“It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him.” 2 Timothy 2:11, 12
BEHOLD, then, your exalted privilege, you suffering sons of God! See how the glory beams around you, you humble and afflicted ones! You are one with the Prince of sufferers, and the Prince of sufferers is one with you! Oh! to be one with Christ-what tongue can speak, what pen can describe the sweetness of the blessing, and the greatness of the grace? To sink with Him in His humiliation here is to rise with Him in His exaltation hereafter. To share with Him in His abasement on earth is to blend with Him in His glory in heaven. To suffer shame and ridicule, persecution and distress, poverty and loss for Him now, is to wear the crown, and wave the palm, to swell the triumph, and shout the song, when He shall descend the second time in glory and majesty, to raise His Bride from the scene of her humiliation, robe her for the marriage, and make her manifestly and eternally His own.
Oh! laud His great name for all the present conduct of His providence and grace. Praise Him for all the wise though affecting discoveries He gives you of yourself, of the creature, of the world. Blessed, ah! truly blessed and holy is the discipline that prostrates your spirit in the dust. There it is that He reveals the secret of His own love, and draws apart the veil of His own loveliness. There it is that He brings the soul deeper into the experience of His sanctifying truth; and, with new forms of beauty and expressions of endearment, allures the heart, and takes a fresh possession of it for Himself. And there, too, it is that the love, tenderness, and grace of the Holy Spirit are better known. As a Comforter, as a Revealer of Jesus, we are, perhaps, more fully led into an acquaintance with the work of the Spirit in seasons of soul-abasement than at any other time. The mode and time of His divine manifestation are thus beautifully predicted: “He shall come down like rain on the mown grass; as showers that water the earth.” Observe the gentleness, the silence, and the sovereignty of His operation-”He shall come down like rain.” How characteristic of the blessed Spirit’s grace! Then mark the occasion on which He descends-it is at the time of the soul’s deep prostration. The waving grass is mowed-the lovely flower is laid low-the fruitful stem is broken-that which was beautiful, fragrant, and precious is cut down-the fairest first to fade, the loveliest first to die, the fondest first to depart; then, when the mercy is gone, and the spirit is bowed, when the heart is broken, the mind is dejected, and the world seems clad in wintry desolation and gloom, the Holy Spirit, in all the softening, reviving, comforting, and refreshing influence of His grace, descends, speaks of the beauty of Jesus, leads to the grace of Jesus, lifts the bowed soul, and reposes it on the bosom of Jesus.
Precious and priceless, then, beloved, are the seasons of a believer’s humiliation. They tell of the soul’s emptiness, of Christ’s fullness; of the creature’s insufficiency, of Christ’s all-sufficiency; of the world’s poverty, of Christ’s affluence; they create a necessity which Jesus supplies, a void which Jesus fills, a sorrow which Jesus soothes, a desire which Jesus satisfies. They endear the cross of the incarnate God, they reveal the hidden glory of Christ’s humiliation, they sweeten prayer, and lift the soul to God; and then, “truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son, Jesus Christ.” Are you as a bruised flower? are you as a broken stem? Does some heavy trial now bow you in the dust? Oh never, perhaps, were you so truly beautiful-never did your grace send forth such fragrance, or your prayers ascend with so sweet an odor-never did faith, and hope, and love develop their hidden glories so richly, so fully as now! In the eye of a wounded, a bruised, and a humbled Christ, you were never more lovely, and to His heart never more precious than now-pierced by His hand, smitten by His rod, humbled by His chastisement, laid low at His feet, condemning yourself, justifying Him, taking to yourself all the shame, and ascribing to Him all the glory.
