The Hidden Life Of A Christian - Part II
Adapted from a Sermon By
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Col 3:3 ESV
This morning we return to Isaac Watts sermon about the hidden life of a Christian.
In the first part of the sermon we considered the teaching that the life of a Christian is a hidden life and considered what is this life which is said to be hidden and then in what respect it is so.
We now move on to draw some inferences from the hidden nature of the spiritual life.
I. And the first inference would teach you not to rest satisfied with any externals: for they who demonstrate no other acts of life, but what the world sees, are no true Christians.
We eat, we drink, and sleep; that is the life of nature; we buy and sell, we labour and converse; that is the civil life; we trifle, visit, engage in idle talk, flutter, and rove among a hundred unimportant things, without any formed, or settled design what we live for; that is the idle life; and it is the kindest name which may be given to it. We learn our creed, we go to church, we say our prayers, and read chapters or sermons; these are the outward forms of the religious life. And is this all? Have we no daily secret exercises of the soul in retirement and communion with God? No time spent with our own hearts? Are we never busy, in some hidden corner, about the affairs of eternity? Are there no seasons allotted for prayer, for meditation; for reading in secret, and self-examination? Nothing to do with God alone in a whole day altogether? Can this really be a description of the life a Christian?
Consider carefully that there is nothing of all the labours or services, the acts of zeal or devotion, that you can practise in public, but a subtle hypocrite may so nearly imitate the same, that it will be hard to discover the difference. There is nothing of all these outward forms, therefore, that can safely and infallibly distinguish you from a hypocrite and false professor; for the same actions may be the product of vastly different inward motions and principles. If you would obtain any evidence that you are a Christian indeed, you must make it appear to your own conscience by the exercises of the hidden life, and the secret transactions between God and your soul. He was not a Jew of old, who was one outwardly in the letter only; nor is he a Christian, who has mere outward forms; but a Jew or a Christian, in the sight of God, is the one who has religion in his heart, and in spirit, whose praise is not of men, but of God; Rom. 2. 28, 29.
II. The second inference is as follows. The life of a saint is a matter of wonder to the sinful world; because they cannot see what he lives on. The sons of ambition follow after success, grandeur and power; the animals of pleasure pursue all the luxuries of sense; the miser lusts after money, and is ever digging for gold. It is clear enough what these wise men live upon. But the Christian, who lives in the power and glory of the divine life, seeks after none of these, any farther than as duty leads him, and the supports and conveniences of life are needful, in the present state of his living in the flesh. The sinner wonders what it is the saint aims at, while he neglects the tempting idols that himself adores, and despises the gilded vanities of a court, and abhors the guilty scenes of a voluptuous life. Christ and his children are, and will be, signs and wonders to every age they live in. (Isaiah 8. 18. compared with Heb. 2. 13)
The men of this world wonder what a Christian can have to say to God so many times during the day; what strange business can this possibly be; how he can lay out so much time in affairs, which the carnal mind has no notion of. On the other hand, the saint, when he is spiritually well, thinks that all the free time of his day to day life, and that he can find between the necessary duties of his worldly responsibilities, are all little enough to carry out affairs of such awful importance as he has to do with God, and little enough to enjoy those secret pleasures, which the stranger knows nothing of. The children of God pray to their heavenly Father in secret, and they feel unknown refreshment and delight in it; and they are well assured, Father who sees in secret will one day reward them openly; Matt. 6. 6.
It is no wonder, that the profane would look down on true Christians as dull, lifeless people, animals that have neither soul nor spirit in them, because they do not see them run to the same excess in things of the lower life. Sadly! they do not know that the life of a Christian is on high; they do not see it, because it is hidden; and therefore they wonder why we are not busily engaged in the same practices and pursuits as they are; 1 Pet. 4. 4. They think it strange that we do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation. The world sees nothing of our inward labour and strife against flesh and self, our struggle for the prize of glory; they know nothing of our earnest enquiries after an absent God, and a hidden Saviour; and least of all do they know the holy joys, and secret pleasures of a Christian, because these are things which are seldom communicated to others; and therefore the world grows bold to call religion a depressing thing, and the Christian a mere poor follower. But the soul who lives above, who lives within sight of the world of invisibles, can despise the reproach of sinners.
