Large truths may be spoken in little words. Profundity is often supposed to be obscurity, but the deepest depth is clear. John, in his gospel and epistles, deals with the deepest realities, and with all things in their eternal aspects, but his vocabulary is the simplest in the New Testament. God and the world, life and death, love and hate, light and darkness, these are the favourite words round which his thoughts gather. Here are nine little monosyllables. What can be simpler than, 'As He is, so are we in this world?' And what can go beyond the thought that lies in it, that a Christian is a living likeness of Christ?
But the connection of my text is quite as striking as its substance. John has been dwelling upon his favourite thought that to abide in love is to abide in God, and God in us. And then he goes on to say that 'Herein' -- that is, in such mutual abiding in love -- 'is love made perfect with us'; and the perfection of that love, which is thus communion, is in order that, at the great solemn day of future trial, men may lift up their faces and meet His glance -- which is not strange to them, nor met for the first time -- with open-hearted and open-countenanced 'boldness.' But 'love' and 'abiding' are the source of confidence in the Day of Judgment, because love and abiding are the source of assimilation to Christ's life. We have boldness, 'because as He is, so are we in this world'; and we are as He is, because we love and abide in Him. So here are three thoughts, the assimilation of the Christian man to Christ; the frank confidence which it begets; and the process by which it is secured.
I. A Christian is Christ's living likeness.
That is a startling thing to say, and all the more startling if you notice that John does not say 'As He was,' in this earthly life of humiliation and filial obedience, but 'as He is,' in His heavenly life and reign and glory. That might well repel us from all thought of possible resemblance, but the light, however brilliant it may be, is not blinding, and it is the Christ as He is, and not only -- true as that is -- the Christ as He was, who is the original of which Christian men are copies.
Now there is the difference between the teaching of such classes of religionists as represent Christ's humanity as all in all, and preach to us that He, in His earthly life is the pattern to whom we are to seek to conform our lives, and the true evangelical teaching. That dead Man is living, and His present life has in it elements which we can grasp, and to which every Christian life is to be conformed.
Is there anything, then, within the glory to which I, in my poor, struggling, hampered, imperfect life here on earth, can feel that my character is being shaped? Yes, surely there is. I have no doubt that, in the words of my text, the Apostle is remembering the solemn ones of our Lord's high-priestly prayer as recorded in the seventeenth chapter of his gospel, where the same antithesis of our being in the world, and His not being there, recurs; and where the analogy and resemblance are distinctly stated -- 'I in Thee, and Thou in Me, that they also may be in us.'
So, then, when we stand with our letter-writer in his Patmos island, and see the countenance 'as the sun shining in his strength, and the eyes as a flame of fire,' and the many crowns upon the head, and the many stars in the hand, though we may feel as if all resemblance was at an end, and aspiration after likeness could only fall at His feet and cover its face, yet there is within the glory something which may be repeated and reproduced in our lives, and that is, the indissoluble union of a Son with a Father, in all loving obedience, in all perfect harmony, in all mutual affection and outgoing of heart and thoughts. This is the centre of the life, alike of the Christ when He is glorified, and of the Christ when He was upon earth. So the very secret heart of the mysterious being of the Son is to be, and necessarily is, repeated in all those who in Him have received the adoption of sons.
Or to put the whole thing into plainer words, it is the religious and the moral aspects of Christ's being, and not any one particular detail thereof; and these, as they live and reign on the Throne, just as truly as these, as they suffered and wept upon earth -- it is these to which it is our destiny to be conformed. We are like Him, if we are His, in this, -- that we are joined to God, that we hold fellowship with Him, that our lives are all permeated with the divine, that we are saturated with the presence of God, that we have submitted ourselves to Him and to His will, that 'not my will, but Thine, be done' is the very inmost meaning of our hearts and our lives. And thus 'we,' even here, 'bear the image of the heavenly, as we have borne the images of the earthly.' Now I am not going to dwell upon details; all these can be filled in by each of us for himself. The centre-point which I insist upon is this -- the filial union with God, the filial submission to Him, and the consequent purity as Christ is pure, righteousness as Christ is righteous, and walking even as Christ walked, for ever in the light.
But then there is another point that I desire to refer to. I have put an emphasis upon the 'is' instead of the 'was,' as it applies to Jesus Christ. I would further put an emphasis upon the 'are,' as it applies to us -- 'So are we.'
John is not exhorting, he is affirming. He is not saying what Christian men ought to strive to be, but he is saying what all Christian men, by virtue of their Christian character, are. Or, to put it into other words, likeness to the Master is certain. It is inevitably involved in the relation which a Christian man bears to the Lord. There may be degrees in the likeness, there may be differences of skill and earnestness in the artist. We have to labour like a portrait painter, slowly and tentatively approaching to the complete resemblance. It is 'a life-long task ere the lump be leavened.' This likeness does not reach its completeness by a leap. It is not struck, as the image of a king is, upon the blank metal disc, by one stroke, but it is wrought out by long, laborious, and, as I said, approximating and tentative touches. My text suggests that to us by its addition, 'So are we, in this world.' The 'world' -- or, to use modern phraseology, 'the environment' -- conditions the resemblance. As far as it is possible for a thing encompassed with dust and ashes to resemble the radiant sun in the heavens, so far is the resemblance carried here. Some measure of it, and a growing measure, is inseparable from the reality of a Christian life.
