1 John 3:2
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear…
John, looking back, sees what great spaces have been covered in his spiritual history; he also looks forward, and sees greater changes in store for him. He has, in truth, become a son of God, but it is not manifest what he will become; he is only sure that as all the transformations in his character have been in the direction of likeness to God, they will go on in the same direction. To believe in future change is very different from believing in past change. It is not easy to realise that we shall ever be much different from what we are at present — that we shall become wiser, that we shall feel older, that we shall hold other opinions, that we shall develop new powers. Our future self is commonly the simple projection of our present self. The wondrous changes since infancy, with the development of hidden powers, do not effectually teach us that changes as great await us, or may be achieved. And yet these natural changes in the past ought to teach us that as great changes may await us in the future, and also that there may be spiritual changes and developments corresponding to the physical changes. The limit of physical development may be reached, but the mental and moral development may go on long after, and, for aught we know, forever, and the fact that we draw our life from God makes it probable that it will be so. Origin in an infinite being is a pledge not only of an infinite life, but of endless development in the direction of the unattainable source. This natural history should open our minds to the possibility of a like spiritual history. We may be sure that God has not put all the wonders of His creation into our early physical life, and left the moral life bare and fixed. The natural comes first, then the spiritual, but it is no less full of germinant seeds and possibilities than the natural. This is high probability; the Christian faith makes it a certainty. It enters into its nature and purpose to open before us great changes and developments. And it also seeks to produce them. It sets before us the duty of ourselves striving to make these changes. "Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour." Let us give ourselves to this thought for awhile. Under natural conditions character does not show a tendency to change its type or direction; it simply grows after its type, and sets steadily in its native direction and toward some permanent form. Hereditary qualities take the lead, and the character moves on in their direction. The main quality asserts itself more and more strongly, shapes the features, gives tone to the voice, and gesture to the body, directs the conduct and becomes the spirit of the life. If selfish or lustful or proud, these qualities tend simply to go on and harden into fixed form. We call the result habit; it is rather the natural tendency of character, aided by habit, to consolidate; it is the loss of native freedom, for habit is the absence of freedom. But there is even a better prospect than this. It is, indeed, a pleasant thought that if I cultivate a spirit of patience, or sympathy, or self-control, it will become a fixed habit in me. It points to an end of strife, to rest and peace; but there is something better than that. I do not want merely to become fixed in these habits, but to grow in them; and I also want to be carried on and lifted up into higher ranges of character than I now know; I cannot be satisfied with any condition that is stationary. Therefore we hope to come upon other duties, and so to enter into other feelings than any we now know. Just as a little child knows nothing of the passions that sweep through the heart of the youth, so there may be lofty spiritual passions and experiences, and even qualities of character, of which we now know nothing. One thing is sure, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not leave us alone with a law of heredity, and the bare hope that we may become confirmed in goodness; it opens before us a vista of endless growth and change. And therefore it begins with a call to regeneration. Its first work is to lift us out of the order of nature where character tends simply to solidify and habits become fixed, and to carry us into another sort of world. Regeneration means, not that we are to be developed, but that we are to be changed, to live in other ways, with other motives and for other ends. Now see how Christian requirement works in with regeneration and helps it on. The gospel is constantly putting a man upon moral choices, and so it acts against the solidifying tendency of habit or native inclination; i.e., it keeps a man constantly in the world of freedom and out of the region of fixed habit. When I begin the day, I have not only to keep on in the good habits of yesterday, but I have fresh choices to make. New questions come up; life varies its phases; I am myself not quite the same being as yesterday; I see more, feel more; duty is a little broader; time presses upon me a little more heavily; eternity becomes more real. Thus I am summoned to new exercises of my nature. We are not to think that this transforming process belongs only to the life beyond. God is appearing all the while to those who have eyes to see Him. We touch here a most vital fact — the revelations of God and their effect upon us. I do not refer to the everyday manifestations of God — the sunlight, the blessed order of nature, the daily food and daily joy of home, but to those occasions when life becomes momentous, when it gathers itself up in a crisis and all is changed for us. It may be good or evil fortune, the birth or death of love, a loss or a gain; all such things are revelations of God, for God is in our lives and not outside of them; but when He thus appears it is for purposes of transformation. That is the use to be made of such events as they touch us. St. John doubtless had in mind the effect of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. That was almost the only revelation to which he gave much heed; the effect of it was the only spiritual effect of which he was conscious. Christ had come into his life; and from a mere child of this world, a simple fisherman, he had been made a veritable son of God. Christ had drawn him out of his old, worldly, natural self up into this high sense and relation, so that he could say, "Now, I am a son of God" — a tremendous change, the greatest a human being can undergo. St. John had experienced this change under the influence of Christ — a change so great that he can scarcely realise what he was at the beginning. A new creation; born again; a son of God; transformed — these phrases are too weak to express it. But it will go on, he says. We shall see Christ again, and see Him as He is; see Him with clearer eyes than we now have; and so mightier transformations will take place within us; we cannot tell nor even imagine what we shall be. I see no reason to doubt this — that great changes are still to go on in us under the transforming power of Christ. Let us not think meagrely on such a subject, but under high analogies. See how Christ has transformed the world; how His spirit has stolen into the hearts of nations; how civilisation has taken on His name and is doing His work. See how the tide of progress sets steadily Christward — more peace and less war, more justice, more equality, more mercy and kindness and goodwill. No matter how they come; they are coming by the Spirit of Gods and they are coming in ways not to be turned aside. What the end of this social change will be we do not know, but there is no reason to doubt that society will make as great gains as it has made in the past. But if society is capable of such transformations, much more must the individual be capable of them. All men are as one man; one is the whole and the whole are but one. And the final condition! who can imagine it? It doth not yet appear what this human world will become. All we can say is that the holy city of the saved world, the new Jerusalem of the perfected humanity, is slowly but steadily coming down from God out of heaven, and will in time appear four-square upon the earth. Thus these great hopes that enfold the world are yours and mine; we can take them into the secrecy of our sorrowing hearts, into our disappointed lives, into the vanishing away of our strength and years, and through them claim and find a place in the world of joy and peace.
(T. T. Munger.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.