The Hidden Life Of A Christian - Part I
Adapted from a Sermon By
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3 ESV
Our text this morning is Colossians 3:3, For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
Death and Life are two solemn and important sounding words. They carry such force and weight, as must awaken every thinking soul; and therefore the Spirit of God often uses them as metaphors, to express things that are unseen and spiritual, and to describe the state both of saints and sinners; So that all who are alive on the face of the earth, in the language of Scripture, are said to be dead also, but in different senses. Those who are in a natural state, and under the power of sin, unpardoned and un- sanctified, are dead in trespasses and sins; yet they live the life of brutes in the lusts of the flesh, or the life of devils in the lusts of the mind; Eph. 2:1, 2. Those who are recovered from the fall, and brought into a state of grace by the gospel of Christ, are said to be dead also; that is, they are dead to sin ; Rom. 6:11. and they are crucified, and so dead to the world; Gal. 6:14. The delights of sin are hateful to them, so that they do not entice them to forsake their God; and the lawful enjoyments of life have lost so much of their taste to the saints, in comparison to things of heaven, that they have much less influence, than once they had, to tempt them away from God, and from the practice of holiness.
It is in this sense the Christian Colossians are said to be dead in our text. But they have another, a new life, and that of a different kind ; such as is mentioned in this verse, and which is hid with Christ in God; and it is this hidden life will be the main subject of this sermon .
This closing words of our text give us two plain and easy propositions or doctrines.
I. That the life of a Christian is a hidden life.
II. That it is hid with Christ in God.
Let us meditate on them in order.
God willing we will consider these doctrines in four parts. This morning we will dwell on the first doctrine:
Doctrine I. A Christian's life is a hidden life. —Here we shall, First, Consider what is this life, which is said to be hidden. And, Secondly, In what respects it is so.
First, What is this life of a Christian which is said to be hidden?
Not the animal life, whereby he eats, drinks, sleeps, moves and walks; this is visible enough to all around him. Not the civil life, as he stands in relation to other men in the world, whether as a son, as a father, a master or a servant, a trader, a labourer, or an officer in the state: For all these are public, and seen of men.
But the hidden life is that whereby he is a Christian indeed; his spiritual life, wherein he is devoted to God, and lives to the purposes of heaven and eternity. And this is the same life, which, in other parts of scripture, is called eternal; for the life of grace survives the grave, and goes on into glory. The same life of piety and inward pleasure, which begins on earth, is fulfilled in heaven; and it may be called the spiritual, or the eternal life, according to different respects; for it is the same continued life acting in different situations or places, and running through time and eternity; 1 John 5.11, 12.Eternal life is in the Son, and he that has the Son, has this life; it is begun in him, he is already possessed of it in some degree.
As the life of the child is the same with that of the full-grown man; as the same vital principles and powers run through the several successive stages of infancy, youth and manhood; so the divine life of a saint, begun on earth, runs through this world, through death, and on to when the soul is separated from the body; it appears in full-grown perfection, in the final heaven, when the whole saint will stand complete in glory. Thus the spiritual life of a Christian is eternal life begun; and eternal life is the spiritual life made perfect.
If we would describe this life in short, it may be represented like this: It is a life of faith, holiness and peace; a life of faith, or dependence upon God for all that we want; a life of holiness, giving back again to God, in a way of honour and service, whatsoever we receive from him in a way of mercy; and a life of peace in the comfortable sense of the favour of God, and our acceptance with him through Jesus Christ. All these begin on earth, and in this sense faith itself, as well as peace and holiness, will remain in heaven: we will forever be dependants, forever happy and for ever holy.
In his natural state the man lived such a sinful and carnal life, that it may more properly be called death; but when he becomes a believer, a true Christian, he is created anew; 2 Cor 5.17. new-born; John 3:3. raised from the dead, and awakened to a new life; Eph. 2. 1, 5. which is called being risen with Christ, in the verses right before our text; Col 3.1. And this very same spiritual life, as the effect of our symbolical resurrection with Christ, is the subject of several verses of the 6th chapter to the Romans, which teach the very same thing, that is to say, that the Christian who is dead to sin, is risen with Christ, and alive to God; as Rom 6:11. All the life that he lived before, with all the show and bravery of it, with all the bustle and business, the entertainments and delights of it, was but a mere dream, a delusion, the picture of life, a shadow and emptiness, and but little above the brutes that perish. Now he lives a real, a substantial, a divine life, related to God and angels, and quite of a different nature from what the men of this world live.