Now, you Christian people, does that plain statement touch you anywhere? 'So are we.' Well! you would be quite easy if John had said: 'So may we be; so should we be; so shall we be.' But what about the 'so are we'? What a ghastly contradiction the lives of multitudes of professing Christians are to that plain statement! 'Like Jesus Christ' -- would anybody say that about anything in me? 'So are we' -- no words of mine, dear brethren, can make the statement more searching, more impressive; but, I pray you, lay this to heart: 'If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.' You may take sacraments and profess Christianity, or, as we Nonconformists have it, 'join churches,' and do all manner of outward work for ever and a day; but if you have not the likeness of Christ, at least in germ, and growing to something more than a germ, in your characters, you had better revise your position, and ask whether, after all, you have not been walking in a vain show, and fancied yourselves the servants of Christ, while you bear the image of Christ's enemy.
A very tiny gully on a hillside, made by showers of rain, may fall into the same slopes, and has been created by the very same forces, working according to the same laws, as have scooped out valleys miles broad, bordered by mountains thousands of feet high. And in my little life, poor as it is, limited as it is, environed as it is by the world, and therefore often hampered and stained, as well as helped and brightened, by its environment, there may be, and there will be, in some degree, if I am a Christian man, the very same power at work by which Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father shines as the sun on the throne of the universe.
But then, notice further, how that limitation to which I have referred in this world carries with it another message. There is Christ in the heavens, veiled and unseen. Here are you on earth, his representative. There is a rage at present for putting pictures into all books, and folk will scarcely read unless they get illustrated literature. The world has for its illustrations of the gospel the lives of us Christian people. In the book there are principles and facts, and readers should be able to turn the page and see all pictured in us.
That is what you are set to do in this world. 'As the Father sent Me, even so send I you.' 'As He is, so are we in this world.' It may be our antagonist, but it is our sphere, and its presence is necessary to evoke our characters. Christ has entrusted His reputation, His honour, to us, and many a man that never cares to look at Him as He is revealed in Scripture, would be wooed and won to look at Him and love Him, if we Christian people were more true to our vocation, and bore more conspicuously on our faces and in our characters the image of the heavenly.
II. Look for a moment at the second thought that is here: such a likeness to Jesus Christ is the only thing that will enable a man to lift up his head in the Day of Judgment.
'We have boldness,' says John, because 'as He is, so are we.' Now that is a very strong statement of a truth that popular, evangelical theology has far too much obscured. People talk about being, at the last, 'accepted in the beloved.' God be thanked, it is true. A sweet old hymn that a great many of us learned when we were children, though it is not so well known in these days, says: --
'Bold shall I stand in that great day,
I believe that, and I try to preach it. But do not let us forget the other side. My text is in full accordance with the principles of our Lord's own teaching; and who knows the principles of His own words so well as the judge, who tells us, in His pictures of that great day, that the question put to every man will be, not what you believe, but what did you do, and what are you?
But this truth of my text has been not only wounded in the house of the friends of Christianity, but it has been overlooked by one of the very frequent objections that we hear made to evangelical teaching, that, according to it, a man is judged according to his belief and not according to his deeds. A man is judged according to his -- not belief -- but according to his faith. But he is judged according also to -- not his work -- but according to his character.
And I wish, dear friends, to lay this upon your hearts, because many of us are too apt to forget it, that whilst unquestionably the beginning of salvation, and the condition of forgiveness here, and of acceptance hereafter, are laid in trust in Jesus Christ, that trust is sure to work out a character which is in conformity with His requirements and moulded after the likeness of Himself. 'The judgment of God is according to truth,' and what a man is determines where a man shall be, and what he shall receive through all eternity. Remember Christ's own teaching. Remember the teaching of that other apostle than John, according to which the 'wood, hay, stubble,' built by a man upon the foundation shall be burned up, and the builder himself be saved, yet so as by fire. And lay this to heart, that it is only when faith works in us, through love and communion, characters like Jesus Christ's, that we shall be able to stand -- though even then we shall have to trust to divine and infinite mercy, and to the sprinkling of His blood -- before the Throne of God. Lay up in store for yourselves a good foundation unto eternal life. And take this as the preaching of my text; character, and character alone, will stand the judgment of that great day.
There is no real antagonism between such truths and the widest preaching of salvation by faith. It is the same man who, in his gospel, says, as from the lips of the Lord Himself, 'He that believeth is not judged,' and in his letter says, 'We may have boldness in that day, because, as He is, so are we in this world.'
III. One word about the last point; the process by which this likeness is secured.
That is contained, as I tried to show in my introductory remarks, in the earlier part of the verse. Our love is made perfect by dwelling in God, and God in us; in order that we may be thus conformed to Christ's likeness, and so have boldness in that great day. To be like Jesus Christ, what is needed is that we love Him, and that we keep in touch with Him. What is it to 'abide' in Him? -- to direct the continual flow of mind and love and will and practical obedience to Him, to bear Him ever in the secret place of my heart whilst my hands are occupied with daily business, and my feet are running the sometimes rough race that is set before me. Think of Him ever, love Him ever. Let His name be like a perfume breathed through the whole atmosphere of your lives. Keep your wills in the attitude of submission, of acceptance, of indecision when necessary, and of absolute dependence upon Him. Let your outward acts be such as shall not bring a film of separation between Him and you. When thus our whole being is steeped and drenched with Christ, then it cannot but be that we shall be like Him. Even 'clouds themselves as suns appear, when the sun pierces them with light.' 'Abide in Me, and I in you.' You cannot make yourselves like Christ, but you can fasten yourselves to Christ, and He will give you power which shall make you like Him.
But, remember, such abiding is no idle waiting, no passive confidence. It is full of energy, full of suppression, when necessary, of what is contrary to your truest self, and full of strenuous cultivation of that which is in accord with the will of the Father, and with the likeness of the 'first-born among many brethren.'
Dear friends, lie in the light and you will become light. Abide in Christ, and you will get like Christ; and, being like Him, you will be able to lift up your heads, and rejoice when you front Him on the Throne, and you are at the bar. Then, when you are no more in the world, the likeness will be perfected, because the communion is complete. 'We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.'