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Fellowship with God – Our Highest Priviledge

Category Articles
Date February 12, 2002


In our communion with God we are so prone to look first into our own hearts to see what love to Christ is there

The highest privilege a Christian can enjoy this side of eternity is fellowship or communion with God. John holds out the prospect of communion with God as the characteristic mark of the Christian fellowship: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard. So that you also may have fellowship (communion) with us. And our fellowship (communion) is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1 v 3).

We all know this. But don’t we also know (to our great shame) how intermittent and lukewarm and self-regarding is our communion with God? We know only too well how weakly and poorly we give to our Father and our Saviour those “returns of love” that they seek from all their people. We (if you are anything like me) are much like the man John Owen writes about: “I cannot find my heart making returns of love unto God. Could I find my soul set upon Him, I could then believe His soul delighted in me. In our communion with God we are so prone to look first into our own hearts to see what love to Christ is there. In doing so we have fallen into the trap of “anthropocentricism”, that is, we make ourselves the centre of the spiritual life, and view our communion with God through the cracked and skewed lens of our own hearts.

Owen responds vigorously to this “anthropocentricism.” He writes, “This is the most preposterous course that thy thoughts can pitch upon … ‘Herein is love’, saith the Holy Ghost, ‘not that we love God, but that he loved us first’.. Now thou wouldst invert this order, and say, ‘herein is love, not that God loved me, but that I loved him first’…. This is a course of flesh’s finding out that will never bring glory to God, nor peace to thy own soul. Lay down then thy reasonings, take up the love of the Father upon a pure act of believing, and that will open up thy soul to let it out unto the Lord in the communion of love,” Do Owen’s words strike a chord with you?

How easily we can slide into a self-centred view of the life of faith. Almost before we know it, we are looking in, when we should be looking out and up. This is perhaps the most striking feature of Owen’s wonderful treatise on Communion With God. It is so radically theocentric. This is the note that Owen wants to sound in our minds and hearts. In a deeply moving passage, he writes, “Thoughts of communion with the saints were the joy of his heart from eternity.” Is this not the most reassuring, consoling and humbling of thoughts? Does such a thought not put a sword into the man-centredness that so afflicts the Christian Church today? The centre of gravity in the believing life is not my love for him, but his great love for me. Grasping this would do more than anything else to rid the Church of the self-absorption that mars its life, witness and worship.

It was this “God-centred communion” which prepared Owen for death. The day before he died, he dictated a last letter to a friend: “I am going to him whom my soul hath loved, or rather who hath loved me with an everlasting
love: which is the whole ground of all my consolation.” Right to the last, Owen was looking out to God in Christ. What comforted him in life, consoled him in death – he was loved with an everlasting love.

If you are anything like me, you need often to be reminded of such basic truth, for basic it surely is. Often we think that if only we grasped the “deep things” of the gospel, our spiritual lives would deepen and flourish. The truth, however, is that our greatest need is always to grasp, and be grasped by “gospel basics”, and nothing is more basic than grasping that in Christ, I am loved, dearly loved, with an everlasting love. Let me leave you with one last gem from Owen. He assures us that Christ’s “heart is glad in (his people) without sorrow.” Let that astonishing truth be the means of drawing out from us those “returns of love” that the Beloved seeks from his Bride.

Ian Hamilton

Ian Hamilton is the minister of the Cambridge Presbyterian Church. John Owen’s “Communion with God” is found in his Works which are published by the Banner of Truth

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