The great design of the gospel is to make up the breach of man's joy, and open up the way to the fulness of it, and therefore it is the good news and glad tidings of great joy, the only best message that ever came to the world. Now it shows unto us the channel that this river of gladness and joy runs into, it discovers what is the way of the conveyance of it to the soul, and what are the banks it runs between, and that is fellowship with the Father and with the Son. In this channel that river of delight runs, -- between the banks of the love of God to us, and our love to him. Herein a soul is happy, and accounts itself happy, and truly, in so much do we profit by the word, and answer the design of the gospel, by how much we estimate our happiness from this alone from the communication of God to us. Whensoever the gospel takes hold of your hearts, it will undoubtedly frame them to this, -- to a measuring of all blessedness from God alone. And this will carry the heart to an undervaluing of all other things, as being too low and unworthy for this end, and so to a forsaking of every thing for the closer enjoyment of God. I fear many believers are little acquainted with this joy, because they draw not their joy singly out of the pure fountain of delight, but turn aside to other external comforts, and drown their souls in them. Now, indeed, these two cannot well consist together. If we take in any thing else to make up our happiness and comfort, so much we lose of God, and that which is truly spiritual, and therefore our hearts would be more purified from carnal delights, if we would have experience of this joy, we must hang only upon his countenance and company, else we lose the sweetness of it.
Now the apostle prosecutes this further, to discover what conformity must be between them that should keep this fellowship, and what likeness of nature and qualities is necessary for them who would be happy in God's society. "This is the message we have heard," saith he, "and which we declare unto you, that God is light," &c. Take this jointly with that which went before, "this we declare, that ye may have fellowship with the Father and the Son." And to the end this fellowship may hold and yield you fulness of joy, it is necessary that the nature of God be laid down as the pattern to which ye must be conformed, -- "God is light," and therefore you must be light too, if ye would have fellowship with that pure light. Now this, I say, is the full message of the gospel, that which was sent down from heaven with the Son of God, the messenger of the covenant, and which the apostles heard from him. Indeed the very manner of the proposal of these things stirs up our hearts to attention, and makes us more serious than commonly we are. That there is one, and such an one sent from heaven, with such an embassage as this is, to invite us to society with God again, one whose interest lies in this, to make us happy, and this he declares unto us, that he hath no other design but to fulfil our joy. O how powerful might this be on our hearts to conquer them, to make them willingly hearken to him! Any message that comes from heaven should be received with great reverence and respect of mortal men, because it comes from the court and palace of the great King. But when this is the substance of it, to make us happy in himself, to advance us to this incomparable dignity of society with himself, in which society there is a fulness of joy, -- then how should we receive it with open hearts, and entertain it gladly! If we could take it always thus as a message from heaven, and look upon it and hear it in that notion, I think the fruit would be incomparably greater, for what is it that makes it dead and ineffectual in men's hearts, but that the apprehension of it degenerates and falls down from God to creatures, because it is not taken so as his word, carrying the stamp of his divine authority? We bring it forth, not as a message from him, but as from ourselves, and you receive it, not as from him, but from us, and thus it is adulterated and corrupted on both hands. My beloved, let us jointly mind this, that whatsoever we have to declare is a message from God to mortal men; and, therefore, let us so compose ourselves in his sight as if he were speaking to us. The conscience of a very heathen was awaked when Ehud told him he had a message from God to him. Eglon arose out of his seat, that he might hear it reverently, (Judg. iii.20.) though it was a bloody message, as it proved in the event. Yet so much the common dictates of reason might teach you, that ye should arise and compose yourselves to reverend and awful attention to what the Lord God will speak. But when, moreover, we know that the sum of the message is to make us blessed, and raise us up to communion with him in his joy and happiness we are not only called to reverence, as to God, but to ardent affection and desire, as to him who by all means seeks our happiness. O how happy were he that could first hear and receive this message from him, and then declare it to others! But, however, though we should fail in that, this doth not change either the authority or nature of the message itself; and therefore, if men should be so far destitute of God as not to bring it from him immediately, yet do not you forsake your own mercy too, but receive it as that which is come forth from God, receive it for itself, as carrying in its bosom a fulness of joy to you, and receive it for his sake who moved this embassage first after sinners, and his sake who carried it to sinners, that is, for the Father and the Son, to whose fellowship you are here invited. Let us then hear the message.
