The passage of scripture, which you have laid before me, “This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent,” (John 17) has reference both to the life that now is, and to that which is to come. The children of God inwardly commence their happiness here, and consummate it hereafter. It begins here: but there are two things, which we ought not to forget.
I. That this happiness is not felt, or sensibly experienced by all, nor at all times. God does not always let the soul perceive her blessedness, because of her self-love. His people must often walk in the darkness of faith, (Heb. 10: 36-38) and pass through afflictions, that being well purified, they may attain the sanctification of God, which at such times, does not always appear to them to be joyous and blissful, (Heb. 12: 10, 11) although it is so in reality. When the soul desires nothing but God, and seeks to cleave unto him by faith, prayer, and resignation, the individual may be content, although he experiences nothing in the present life. Yet I have no doubt, that if we ventured all upon God, and rejected all creature help and consolation, the heavenly manna would not entirely fail us in this wilderness.
II. We must ever remember, that the blessedness of the Christian is experienced, in this life, by degrees. He that at his first repentance comes to Christ, as weary and heavy-laden, will be refreshed by him: he receives the forgiveness of sins that are past, through grace alone, for the sake of the merits of Christ. If this be perceptibly felt, we then know the Father, and feel a degree of blessedness, as it is likewise expressed in scripture, Psalm 32: 1, 2, Ephes. 2: 8. But we must not stand still here. Paul admonishes those believers, who were already blessed in the first degree, to work out their own salvation; not indeed, by their own works or doings, but by being attentive and obedient to the grace of God, which should work in them, and likewise in us, both to will and to do according to his good pleasure. (Phil. 2: 12, 13) These divine operations aim chiefly at the destruction of all the works of the devil within us, such as sin, the creature, and self-love, tend to make God and invisible things of ever greater importance to us, and draw us more and more into his saving presence. The soul is then capable of experiencing what is written in John 14: 21, 23 and 2 Cor. 6 that is, that the Lord Jesus inwardly manifests himself to her, and even fixes his residence in her. And he that truly experiences this finds a much greater measure of blessedness, than in the first degree, which consisted merely in the forgiveness of sins, or in some views of the divine favor. John, speaking upon this subject, says, “He that hath the Son, hath eternal life,” and this has also its different degrees. Paul had experienced all this, and yet he expected to experience still more in this life. (Phil. 3)
On the whole, both the knowledge of God and of his Son, Jesus Christ, as well as the blessedness which arises from it, may always continue to increase in the present life, and will be completed in eternity: yet still there is so much to be experienced in this life, as is incredible to an unbeliever. In this life, we can become “partakers of the divine nature,” and he that cleaves to the Lord, becomes one spirit with him. (1 Cor. 6: 17) It is true, these things are wonderful and divine, yet God has promised them in Christ Jesus, and willingly grants them to each of us. Having therefore these promises, we ought to purify ourselves from all corruption of the flesh and spirit, and never stand still, but seek to perfect our holiness in the power of divine grace.
I hope my dear friend will now, in some measure, comprehend my meaning, and find his second inquiry answered by what has been said above: it was, “When, and in what manner, does this manifestation of God take place?” for it takes place nowhere else, than in the inmost heart. Sin, hell, and perdition have their seat within; redemption and salvation must likewise be experienced within. So long as God and his salvation remain external, we have no proper acquaintance with them. The Lord, our Saviour, is unspeakably near our inmost soul. He allures us within; in order that we may there become partakers of him, and of his salvation. If we follow the drawing of his love, in forsaking the creature by self-denial, and affectionately approaching unto him by inward prayer, he will then fulfill his promise in our experience.
This therefore is the unerring path to the attainment of our end; and walking in this way, we may always rest satisfied, whatever the Lord does with us, whether he lets us feel and clearly experience much or little in this life. Eternity is long enough for enjoyment. Let us only begin below, and follow the Lamb, whithersoever he leads us. All will be well in the end. I commend my dear friend to the gracious providence of God, and remain most cordially, etc.,
Your affectionate friend and brother.