Once more the Divine Sonship of our Lord is assailed: “If Thou be the Son of God,” or, as it is in the Greek, “Seeing Thou are the Son of God.” We repeat the fact that demons never denied the Godhead of Christ, but invariably and unhesitatingly acknowledged it, and did it homage. It was left for man, in his depravity and arrogance, to ignore and scorn a doctrine which the devilsbelieved, and at which they trembled! In this particular the temptation of Christ and that of the Christian are remarkably coincident. Satan’s first great step in promoting his dark design is to call our personal Christianity in question. He will set us upon the task of debating our Divine adoption, and consequently denying our sonship. He will engender doubts respecting the reality of our conversion, and suggest to the mind that all our past religious experience has been but a delusion, our Christian profession hypocrisy, and that with all our shining gifts, zealous service, and prominent position in the Church of God we have in reality no part or lot in the matter. And the moment he has succeeded in foisting upon us the idea of self-deception, he has opened an easy avenue to the temptation of self-destruction! Oh, heed not, believer, the suicidal voice of this Evil One! Were you really self-deceived and deceiving—were you still in an unconverted and unrenewed state, would he, think you, set you upon the work of doubting your spiritual state—ofquestioning the genuineness of your conversion? Would it not rather be his policy to rock the cradle of your false hope, and ply you with yet deeper draughts of the narcotic which had so long promoted your profound and fatal insensibility—thus fostering the belief that you were saved, well knowing that you were lost? If Satan was compelled by the force of a conviction he could not resist to acknowledge the Divine Sonship of Christ, his device, on the other hand, is to throw a doubt upon ours, and thus, by admitting the one and denying the other, he aims to accomplish his subtle and hellish purposes.
27.Reach hither thy finger.
We have already spoken once about Christ’s entrance, and the form of salutation which he employed. When Christ so readily yields to the improper request of Thomas, (218) and, of his own accord, invites him to feel his hands, and touch the wound of his side, we learn from this how earnestly desirous he was to promote our faith and that of Thomas; for it was not to Thomas only, but to us also, that he looked, that nothing might be wanting which was necessary for confirming our faith.
The stupidity of Thomas was astonishing and monstrous; for he was not satisfied with merely beholding Christ out wished to have his hands also as witnesses of Christ’s resurrection. Thus he was not only obstinate, but also proud and contemptuous in his treatment of Christ. Now, at least, when he saw Christ, he ought to have been overwhelmed with shame and amazement; but, on the contrary, he boldly and fearlessly stretches forth his hand, as if he were not conscious of any guilt; for it may be readily inferred from the words of the Evangelist, that he did not repent before that he had convinced himself by touching. Thus it happens that, when we render to the word of God less honor than is due to it, there steals upon us, without our knowledge, a glowing obstinacy, which brings along with it a contempt of the word of God, and makes us lose all reverence for it. So much the more earnestly should we labor to restrain the wantonness of our mind, that none of us, by improperly indulging in contradiction, and extinguishing, as it were, the feeling of piety, may block up against ourselves the gate of faith.
My Lord and my God! Thomas awakes at length, though late, and as persons who have been mentally deranged commonly do when they come to themselves, exclaims, in astonishment, My Lord and my God! For the abruptness of the language has great vehemence; nor can it be doubted that shame compelled him to break out into this expression, in order to condemn his own stupidity. Besides, so sudden an exclamation shows that faith was not wholly extinguished in him, though it had been choked; for in the side or hands of Christ he does not handle Christ’s Divinity, but from those signs he infers much more than they exhibited. Whence comes this, but because, after forgetfulness and deep sleep, he suddenly comes to himself? This shows, therefore, the truth of what I said a little ago, that the faith which appeared to be destroyed was, as it were, concealed and buried in his heart.
The same thing happens sometimes with many persons; for they grow wanton for a time, as if they had cast off all fear of God, so that there appears to be no longer any faith in them; but as soon as God has chastised them with a rod, the rebellion of their flesh is subdued, and they return to their right senses. It is certain that disease would not, of itself, be sufficient to teach piety; and hence we infer, that, when the obstructions have been removed, the good seed, which had been concealed and crushed, springs up. We have a striking instance of this in David; for, so long as he is permitted to gratify his lust, we see how he indulges without restraint. Every person would have thought that, at that time, faith had been altogether banished from his mind; and yet, by a short exhortation of the Prophet, he is so suddenly recalled to life, that it may easily be inferred, that some spark, though it had been choked, still remained in his mind, and speedily burst into a flame. So far as relates to the men themselves, they are as guilty as if’ they had renounced faith and all the grace of the Holy Spirit; but the infinite goodness of God prevents the elect from falling so low as to be entirely alienated from God. We ought, therefore, to be most zealously on our guard not to fall from faith; and yet we ought to believe that God restrains his elect by secret bridle, that they may not fall to their destruction, and that He always cherishes miraculously in their hearts some sparks of faith, which he afterwards, at the proper time, kindles anew by the breath of his Spirit.