III. Inference. See the reason why Christians do not have their passions so much engaged in things of this life as other men have, because their chief concern is about their better life which is hidden and unseen. They can look upon splendid houses, beautiful clothes, and rich appearances in the world, without envy; they can survey large estates, and see great fortunes gotten in haste by those that resolve to be rich, and yet not indulge in one covetous wish for them; they have a God whom they worship in secret, and trust his blessing to make them sufficiently rich in the way of diligence in their occupations: they hope they will have blessings mingled with their modest means, and no sorrows added to whatever wealth they may have.
They can find themselves exalted by providence to a high status in the world, and not puff themselves up. If they are but watchful to keep their divine life vigorous they will distinguish themselves as Christians, even in the midst of power and riches, and that by a glorious humility. They know that all their advancements on earth are but mean and despicable things, in comparison of their highest hopes, and their promised crown in heaven. They can meet threatening dangers, diseases, and deaths, without those terrors that overwhelm the carnal sinner; for their better life will never die. They can sustain losses, and sink in the world, when it comes by the mere providence of God, without their own culpable folly, and bear it with a humble resignation of spirit, and with much inward serenity and peace; for the things which they have lost were not their life; all these were visible, but their life is hidden; Col. 3. 3. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound; I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need; I can do all these things through Christ strengthening me: Christ, who is the principle of my inward life. Would that the Christians of our day had more of this sublime conduct, more of these noble evidences of the life of Christianity.
IV. Inference. How vain and needless a thing is it for a Christian to try to be popular, and to try to be something in this world. How vain is it for him to be impatient to appear and shine among men, since he has honours and treasures, joys and glories, that are incomparably greater, and yet a secret to the world. A Christian's true life is hidden, and he should not be too fond of the attention and the entertainments of this world.
The apostle Peter gives advice how the Christian women should behave themselves not as the rest of the world do, who show themselves off in public, with many ornaments of gold and pearl, but the believer should adorn herself with modesty, and with every grace, in the hidden person of the heart; 1 Pet. 3. 4.
How unreasonable is it for us who profess the Christian life to be cast down, if we are confined to an obscure position in the world! Was not the Lord of glory, when he came down on earth to give us a pattern of the spiritual life, content to be obscure for thirty years together? Was he not unknown to men, but as a common carpenter, or a poor carpenter's son? And in those four years of appearance which he made as a preacher, how mean, how contemptible were the circumstances of life which he chose? And shall we be impatient and fretful under the same humbled conditions? Do we dislike so divine a precedent? Must we, like mushrooms of the earth, be exalted, and grow fond of making a public figure, when the King of heaven was so poor and lowly; We lose public honor and applause indeed, but perhaps our hidden life thrives the better for it, when we resist the charms of the grand things of this world.
Besides, this is not a Christian's time for appearing, whilst Christ himself is absent and unseen. The believers shining-time is not yet come; but the marriage-day of the Lamb is fast approaching, and the bride is making herself ready. The general resurrection is our great shining-day: When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory; Col. 3.4. and the Christian is content to wait for his robes of light, and his public honours, until the dawn of that glorious morning. Nor will we dare to be critical of those who make a poor figure, and but a mean appearance in the world; perhaps they are some of Christ's hidden ones; they promise but little, and show but little, either cleverness or charm, prudence or power, skill or influence; and perhaps they have but little too; but they know God, they trust in Christ, they live a divine life, and have glorious communications from heaven in secret daily, they make daily visits to the court of glory, and are visited by divine grace. You see in all these instances, that popularity and show are not at all necessary for a Christian.
V. Inference. How exceedingly difficult is it for those who are exalted to great and public positions in the world to maintain a living Christianity! They have need of great and uncommon degrees of grace to maintain this hidden life. How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! These are our Savior’s own words; Mark 10. 23. and he gave this reason for it, in verse 24, because it is so hard for those that have riches, not to trust in them, not to live entirely upon them, and make them their very life.
How hard is it for men in high posts of honour, to take due care that their graces thrive, while they are all day engaged, either in the fatigues of office, in ceremonies of state, or in everlasting attending on the will of some superior; so that they have few moments in a day, in which they are capable of retiring, and thinking within themselves or with heaven. But then! how pleasant is it to such as are advanced in the providence of God, and value their hidden life, to steal an hour away from the burden of their public cares! How sweet is the recovery of a few minutes, and how well filled up with active devotion! The secret life of a Christian grows much in private, and without a retreat from the world it cannot grow. Abandon these secret devotions, and the spiritual life will decay: as many believers have sadly found it so.