There is this difference indeed which the scripture makes between the spiritual life and the eternal. The first has mainly to do with the operations of the soul, for the life of the body is not immortal here: the second includes soul and body too, for both will possess immortality from then on. The first is accompanied with many difficulties and sorrows; the second is all ease and pleasure. The first is represented as the labour and service: the last, as the great, though unmerited, reward; Gal. 5.8. He that sows to the Spirit, and fulfils the duties of the spiritual life, will of the Spirit reap life everlasting. The one is the life of holiness and inward peace, though mingled with many defects, and surrounded with a thousand disadvantages and trials: the other, is the same life of holiness and peace, having surmounted every difficulty, shining and exulting in full joy and glory.
Secondly, We come to consider, in what respect this life may be called a hidden life. And here we will distinguish that part of it, which is more usually called the spiritual life, and is exercised in this world, from that which is more frequently called life eternal, and belongs rather to the world to come: and then we will look into some distinct conclusions from the consideration of each.
Now let us consider in what respects the spiritual life is said to be hidden.
I. The acts and exercises of it are secret and unknown to the public world. The saint is much engaged in the important and hidden concerns of his divine life; and his conversation is with God and Christ, who dwell in the invisible world.
Who knows the secret transactions between God and the soul of a Christian, when he first entered into covenant with God, through Christ the Mediator, and began this happy life? Who can tell the inward workings of his spirit towards Jesus Christ his Lord in the first efforts of his faith, and contemplation of our Saviour? Who was aware of the secret sorrows of his soul, when he was first brought to mourn for his past sins, and humbled himself in bitterness before God? Or who can express the surprising delight, and secret satisfaction he felt at heart, when God communicated to him the first real hope of forgiveness and divine salvation? The unknown joys of such an hour which some Christians have experienced, when a heavenly beam of light shone into their souls, and revealed Jesus Christ within them as the apostle Paul speaks: when they saw his all-sufficiency of righteousness and grace, to answer their infinite needs; and when they finally did believe in him as their Saviour!
And as the beginnings of this life are hidden from the world, so the exercises and progress of it are a secret too. While the world is following after idols and vanity, the Christian, in quiet retreat, breathes after his God and his Redeemer, and nurtures his warmest affections, in the pursuit of his Almighty and beloved Friend. While the men of this world are troubling their spirits, and fretting under present disappointments, he dwells in a lonesome corner, mourning for his sins and follies. And at another time, while the children of vanity grow proud in public, and boast of their large possessions, and inheritances, he rejoices in secret, in the hope of glory, and takes divine delight in the fore-thought of his better inheritance among the saints: his citizenship is in heaven ; Phil. 3. 20.
We could speak of all the exercises of the sanctified affections, and the various parts of the divine worship, and of the conduct of a saint among the children of men. With what humble fear does he entertain the mention of the name of God! With what deep self-abasement, and inward adoration! At the presence of sin how is his anger stirred and his holy watchfulness when temptations appear! how does he labour and wrestle, fight and strive, lest he be overcome by the secret enemies of his soul! And as his bitterness of heart is unknown to the world, so a stranger knows nothing of his joy; Prov. 14. 10. He feeds on the same provision which his Lord Jesus did on earth, for it is his food and his drink to do the will of his Father which is in heaven: This is a feast to the Christian, which the world knows nothing of; John 4. 32, 34.
II. The basis and principles of this life are hidden and unknown to the world; and therefore the world esteems many of the actions of a true Christian very strange and unaccountable things, as we will see afterward, because they see not the basis of them.
The word of God, or the gospel, with all its hidden treasures, is the main instrument, or means, by which this divine life is brought about and supported in the soul. The true Christian sees the purity of God in the precepts; he reads grace, heaven, and glory, in the promises; he sees the words of the Bible in a divine light, and happily feeds on the hidden blessings of Scripture, deriving life, and nourishment, and joy from it; whereas the carnal world sees only the letters and syllables. The gospel, which is all light and glory to a saint, is hidden to them that are lost; 2 Cor. 4. 3. This same gospel is written in the heart of a Christian, and is the principle of his life there. This is immortal and incorruptible, the seed of the Word living in the heart; the image of the eternal God, drawn out in such characters as our nature can bear: For the written Word is a transcript of God's holiness; and when it is infused into all the powers of a believing soul, it becomes a vital principle within him forever. A believer is, as it were, cast in the very mould of the gospel. This is the Word hidden in the heart, that arms the saint against sin; Psal. 119. 11.
The motives and springs that awaken a Christian to keep up, and maintain this spiritual life, are hidden from the eyes of the world; they are eternal and invisible things; 2 Cor. 4. 18. As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen, and eternal; we then count the joys or sorrows of this world, as things of little importance; then we live like Christians, and the life of our Lord Jesus is manifested, or copied out, in our lives; 2 Cor. 4. 10, 11.