There are two clauses in this confession. Thomas acknowledges that Christ is his Lord, and then, in the second clauses, (219) he ascends higher, and calls him also his God. We know in what sense Scripture gives to Christ the name of Lord. It is, because the rather hath appointed him to be the highest governor, that he may hold all things under his dominion., that every knee may bow before him, (Phi_2:10,) and., in short, that he may be the Father’s vicegerent in governing the world. Thus the name Lord properly belongs to him, so far as he is the Mediator manifested in the flesh, and the Head of the Church. But Thomas, having acknowledged him to be Lord, is immediately carried upwards to his eternal Divinity, and justly; for the reason why Christ descended to us, and first was humbled, and afterwards was placed at the Father’s right hand, and obtained dominion over heaven and earth, was, that he might exalt us to his own Divine glory, and to the glory of the Father. That our faith may arrive at the eternal Divinity of Christ., we must begin with that knowledge which is nearer and more easily acquired. Thus it has been justly said by some, that by Christ Man we are conducted to Christ God, because our faith makes such gradual progress that, perceiving Christ on earth, born in a stable, and hanging on a cross., it rises to the glory of his resurrection, and, proceeding onwards, comes at length to his eternal life and power, in which his Divine Majesty is gloriously displayed.
Yet we ought to believe, that we cannot know Christ as our Lord, in a proper manner, without immediately obtaining also a knowledge of his Divinity. Nor is there any room to doubt that this ought to be a confession common to all believers., when we perceive that it is approved by Christ. He certainly would never have endured that the Father should be robbed of the honour due to him, and that this honor should be falsely and groundlessly conveyed to himself. But he plainly ratifies what Thomas said; and, therefore, this passage is abundantly sufficient for refuting the madness of Arius; for it is not lawful to imagine two Gods. Here also is declared the unity of person in Christ; for the same Jesus Christ (220) is called both God and Lord. Emphatically, to, he twice calls him his own, MYLord and MY God! declaring, that he speaks in earnest, and with a lively sentiment of faith.
[Thomas] said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:25-29
J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)
We should mark…how kind and merciful Christ is to dull and slow believers. Nowhere, perhaps, in all the four Gospels, do we find this part of our Lord’s character so beautifully illustrated as in the story before our eyes. It is hard to imagine anything more tiresome and provoking than the conduct of Thomas, when even the testimony of ten faithful brethren had no effect on him, and he doggedly declared, “Except I see with my own eyes and touch with my own hands, I will not believe.”
But it is impossible to imagine anything more patient and compassionate, than our Lord’s treatment of this weak disciple. He does not reject him, or dismiss him, or excommunicate him. He comes again at the end of a week, and apparently for the special benefit of Thomas. He deals with him according to his weakness, like a gentle nurse dealing with a froward child:—”Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side.” If nothing but the grossest, coarsest, most material evidence could satisfy him, even that evidence was supplied. Surely this was a love that passeth knowledge, and a patience that passeth understanding.
A passage of Scripture like this, we need not doubt, was written for the special comfort of all true believers. The Holy Ghost knew well that the dull, and the slow, and the stupid, and the doubting, are by far the commonest type of disciples in this evil world. The Holy Ghost has taken care to supply abundant evidence that Jesus is rich in patience as well as compassion, and that He bears with the infirmities of all His people. Let us take care that we drink into our Lord’s spirit, and copy His example.
Let us never set down men in a low place, as gracious and godless, because their faith is feeble and their love is cold. Let us remember the case of Thomas, and be very pitiful and of tender mercy. Our Lord has many weak children in His family, many dull pupils in His school, many raw soldiers in His army, many lame sheep in His flock. Yet He bears with them all, and casts none away. Happy is that Christian who has learned to deal likewise with his brethren. There are many in the Church, who, like Thomas, are dull and slow, but for all that, like Thomas, are real and true believers.