How cautious should Christians be, therefore, of the management of all the public affairs of their civil life, lest they do anything that should hurt their secret or religious life! We should always be asking, "Will such sort of company to which I am now invited ;such a gainful trade which I am ready to engage in; such a course of life which now lies before me; tempt me to neglect my secret communion with God? Does it begin to alienate my heart from heaven, and the things that are unseen? then let me suspect and fear it." Be afraid, Christians, of what grieves the blessed Spirit of Christ, who is the principle of your life, and may provoke him to withdraw from you. Be diligent in such enquiries, be very watchful and jealous of every thing that would call your thoughts outward, and keep them too long abroad. Christians should live much at home, for theirs is a hidden life.
VI. Inference. We may see here divine wisdom in contriving the ordinances of the gospel, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, with such plainness, and such simplicity, as best serves to promote the hidden life of a Christian. Pomp and ceremony, golden and sparkling images, are ready to distract the soul, to focus it on the senses, and divert it from those spiritual exercises, which the secret life of a Christian requires, and which gospel-institutions were designed for.
You see in the heathen world, and you see in Roman Catholic countries, that the outward splendors of worship tempt the hearts of the worshippers to rest in forms, and to forget God and it may be feared that the greatest part of the people were under the same danger in the days of Old Testament Judaism. And so it is that carnal worshippers are the bulk of any visible church. All mankind, by nature, is ready to take up with the forms of godliness, and neglect the secret power. We naturally pay too much reverence to shining formalities and empty shows. Set a Christian to read the most spiritual parts of the gospel, on one page of the Bible, and let some scene of the history be finely graven, and painted on the opposite side: his holy meditations will be endangered by his eyes, beautiful figures and colours attract the sight, and tempt the soul off from godly devotion.
To have Churches well adorned with statues and the paintings will not help Christian worship; nor can shinny instruments improve the communion service. While gaudy glittering images attract and entertain the outward sense, the soul is too much attached to the animal to keep itself at a distance; while the sight is entertained and feasted, the sermon is wasted, and the hidden life withers and starves. When the ear is soothed with a variety of fine harmony, the soul is too often allured away from spiritual worship, even though divine words complement the music. Our Saviour therefore, in much wisdom, and in much mercy, has appointed blessed ordinances for his church, with such plainness and simplicity, as may provide most support and nourishment to the secret life.
And this completes the remarks on the hidden life of a Christian, considered as to its spiritual exercises in this present world.
We go on to consider, in what respects this life is hidden, as it is more usually called eternal life, or to be exercised and enjoyed in heaven.
And here we should be careful not to go beyond what the Scriptures have revealed. Life and immortality, indeed, are brought to light through the gospel of Christ, in far brighter measures than in former ages and dispensations; 1 Tim. 1. 10. But still, what the apostle says concerning all the blessings of the gospel, we may repeat emphatically concerning heaven, that eye has not seen, that ear has not heard, that it has not entered into the heart of man to conceive; nor indeed has God himself revealed but a very small part of the things he has prepared, in the future world, for them that love him; 1 Cor. 2. 10. what we will be has not yet appeared; the glory of that state is yet a great secret to us; 1 John 3. 2. We know much better what it is not, than what it is: we can define it best by negatives. Absence of the weaknesses, sins, and sorrows of this life, is our best and largest account of it, whether we speak of the separate state, or the heaven of the resurrection.
Our present physical life divides us from the world of spirits; we do not know what the life of those who are in a state of separation looks like, (that is those who have died and are now awaiting the resurrection); we are at an utter loss as to their standing and dwelling places; what relation they bear to any part of this material creation; whether they dwell ghostlike forms, and are inhabitants of some starry world, or planetary regions; or whether they subsist in their pure intellectual nature, and have nothing to do with any thing material, until their dust is recalled to life. We are unacquainted with the laws by which they are governed, and how they interact: we know little of the businesses they are employed in, those glorious services for their God and their Saviour, in which they are favoured with helping angels; and little are we acquainted with their joys, which are unspeakable, and full of glory. The very language of that world, is neither to be spoken, nor understood by us; The apostle Paul heard some of the words of it, and had a faint glimpse of the sense of them; but he could not repeat them again to mortal ears; nor had he power, nor permission, to tell us the meaning of them 2 Cor. 12. 4. For whether he was in the body, at that time, or out of the body, he himself was not able to determine.
