfolded and displayed in his works, is a pleasure befitting the Deity; and each sacred Person possesses this unknown pleasure.
And besides the general glories of the divine nature, we may suppose, that a full and all encompassing knowledge of the sameness, the difference, the special properties, and the mutual relations of the three divine Persons, which are utterly incomprehensible to mortals, and perhaps far above the reach of all created minds, is the incommunicable entertainment of the holy Trinity, and makes a part of their blessedness. In reference to this mystery, God may be said to dwell in thick darkness; 1 Kings 8. 12. or in unapproachable light; 1 Tim. 6. 16. We are lost in this glorious, this divine abyss, and overcome with dazzling confusion: But the ever-blessed Three behold these unities and distinctions in the clearest light. As the Father knows me … I know the Father, saith Jesus the eternal Son; John 10. 15. And as the spirit of a man knows the things of a man, so the things of God are known to his own Spirit, for he searches the depths of God; 1 Cor. 2. 11. as it is expressed in the original.
But God's contemplation, or knowledge of himself, is not his only pleasure, for God is love; 1 John 4. 8. He has an infinite propensity toward himself, and an inconceivable satisfaction in his own powers and perfections, as well as in all the outgoings of them toward created things. His love being most wise and perfect, must exert itself toward the most perfect object, and the chiefest good; and that in a degree answerable to its goodness too: Therefore he can love nothing to the same extent as himself, because he can find no greater good.
May we not therefore suppose the blessedness of the sacred Three to consist also in mutual love? May we call it a perpetual delightful tendency, and active propensity toward each other? An eternal approach to each other with infinite satisfaction? An eternal embrace of each other with arms of incomparable love, and with sensations of immeasurable joy? Thus says the Son of God, under the character of divine Wisdom; Prov. 8. 23, 30. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. Then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always. As the Father loves the Son, so the Son loves the Father. As the Father delights infinitely in his perfect image, so may we not say, the Son takes infinite delight in the glorious archetype, and thus imitates the Father? Will not the expressions of the apostle Paul; Heb. 1. 3. and the words of Christ himself; John 5. 19, 20. encourage and support this manner of speaking? He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature: the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. And this seems to be the first foundation of those glorious offices of raising the dead, and judging the world, which in the following verses are committed to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father; ver. 23.
As the blessed Three have an unknown communion in the godhead, or divine nature, so they must have an unspeakable nearness to one another's persons, an inconceivable in-being and in-dwelling in each other. John 14. 10. I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Each is near to the other two divine persons, and this mutual nearness must be accompanied with delight and joy unknown to all but the blessed Three who enjoy it. What glorious and divine communion! The Father for ever near to his own image, the Son, and in this blessed! The Son never divided from the embraces of the Father, and therefore happy! The Spirit everlastingly near them both, and therefore he is the ever-blessed Spirit! And all these united in one godhead, and therefore infinitely and for ever blessed!
The Father is so intimately near the Son and Spirit, that no finite or created natures or unions can give a just representation of it. We can talk of the union of the sun and its beams, of a tree and its branches: But these are but poor images, and faint shadows of this mystery. The union of the soul and body as an example of the nearness of the Father and the Son is still farther from the point, because the natures of the soul and body are so widely different. In vain do we search through all creation to find a adequate representation of the Creator.
And in vain may we run through all of nature and learning, to find a full resemblance of the mutual love of the blessed Three towards each other. If we should say that the three Persons of the Trinity, by mutual in-dwelling and love, approach each other infinitely in one divine nature, and yet do not lose their distinct personality; it would be but an obscure account of this sublime mystery. But this we are sure of, that for three divine Persons to be so inconceivably near one another in the original and eternal spring of love, goodness, and pleasure, must produce infinite delight.
In order to illustrate the happiness of the sacred Three, may we not suppose something of the interactions necessary for the perfect happiness in all intellectual nature? To know, and be known, to love, and to be beloved, are, perhaps, such essential ingredients of complete happiness, that it cannot subsist without them: And it may be doubted whether such mutual knowledge and love, as seems necessary for this end, can be found in a nature absolutely simple in all respects. May we not then suppose that some distinctions in the divine Being are necessary, in order to complete the blessedness of the godhead?