Isa 50:10 Who is among you that feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his God.
Isa 50:11 Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow.
The prophet, having the tongue of the learned given him, that he might give to every one his portion, here makes use of it, rightly dividing the word of truth. It is the summary of the gospel. He that believes shall be saved (he that trusts in the name of the Lord shall be comforted, though for a while he walk in darkness and have no light), but he that believes not shall be damned; though for a while he walk in the light of his own fire, yet he shall lie down in sorrow.
I. Comfort is here spoken to disconsolate saints, and they are encouraged to trust in God’s grace, Isa_50:10. Here observe, 1. What is always the character of a child of God. He is one that fears the Lord with a filial fear, that stands in awe of his majesty and is afraid of incurring his displeasure. This is a grace that usually appears most in good people when they walk in darkness, when other graces appear not. They then tremble at his word (Isa_66:2) and are afraid of his judgments, Psa_119:120. He is one that obeys the voice of God’s servant, is willing to be ruled by the Lord Jesus, as God’s servant in the great work of man’s redemption, one that yields a sincere obedience to the law of Christ and cheerfully comes up to the terms of his covenant. Those that truly fear God will obey the voice of Christ. 2. What is sometimes the case of a child of God. It is supposed that though he has in his heart the fear of God, and faith in Christ, yet for a time he walks in darkness and has no light, is disquieted and has little or no comfort. Who is there that does so? This intimates that it is a case which sometimes happens among the professors of religion, yet not very often; but, whenever it happens, God takes notice of it. It is no new thing for the children and heirs of light sometimes to walk in darkness, and for a time not to have any glimpse or gleam of light. This is not meant so much of the comforts of this life (those that fear God, when they have ever so great an abundance of them, do not walk in them as their light) as of their spiritual comforts, which relate to their souls. They walk in darkness when their evidences for heaven are clouded, their joy in God is interrupted, the testimony of the Spirit is suspended, and the light of God’s countenance is eclipsed. Pensive Christians are apt to be melancholy, and those who fear always are apt to fear too much. 3. What is likely to be an effectual cure in this sad case. He that is thus in the dark, (1.) Let him trust in the name of the Lord, in the goodness of his nature, and that which he has made known of himself, his wisdom, power, and goodness. The name of the Lord is a strong tower, let his run into that. Let him depend upon it that if he walk before God, which a man may do though he walk in the dark, he shall find God all-sufficient to him. (2.) Let him stay himself upon his God, his in covenant; let him keep hold of his covenant-relation to God, and call God his God, as Christ on the cross, My God, My God. Let him stay himself upon the promises of the covenant, and build his hopes on them. When a child of God is ready to sink he will find enough in God to stay himself upon. Let him trust in Christ, for God’s name is in him (Exo_23:21), trust in that name of his, The Lord our righteousness, and stay himself upon God as his God, in and through a Mediator.
II. Conviction is here spoken to presuming sinners, and they are warned not to trust in themselves, Isa_50:11. Observe, 1. The description given of them. They kindle a fire, and walk in the light of that fire. They depend upon their own righteousness, offer all their sacrifices, and burn all their incense, with that fire (as Nadab and Abihu) and not with the fire from heaven. In their hope of acceptance with God they have no regard to the righteousness of Christ. They refresh and please themselves with a conceit of their own merit and sufficiency, and warm themselves with that. It is both light and heat to them. They compass themselves about with sparks of their own kindling. As they trust in their own righteousness, and not in the righteousness of Christ, so they place their happiness in their worldly possessions and enjoyments, and not in the favour of God. Creature-comforts are as sparks, short-lived and soon gone; yet the children of this world, while they last, warm themselves by them, and walk with pride and pleasure in the light of them. 2. The doom passed upon them. They are ironically told to walk in the light of their own fire. “Make your best of it, while it lasts. But what will be in the end thereof, what will it come to at last? This shall you have of my hand (says Christ, for to him the judgment is committed), you shall lie down in sorrow, shall go to bed in the dark.” See Job_18:5, Job_18:6. His candle shall be put out with him. Those that make the world their comfort, and their own righteousness their confidence, will certainly meet with a fatal disappointment, which will be bitterness in the end. A godly man’s way may be melancholy, but his end shall be peace and everlasting light. A wicked man’s way may be pleasant, but his end and endless abode will be utter darkness.