And as for the heaven of the resurrection; what sort of bodies will be raised from the dust, for perfect spirits to dwell in, is as great a secret. A spiritual body is a mystery to the wisest believer; where our dwelling place will be, and what will be our special employment through the endless ages of immortality, are hidden and unsearchable things. The most that we know, is, that we will be made like Christ, and we will be where he is, to behold his glory, 1 John 3. 2. and John 17. 24.
If the eternal life of the saints is so much a secret at present, we may draw these three inferences from it.
I. Inference. How necessary is it for a Christian to keep faith awake and lively, so as to may maintain his connection with the spiritual and unseen world! It is faith that converses with the invisible: faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen; Heb 11. 1. It is faith that deals in hidden traffic, and grows rich in treasures that are out of sight. It is by faith in the Son of God, we live this spiritual life, by faith in an absent Saviour; Gal. 2. 20. whom having not seen, we love; and though we see him not, yet believing in him, rejoice; 1 Pet. 1. 8. Let the Christian, therefore, maintain a holy jealousy, for fear that too much attention to the things of sense, dull the eye of his faith, or weaken its hand. Let him put his faith into perpetual exercise, that he may live within view of those glories that are hidden from the senses; that he may keep his hold of eternal life; that he may support his hopes, and secure his joys. Until we can live by sight, let us walk by faith; 2 Cor. 5. 7.
Though the life of heaven is hidden, yet enough of it is revealed as to allow faith to take hold of it; and yet not so much, as to make the hand of faith needless. It is brought down by our Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel, within the view of faith, that we might live in expectation of it, and be encouraged to pursue it; but it is not brought within the reach of sense, because we are now under trial; and this is not the proper time nor place for sight and enjoyment.
II. Inference. How little is death to be dreaded by a believer, since it will bring the soul to the full possession of its hidden life in heaven! It is a dark valley that divides between this world and the next; but it is all a region of light and blessedness beyond it. We are now on the borders of the eternal world, and we know but little of that invisible country. Approaching death opens the gates to us, and begins to give our holy curiosity some secret satisfaction; and yet how we shrink backward when that glorious unknown city is opening upon us! and are ready to beg and pray that the gates might be closed again: “O! for a little more time, a little longer to go in this lower visible world!” This is the language of the fearful believer: but it is better to have our Christian courage brought up to a divine height, and to say, "Open up everlasting gates, and be lifted up immortal doors, that we may enter into the place where the King of Glory is." There we will see God and rejoice in his overflowing love. We will see him not as we do on earth, darkly, through the glass of ordinances; but inferior spirits will converse with the supreme Spirit, as bodies do with bodies; that is, face to face; 1 Cor. 13. 12.
There will we behold Christ our Lord in the dignity of his character as Mediator, in the glory of his kingdom, and the all-sufficiency of his godhead; and we will be for ever with him. There will we see millions of blessed spirits, who have lived the same hidden life as we do, and passed through this vale of tears, with the same sort of difficulties and sorrows, and by the same divine assistances. They were unknown, and covered with dust as we are, while they dwelt in the flesh, but they appear all-glorious and well-known in the world of spirits, and exult in open and immortal light: we will see them, and we will triumph with them in that day; we will learn their language, and taste their joys: we will be partakers of the same glory, which Christ our life, diffuses all around him, on the blessed inhabitants of that unspeakably wonderful world.
III. Inference. How glorious is the difference between the two parts of the Christian's life, that is to say. the spiritual life on earth, and the perfection of eternal life in heaven when all that is now hidden will be revealed before men and angels!