And if this is true, then the three differences, which we call personal distinctions, in the nature of God, are as absolutely necessary as his blessedness, as his being, or any of his perfections. And then we may return to the words of our text, and boldly infer, that if the man is blessed who is chosen by the free and sovereign grace of God, and caused to approach, or draw near him, what immense and unknown blessedness belongs to each divine Person, to all the sacred Three, who are by nature, and unchangeable necessity, so near, so united, so much one, that the least moment's separation seems to be infinitely impossible, and, then we may venture to say, it is not to be conceived: and the blessedness is conceivable by none but God!
This is a nobler union and a more intense pleasure than the man Christ Jesus knows or feels, or can conceive; for he is a creature. These are glories too divine and dazzling for the weak eye of our understandings, too bright for the eye of angels; and they, and we, must fall down together, alike overwhelmed with them, and alike confounded. We are lost in this ocean of being and blessedness, that has no limit, on either side, no surface, no bottom, no shore. The nearness of the divine Persons to each other, and the unspeakable enjoyment of their unbounded pleasures, are ideas too vast for our bounded minds to grasp. It is one infinite happiness that runs through Father, Son, and Spirit, without beginning, and without end, with boundless variety, yet ever perfect, and ever present without change, and without degree; and all this, because they are so near to one another, and so much one with God.
But when we have exhausted our spirits, and stretched them to the utmost, we have to stand down, and confess the great incomprehensible. How far this sublime current of joy is different in each divine Person; how far their mutual knowledge of each other’s properties, or their mutual delight in each other’s love, is distinct in each divine Person, is a secret too high for our language and our thoughts; it commands our judgment into silence, and our whole souls into wonder and adoration.
And so we have traced the streams of happiness that flow amongst the creatures in endless variety, to their original and eternal fountain, God himself: He is the all-sufficient spring of blessedness, as well as of being, to all the intellectual worlds; and he is everlastingly self-sufficient for his own being and blessedness.
But are we not told in scripture, that God delights in the works of his hands, that he takes pleasure in his saints, that he rejoices in Zion and rests in his love to his church; that Jesus Christ, even as man and Mediator, is the beloved of his soul, in whom he is well-pleased? Yes, surely, this is one way by which he represents his own divine satisfactions in our language, and after the manner of men. But we must not imagine that he ever goes out of himself, and descends to creatures, as though he needed anything from them, who are all before him as nothing, and less than nothing, and vanity. It is from his own wisdom, power, and goodness, as they appear in all his works, that his delight arises; and it is in these glories of his nature, and in the gracious purposes of his will, as they are manifested in his works, that the saints and angels, and all the happy ranks of being find their highest satisfaction. It is in the contemplation of God, and in the exercises and sensations of divine love, that all supreme happiness consists, so far as we are capable of understanding it.
One final reflection ought to be made before we close the subject. It is this: that communion with God, which is impiously ridiculed by the profane thinking of the present age, is no such visionary and fantastic notion as they imagine; but as it is founded in the words of scripture, so it may be easily explained and evidenced to the satisfaction of human reason. That it is founded in scripture, appears sufficiently in several verses of the 17th chapter of John's gospel, where the divine union and blessedness of the Father and the Son, are made a pattern of our union to God, and our blessedness; John 17. 21,22,23,26. That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me; they may be one even as we are one: And in this sense, but in a lower degree, even here on earth, our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ; 1 John 1. 3.
That this doctrine is totally reasonable, can be shown as follows:
We use the word communion, when two or more persons share the same thing. So friends have communion in one table when they dine together: Christians have communion in one sermon, in one prayer, or one sacrament, when they join together in those parts of worship: and the saints have communion with God, in blessedness, when they rejoice in the same object of contemplation and love.