[W]hat theologians in church history do you recommend reading to better understand the doctrine of election?
Among the Fathers, Augustine’s On the Predestination of the Saints is essential. Gottschalk’s little treatise, On Predestination witnesses to the vitality of doctrine in the early middle ages. Thomas’ discussion in Summa Theologica 1a 23.1 is masterful. My favorites, however, are Calvin’s exegetical treatment in his commentary on Romans (1539, 1551) chapter 9 because of its strong commitment to understanding the passage in its redemptive-historical context and his doctrinal treatment in the 1559 Institutes(3.21-24) because there he helps us address it a posteriori by asking not, ‘Am I elect?’ but rather, ‘Do I believe?’ Herman Witsius’ 1677 treatment of election relative to the covenant of grace (Economy of the Covenants 3.4.) is encouraging as he points to the spiritual benefits the doctrine brings to the believer.
[H]ow might a Reformed understanding of the doctrine of election help the Christian who struggles with issues of assurance of salvation?
One of the more unfortunate facts in the history of Protestant piety is that the doctrines of election, and reprobation (predestination) have sometimes become a source of doubt and spiritual uncertainty. It is unfortunate and perverse because, understood properly, the doctrine of predestination should be a source of comfort and encouragement. Perhaps the single greatest reason that Christians have found the doctrine of predestination spiritually troubling is that they have often asked the wrong question: “Am I elect?” This is the wrong question first because it is not a question that Scripture ever encourages us to ask. It is the wrong question because it seeks to know things in a way that has not been revealed to us. We might call this the medieval question.
One result of asking the question this way is that one could never know with certainty if one is elect and any claim to know, with certainty, that one is elect, would be regarded as presumption. The question that the Scriptures teach us to ask is quite different: “Do I believe?” Let us call this the Protestant question. It is a question that we can answer, and by doing so, find comfort and certainty.
The Apostle Paul used the doctrine of election to encourage the Ephesian church. Writing to them on the basis of their profession of faith in Christ, he explained that the Father has “blessed us in Christ” and “chose us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” and that “in love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will… (Eph 1:3–6).
Paul’s point was to remind helpless sinners, whose state, outside of Christ, he described as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), of God’s free, unconditional favor in Christ. His reasoning works this way: After the fall, under Adam’s headship (Rom 5:12–21), we are spiritually corrupt and at war with God. We have no inclination to believe. If we believe, it is because “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him…” (Eph 2:4–6).
In other words, God’s free election of his people to spiritual life, true faith, and union with Christ means that salvation and righteousness are his free gifts to his people. They were given unconditionally and they are received, through faith alone (Eph 2:8). If you believe, it is because God loved you, in Christ, and willed from all eternity to bring you to life, to give you the gift of faith and through it all of Christ’s benefits. This way of thinking about God’s election gives us firm, unshakeable ground on which to stand. It means that believers belong, body and soul, in life and in death, to their faithful Savior Jesus and that no one can snatch us out of his hand (John 6:40, 10:28; Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 1). It is not only medieval Christians who have asked the wrong question. Since the Reformation evangelical Christians have often been tempted to ask the medieval question and have reached the same troubling conclusion. As a result they have made uncertainty of the essence of faith. We see none of this, however, in Paul. Even when he thinks about his struggle with sin in the Christian life (Romans 7) he finds certainty on the basis of God’s free, electing grace and promises in Christ (Rom 8-10). Let us follow Paul, and his followers, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and countless other evangelical Protestants before us and do the same.
Believers are what they are by God’s grace and his promise is as sure as God is immoveable and faithful. We should not ask whether we are good enough (we are not) or whether we might fall (we shall) but whether God is faithful (he is) and whether he has sealed his promises with Christ’s obedient life, bloody death, and resurrection (he has), and whether we believe: by God’s grace we do.