The habits of grace and holiness in the hearts of believers, from where all the actions of the spiritual life proceed, are secret and hidden. Who knows how they were brought about at first? how this heavenly breath, this divine life was infused, which changed a dead sinner into a living saint? Our Saviour himself compares this work of the Spirit to the wind; John 3. 8. We hear the sound, we feel and see the effects of it, but we do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. Who can describe those secret and almighty influences of the blessed Spirit on the mind and will of man, which work with such a sovereign, and yet such a gentle, and indwelling influence, that the believer himself hardly knows it, but by the gracious effects of it, and the blessed changes brought about in his soul?
It is this glorious Agent, this Creator, this blessed Spirit, who is the uncreated principle of this life. The Spirit, as proceeding from our Lord Jesus Christ, begun this life at first in the soul: and the same glorious unseen power carries it on through all difficulties and oppositions, and will fulfil it in glory.
It must also be added, that Christ himself, who is said to be our life in the verse following our text, is for now hidden from us; he dwells in the unseen world, and the heavens must receive him until the restitution of all things; Acts 3. 21. Christ Jesus is the bread from heaven; John 6. 32, 33. by which the believer is nourished; he is the hidden manna, the divine food of souls: it is upon him the Christian lives daily and hourly; it is upon the blood of the Lamb, which is carried up to the mercy-seat, that the believer lives for pardon and peace with God: It is upon the righteousness of his Lord and Head, that he lives for his everlasting acceptance before the throne; it is upon the grace and strength of Christ, that he rests and depends all the day, when he is called to encounter the boldest temptations, to fulfil the most difficult duties, or to sustain the heaviest strokes of a painful providence. “Surely,” says the saint, “only in the Lord … are righteousness and strength; Isaiah 45. 24. In the Lord my Saviour, whom the world does not see; but I see him by the eye of faith."
And so, whether we consider the spiritual acts and exercises of this Christian life, or the springs and principles of it, still we will find it has just reason to be called a secret, or a hidden life.
And as we come to a close on this first doctrine, that the life of a Christian is a hidden life, the two following cautions should be observed.
1st Caution. Though it is a hidden life, yet do not fall into the error of thinking that it is such a secret, as to be unknown to yourselves. God has ordained it to be hidden, not that it might always be unknown to you, but that you might search after it with diligence; and that when you find yourselves possessed of it, you might rejoice in the evidences of your life and his love. Do not be satisfied then, you who profess to believe the gospel, until you have searched and found this divine life within you. What a poor life must that Christian live who goes from day to clay, and from year to year, and still complains, I do not know whether I am alive or not!
Labour, therefore, to examine yourself, since God has been pleased in his Word, to supply us with all we need, to know our true state; 1 John 5. 13. I write these things to you, says the apostle, who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. It is a dishonour to the gospel of Christ, to always remain in darkness and doubtings, and to rest contented in such a sad state. We are told in Rev. 2. 17. that those whose life is supported by this hidden manna, also have a white stone given them, with a new name in it, which no man knows, except the one who receives it: that is, they have divine forgiveness and pardon of their sins. And surely, if my own name were written on it, I would be eager to read the inscription myself, though it may be a secret to the rest of mankind; then my God and Saviour will have the honour of his pardoning love, and then my soul will enjoy the consolation.
2nd Caution. Though it is a hidden life in the sacred operations and the springs of it, yet the world ought to see the blessed effects of it. We display the Word of life to men: Phil. 2. 16. Let the world see that we live to God, and that, by the secret power of his Word in the gospel.
The Christian life is no fantastic and visionary matter, that consists in warm imaginations, and pretences to inward light and rapture; it is a real change of heart and practice, from sin to holiness, and a turn of soul from earth toward heaven. It has been dressed up, indeed, like enthusiastic nonsense, by the wise of this world, and made a favorite subject of ridicule and reproach. But secret piety has solid reason and Scripture still on its side, whatever silly scandals have been cast upon it ; there is no cause, therefore, to be ashamed of professing it. There is nothing in all the Christian life, that a man needs to blush at. We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways, foolishness, and uncleanness, when we began to be Christians ; 2 Cor. 4. 2. It is our glory that we are alive to God, and we should be ashamed of nothing that either exercises or maintains this life. None of the duties of worship, none of the practices of godliness, that make religion honourable among men, and make God our Saviour appear glorious in the world, should be neglected by us, whenever we are called to practise or profess them.
The effects of this hidden life should not all be secret, though the springs of it are so; for Christians are commanded to make their light shine before men, that others may glorify their Father who is in heaven; Matt. v. 14, 15. 16. The lights of the world must not place themselves under a bushel, and be contented to shine there useless and alone; we must give honour to God in public. And though we are commanded to practise such secrecy and self-denial in our deeds of charity, as may preserve us from all ostentation and pride, yet we must sometimes make it appear too, that we do good to men, that Christianity may have the glory of it. We must do good as opportunity arises, we must love all men, even our enemies, and show the world that we are Christians, by noble and sublime practices of every virtue and every duty, as far as it is possible, even by the best works, to demonstrate inward religion.