Let us take a few moments to meditate on things one step beyond death and the separate state; even to the morning of the resurrection, and the full and public assembly of all the saints. What an amazing moment that will be! What a large and noble army of new creatures! Creatures that were hidden in this world among the common herd of mankind, and their bodies hidden in the grave, and mingled with common dust, rising all at once, at the sound of a trumpet, into public light and glory: the same persons, indeed, that once inhabited mortality, but in far different circumstances. The Christian, on earth, is like the rough diamond among the common pebbles of the shore; in the resurrection-day the diamond is cut and polished, and set in a tablet of gold. All that inward worth and radiance of holiness and grace, which are now hidden, will be then visible and public before the eyes of the whole creation. Then the saints will be known by their shining, in the day when the Lord makes up his jewels; Mal. 3. 17. When the spirits of the just made perfect in all the beauties of holiness, will return to their former mansions, and become men again; when their bodies are raised from the dust, in the likeness of the body of our blessed Lord, how will all the saints shine in the kingdom of their Father, though in the kingdoms of this world they were obscure and undistinguished! They will appear, in that day, as the meridian sun breaking from a long and dark eclipse; and as the sun is to bright a being to be unknown so shall they be; Matt. 13. 43.
What is there in a poor saint here, that hints at what he will be in the future? How insignificant is his appearance now! how magnificent in that day! What was there in Lazarus on the dunghill, when the dogs licked his sores, that could lead us to any thought what he should be in the bosom of Abraham? What is there in the martyrs and confessors, described in Heb. 11. those holy men, wearing their sheep-skins, and their goat-skins, wandering in deserts, and hidden in dens and caves of the earth? What was there in these poor and miserable examples that looks like a saint in glory? or that could give us any idea of what they will be in the great rising day?
We are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; 1 John 3. 2. There is nothing here below that can fully illustrate it. Shall we go to the palaces of great princes, and borrow their crowns and magnificent robes, to show how the saints are dressed in heaven? Shall we take the marble pillars, their roofs of cedar, their costly furniture of purple and gold, to describe the mansions of immortality? Shall we imagine the chariot of some Roman general, with all the ensigns of victory, leading on his legions to triumph, and fetch robes of honour, and branches of palm to describe that triumphant army of Christian conquerors? Indeed, the Scripture makes use of these images to represent the glories of that day, to speak in a language we may understand, because they are the brightest things we know on earth. But they sink as far below the splendors of the resurrection, as earth is below heaven, or time is shorter than eternity.
What is all the dead lustre of metals, and silks, and shining stones, to the living rays of divine grace, springing up, and shooting into full glory! Faith into sight, hope into enjoyment, patience into joy and victory, and love into its own perfection! Then all the hidden virtues and graces of the saints, will appear like the stars at midnight, in an unclouded sky. Then will it be made known to all the world, these were the men that wept and prayed in secret; it will be published then in the great assembly, these were the persons who wrestled hard with their secret sins, that sought the face of God, and his strength in their private meditations, and they are made more than conquerors through him that loved them. The poor trembling Christian who lived this hidden and divine life, but scarce knew it himself, nor scarcely appeared among the churches on earth, will lift up his head, and rejoice amidst the church triumphant; and the hidden seed of grace, that was watered with so many secret tears, will spring up into a rich and illustrious harvest. This is the day which will bring to light a thousand works of hidden piety, for the eternal honour of Christ and the saints; as well as the hidden things of darkness, to the sinners everlasting confusion; Matt. 25. and 1 Cor. 4. 5.
And so it will be that the spiritual life of Christians, which was hidden in this world, will appear in the other in full brightness; and they themselves will be amazed to see what divine honours, Jesus the Judge will cast upon their poor secret services and sufferings.
But in what supreme glory will their life display itself, when both parts of man are rejoined after so long a separation! This is life eternal indeed, and joy unspeakable. How gloriously will the perfections and honours, both of body and mind, unfold themselves, and rise far above all that they heard, or saw, or could conceive!
Each of them surprised, like the queen of Sheba in the court of Solomon, will confess with thankful astonishment and joy, that not one half of it was told them, even in the word of God. "And was this the crown, shall the Christian say, for which I fought on earth with so little zeal? And was this the prize for which I ran at such a so slow and lazy pace? And were these the glories which I sought with so cold and indifferent a zeal in the old world?
What shameful indifference! What surprising glories! What an undeserved prize and crown! Had I imagined how bright the blessing was, which was hidden in the promise, surely I would have pursued them with all my might. Could I have seen what I ought to have believed; had I but taken in all that was told me concerning this glorious and eternal life, surely I would have hazarded many deaths to secure the possession of it. What guilty negligence! and criminal unbelief!
But your sovereign mercy, O my God, has pardoned both, and made me possessor of the glorious inheritance. Behold, I bow at your feet forever, and adore the riches of overflowing grace."