God surveys himself, he is pleased with his own glories, delights in himself as the highest and the noblest object; he trusts in his own right hand of power, he leans upon his own understanding, he rests in his own counsels and purposes, he feels, and he acknowledges all his own infinite perfections, and so he enjoys them all. In the same way also our blessedness is frequently described in scripture. It is our happiness to know God, to contemplate his glories, so far as they are revealed; to love him and his goodness; to trust in his wisdom, and lean securely on his strength; to feel the workings of divine powers and graces in and upon us, and to acknowledge them all to God. In this way the image of God is restored to us in holiness and in happiness: In this way we are said to be holy as God is holy; and in this way also we are blessed as God is blessed.
But though we are admitted to this amazing privilege, and hold communion with God, in the same object of contemplation and love, yet we must still remember, with humble adoration, that his holiness and his happiness, infinitely exceed ours. The pleasures which arise from his knowledge and his love of himself, are as far above our perception, or all our ideas of blessedness, as heaven is higher than the earth, or as God is above the creature.
There is another sense also of this phrase, communion or fellowship with God, which has been used by many godly writers, when they take it to mean the same thing as conversing with God; and this also depends upon our nearness, or approach to him: As when a Christian, in secret, pours out his whole heart before God, and is made to feel his gracious presence, by the sweet influences of instruction, sanctification, or comfort. When man speaks, and God answers, there is a sacred communion between God and man. Isa. 58. 9. You shall call, and the LORD will answer.
This, holy David often enjoyed, and always sought after it. When the soul, in secret, complains of perplexity and darkness, and God is pleased to give some secret hints of direction and advice; when the soul mourns before God, confessing guilt, and the weakness of grace, and some divine promise is impressed upon the mind by the Holy Spirit, when the Christian derives peace of conscience, and strength to fulfil duty, and to resist mighty temptations: These certainly are seasons of converse or communion with God.
So when, in public worship, we address God with our souls in fervent prayer, and while we hear the word of God spoken to us by his ministers, we receive an answer to those prayers in the convincing and sanctifying impressions which the word makes upon the heart; this is also an hour of secret communion. So at the supper of the Lord, when with hope and joy we receive the bread and the wine, as divine seals of the faithfulness of God's covenant, and when we transact those solemn affairs also as seals of our faith and love, and our engagements to be the Lord's; we may properly be said to hold fellowship, or communion with him.
What swift progress of holiness does the saint feel in his heart, and practise in his life, after such seasons of devotion! What glory does he give to religion in a dark and sinful world! What unknown pleasure does he find in such approaches to God! And he moves swiftly onward in his way to heaven, by such daily receipts of mercy, and returns of praise. These are powerful motives that will make him persist in his holy practice and joy, despising all the mockery and ridicule of a profane age of infidels. So the moon holds bright communion with the sun, the sovereign star; so she receives and reflects his beams; she shines gloriously in a dark hemisphere, and moves onward sublime in her heavenly course, regardless of all the barking animals that betray their senseless malice.
This blessed privilege and pleasure of converse with God, which is enjoyed by the saints on earth, is doubtless the pleasure and the privilege of the spirits of the just made perfect, and of angels near the throne, but in a much higher degree: When they address the Majesty of heaven in the forms of celestial worship, and receive immediate and sensible tokens of divine acceptance; or when they take their orders and commissions from the throne for some particular errand, or high employment, and return again to make their humble report there: These are glorious seasons of converse with their Maker.
Much more glorious communion of this kind does the man Christ Jesus enjoy with God, in transacting all the vast and illustrious affairs of his commission; a commission large as the extent of his Father's kingdom, full of majesty and justice, terror and grace; a divine commission to govern, to redeem, and to save, or to punish and destroy millions of mankind, as well as to rule all his unknown dominions in the upper and lower worlds.
But in what manner this communion between the Father and Christ is maintained, we do not know; nor can we guess in what manner, or in what degree such sort of converse or communion as this is practised, or is possible, between the three glorious Persons of the ever-blessed Trinity. These are mysteries wrapt up in sacred darkness, and the exposition of them is surrounded with dangers. A particular knowledge of these divine unsearchables, any farther than scripture has revealed them, is by no means necessary either to begin, or to maintain our state of grace.
And so, let us content ourselves a few years longer with humble ignorance, and we will have brighter discoveries in the future world, if it be necessary there to fulfil our happiness, and to complete our state of glory.