True religion consists not only in the knowledge of God, but especially in conformity to him, and communion with him. Communion and fellowship with God is the great end and design of the gospel, and it is the great result of all a Christian's pains and progress. It is not only the greatest part of religion, but the very reward of religion too, for piety hath its reward of happiness in the bosom of it, without borrowing from external things. Now, that which this sweet and fragrant fruit, which perfumes all the soul with delight, and fills it with joy, springs out of, is conformity to God. Assimilation of nature and disposition, some likeness to God imprinted on the soul again in holy affections and dispositions, a coincidency of our will with the will of God, drowning of it in the sea of his good pleasure, his law in the inward parts. Now what is the root of this conformity, but the knowledge of God? This is that which hath a virtue to transform the soul into his similitude. You see then where true religion begins lowest, and by what means it grows up to the sweet fruit of that eternal joy that shall be pressed out of the grapes of fellowship with God. So then, whatsoever is declared of God unto us in his word, whatsoever is holden forth of him, is not only set forth to be the subject of our knowledge, but especially to be a pattern for imitation, and to be an inflaming motive to our affection. This is the very substance of the verse.
"This then is the message" I declare, "that God is light," and this I heard not from Christ only, for the satisfaction of my curiosity, nor do I declare it to you only, that you may know it, as if you had no more to do with it, but especially that ye may know what ye ought to be in conformity to that light. The end of your knowing God, is to become liker God, if so be ye would have communion with him.
Let us take this rule, then, to measure all our searchings after God, and inquirings into him. Certainly there ought to be more meditation and inquiry of heart upon this subject, because it is the spring of all life to the soul. It is that which enricheth it most, and fills it with peace, joy, and delight, and brings in a treasure into a man's heart, such as Christ speaks of -- "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart," &c. Meditation, much meditation on God, a stayedness and fixedness of spirit upon him, lays up a treasure in the heart. This is it that makes such a difference between the heart and mouth of a righteous man, and a wicked man. The heart of the wicked is little worth, for the total want of this, and therefore, their lips and tongues are void of edification, full of corruption. But where this spring floweth within, it maketh the mouth of a man like a well of life, it maketh his lips like choice silver. O the scantiness and neglect of this amongst Christians makes all to wither and decay! There is little searching after the Almighty, little employing and entertaining our spirits about him, how slender and single thoughts and apprehensions of him, which cannot but cause a deliqium(241) and decay in all the parts of Christianity, when the very sun is eclipsed from us by our ignorance and inconsideration of him and that so long it must have dreadful effects upon us. Therefore, let us be exhorted to this study to give our spirits to this employment -- to think more on God. But, as I was saying, there is need of a rule to measure us in it, and of some caution about it, that is that we have our end rightly established, what we aim at in inquiring after, or meditating upon God. If it be only to give entertainment to the curiosity of our minds, as in the contemplation of natural things, if it be only to pry into secrets and mysteries, and to labour to comprehend that which is incomprehensible, then we lose our labour, and we are in danger to meet with a consuming fire, instead of instructing and refreshing light. I would therefore have this guarded against, -- the insatiable desire and greediness of our minds after the knowledge of secret mysteries. We may set bounds here, and not overstretch or strain our understandings, to compass his infinite Being, as it is in itself. Let us rather take him up as he is revealed in the scriptures, and so meditate on him as manifested in his word and works, his grace, mercy, power, wisdom, &c. and read his name with delight in those large volumes spread before our eyes, &c.
Now the just measuring and regulating of all knowledge of God is to direct it to a further end to have nothing before us but this, that we may reverence, adore, fear, and love him so much the more. And this is the thing that maketh access to him most easy and sweet when the design a soul hath, in all its searchings about him, is for this purpose, to the end it may love him and worship him more suitably, and be more conformed to him, when he is looked upon as a pattern of our conformity, that is, the right apprehension and up taking of him to know that God is light, and so to know it, as in it to behold the necessity of what qualification should be in us, that is indeed to know God. My beloved, let us consider that so much we know of God, as we love him and fear him, and are conformed unto him, for that knowledge, which is not about this work and design, is for no other purpose but to be a witness against a man, and the most heinous aggravation of his sins.