"This then is the message, that God is light," &c. The ground of communion of persons is their union in nature, or likeness one to another. There is some general society between all mankind, as being conjoined in one common nature; but the contracting of that in narrower bounds of affinity and consanguinity doth enlarge the affection the more. You see it is natural for those who are joined by such relations of blood one to another, to love one another more than others out of these bonds. But true friendship draws the circle yet narrower, and contracts the love that is scattered abroad to mankind in a strange channel, to run towards one, or a few, and the foundation of this is some peculiar and particular similitude and likeness in manners and sympathy of disposition, which makes the souls of men to melt one into another, after some converse and acquaintance together. This is the bond that knits this near society, some conformity necessarily presupposed to communion and fellowship. Now, that which holds so in the communion of man with man, must be much more needful in man's communion with God, for all the societies, combinations, and conjunctions of the creatures, are but shadows of this higher communication of the spirit of man with God the Father of spirits. And, indeed, we may find some rude draughts and resemblances of this divine society, and of the rule according to which it must he modelled, in all the friendly or near conjunctions of creatures; for every thing is best preserved and agreeth best with things of its own nature. See the disposition of the parts of the world. Things contiguous and nearest other are also likest in nature one to another. So it is among men. The several agreements and symbolizings of men's spirits in different qualities and tempers, make several sorts of men, and part them into so many companies: Pares paribus congregantur. Simile simili gaudet.(238)
Now, my beloved, this same supernatural and divine society that we speak of must be constituted according to this fundamental rule, that is, it is necessary, to the end that God and man may have fellowship together, that they come nearer in likeness one to another. Now for God, you know he cannot be liker us, for he is unchangeably holy and good. That were most absurd to bring down his Majesty to partake of our wretched infirmities of sin and darkness. Indeed in this he hath come as far as his own nature and our good would permit, to communicate in our nature, and all the sinless infirmities of it. It is impossible, then, that he should make up the distance by any change of himself, but we must be changed, and some way raised up to partake of the purity of his nature, and be transformed into some likeness to him, and then is the foundation of society and fellowship laid down. This is the apostle's meaning, in declaring to us what God is that according to that pattern, and in that glass we may see what to conform ourselves to, and may have a particular determination of the great qualification of those who pretend to fellowship with God. "God is light and in him is no darkness." Now, take the just opposition -- man is darkness and in him is no light. Now, what communion then can light have with darkness? Either the light must become darkness, or the darkness become light. Either the light must leave its glorious purity and forsake its nature -- which cannot be admitted -- or else the darkness of men's souls must be wiped off, and abolished by the brightness of God's light. And then there may be a communion between the primitive light and the derivative light, between the original light and that which flows out from the original. But take darkness remaining darkness, and light remaining light, and they cannot compone(239) together, for the first great separation that was made in the world was between light and darkness. "And God saw the light that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness," Gen. i.4. And so it is impossible for men that live in the darkness of their minds, in ignorance, and in the darkness of sinful lusts, that they can have any fellowship with God, who is a fountain of pure light and undefiled sanctity. "What hast thou to do to take my covenant in thy mouth," &c, and this God saith to the wicked. It is an incongruous and unsuitable thing, for man to pretend nearness and interest in this God and yet be buried in darkness and hatred of the light of personal reformation as a gold ring in a swine's nose, that rather deforms the jewel than beautifies the beast, so are the pretensions of ignorant and wicked men, to this divine society, &c.