To come then to the particular in hand, "God is light," and that is holden out and declared for this end, that there may be a pattern of the qualification of all that intend to enter into that society, if ye would have fellowship with God, then consider what you engage into, what manner of person he is, for the intimate knowledge of one another is presupposed to all constant friendship. You must know then what God is if you would have communion with him, because there is no communion without some conformity, and no conformity without knowledge of him. Therefore, as he is light, so the soul must be made light in him, and enlightened by him, that would have his society. We must be transformed into that nature, and made children of light, who were children of darkness. Now, as there is a light of understanding and wisdom in God, and a light of holiness and purity, so there is in our souls, opposite to these, a darkness of ignorance and unbelief, and a darkness of sin, and impurity of affections. Now, "what communion can light have with darkness?" Let every man ask this at his own heart, if there be no happiness without this society, and no possibility of this society, while I remain in darkness, then is it not high time to come to the light? This then is the first change that is made in a soul, the darkness of ignorance and unbelief is driven out, by the approach of that glorious light of the gospel into the heart, then is discovered unto the soul that deformity of sin, that loathsomeness in itself that it never apprehended. Then there is a manifestation of the hidden works of darkness, of the desperate wickedness of the heart, which lay unobserved and unsuspected all the while. And now a man cannot in that view but abhor himself, for that which none else can see in him. And there is withal manifested that glorious holiness and purity in God, that inviolable righteousness, that omnipotent power, which formerly were never seriously thought upon, now these are represented to the life before a sinner. And to close up all, there is a manifestation of the grace and goodness of God in Christ, which discovers a way of salvation, and delivery from sin and wrath, and this perfumeth and refresheth all the faculties of the soul. Thus the soul is in a part conformed to that original light, when a beam is sent from it, and hath pierced into the heart, and scattered the darkness that did alienate the minds of men from God. But it is not only an illumination of the foreface, and outer side of the soul, not only a conviction of the judgment in these things, but by virtue of that divine heat that is transmitted with the light of the gospel, the soul is purified and cleansed from its grosser nature, and so is made transparent, that the light may shine into the very inwards of the heart. And this is the special point of conformity to God, -- to have our souls purged from the darkness of sinful, earthly, and muddy affections, -- to have them purified by the light of God, from all the works and lusts of darkness, and the shining beauty of holy affections and inclinations, to succeed and fill up the vacant room. If knowledge only reside in our brains, and send not down warm beams to quicken and inflame the heart, then it is barren and unfruitful, it is cold and unprofitable. If it hover only alone in our heads, and keep a motion there, but send down no refreshing showers to the affections, which may make us abound in good fruits, then it is like the windy clouds, clouds without rain, that pass away without any benefit to the thirsty ground. Let us then take this along with us, let the impression of this description of the divine Majesty abide in our hearts. "God is light," and if we often ruminate and ponder upon this, I think it will make us often to reflect upon ourselves, how we are darkness, and this will breed some carefulness and desire in the soul, how to have this darkness removed, that there may be a soul capable of divine illustration. This is it that advanceth the soul to the nearest conformity with God, the looking often upon God, till our souls be enlightened and our hearts purified, and this again puts the soul in the nearest capacity for that blessed communion with God. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God," Matt. v.8. Truly it is not profoundness of ingine,(242) it is not acuteness and sharpness of wit, it is not pregnancy in understanding, or eminency in parts, that will dispose the soul to this blessed vision of God, and frame it to a capacity of fellowship with him. No, there needs no extraordinary parts for this, nothing but that the heart be purified from corruptions, those inward earthly qualities, that are like so many vicious and gross humours, filling the organ of the sight, these, pride, conceit, self love, passion, anger, malice, envy, strife, covetousness, love of pleasures, ambition, these, I say, that possess the hearts of the most excellent natural spirits, cast a mist upon their eyes, and hinder them to see God, or enjoy that delight in him, that some poor, weak, and ignorant creatures, whose hearts the Lord had purged from sin, do find in God. Therefore if any of you have an aim at this, to have fellowship with God, know both for your direction and your encouragement, that "God is light." For your direction, because that must be your pattern, and if you have no study that way to be like him in holiness, you shall not see him. But take it likewise for an encouragement, for that style carries not only the necessity of what he must be, but it holds out likewise the fountain and storehouse of all our qualifications, for "God is light." The original, primitive light, -- all must borrow of him, and that light is freely and impartially communicable to poor sinners "with thee is the fountain of light, and in thy light shall we see light." Let a soul that apprehends its own darkness and distance from him thus encourage itself. My light is but a beam derived from his light, and there is no want in him. He is a sun of righteousness. If I shut not up my heart through unwillingness and unbelief, if I desire not to keep my sins, but would be purged from them, then that glorious light may shine without stop and impediment into my heart. He is not only light in his own nature, but he is a light to us, and if he please to remove that which is interposed between him and us, it shall be day light in our hearts again. Thus a soul may strengthen itself to wait on him, and by looking thus up to him, and fixing on him, we shall be enlightened, and our faces not be ashamed.