by Mike Ratliff
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:3-10 ESV)
I have in my possession a book published as part of series of books called the “Library of Spiritual Classics.” The one I have is Volume One, which is titled Practicing His Presence. It is made up of three volumes. Two of the volumes contain the letters of Frank Laubach while the last volume is simply letters and interviews of Brother Lawrence, a 17th Century French Monk. I bought the book back in 2005 in order to have a source from which to quote Brother Lawrence for a book I was trying to put together. At that time, I had no knowledge of Contemplative Prayer, its source, or its dangers. In the Epilogue to the book, the editors give the purpose for the publishing of the six volume series, which include works by Jeanne Guyon, Fenelon, and Michael Molinos as well as Brother Lawrence and Frank Laubach. I find it interesting that one of the works listed for Frank Laubach is Letters by a Modern Mystic. If I had just encountered these works now, I would immediately recognize them for what they are, but back in 2005 I had no idea. Below is an excerpt from the Epilogue for Practicing His Presence.
There is no question: there are a vast number of Christians out there who are not content. Today’s Christianity does not satisfy, is not deep enough; its formulas are all wanting.
We are publishing these books to help satisfy the hunger that is so widespread. But we also want to tell you something. It is this: God did not give you the presence of Christ just to make you blissfully happy all your life. He save you to put into His kingdom. And , in the first century at least, all believers had a vital part in the daily and very practical experience of that kingdom. They called it the body of Christ. We call it the church.
Whatever it is, it is basic, practical, real. And whatever it is – though it has many inferior imitations (such as “community,” “going to church on Sunday,” etc.) – church life is an experience unknown to Christians today.
Here is my plea. In all your seeking to know Christ in a real and deep way, don’t forget to seek to know Him as they did in the first century. They all know Him in the context of practical church life.
May you find Him. But may you also find that further experience of knowing Him in the daily experience of the body of Christ. – Gene Edwards
While I see some things in Mr. Edwards statement that I do agree with, I think his conclusion about how Christians in the 1st Century Church communed with Christ is simply “his take” or “his opinion,” not based in any way on what we learn from Sacred Scripture, God’s Word, which is the final say. As many of you know, I have been working my way through a work by 17th Century Puritan John Owen titled Communion With The Triune God. What follows is based on Chapter 9, “Of Communion with the Son Jesus Christ,” section ‘How Believers Hold Communion with the Lord Christ.’ I will be quoting from pages 329-333. There are three subsections in this section which will be the outline for this article and will refute what the mystics like Gene Edwards are saying about how Christians commune with their Lord. The Emergents have taken up the baton. Mysticism, no matter its source, is fair game in many so-called Christian circles. John Owen had a very different take on how we are to commune with our Saviour according to God’s Grace.
Genuine believers do hold communion with the Lord Christ. They do not do so through mysticism, empty religiosity, piety, or legalism. Instead:
They continually eye the Lord Jesus as the great Joseph, that has the disposal of the granaries of the kingdom of heaven committed unto him; as one in whom it has pleased the Father to gather all things unto a head (Eph. 1:10), that from him all things might be dispensed unto them. All treasures, all fullness, the Spirit not by measure, are in him. And this fullness in this Joseph, in reference to their condition, they eye in these three particulars:
BELIEVERS LOOK TO THE PURIFYING EFFICACY OF CHRIST”S BLOOD
When our Lord Jesus was crucified, His blood was shed. In this shedding of His blood, it was a sacrifice not only of atonement, as offered, but also of purification, as poured out. John Owen then quotes Hebrews 9:13-14.
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14 ESV)
Christ’s blood sacrifice is that which answers all typical institutions for carnal purifications; and therefore has a spiritually purifying, cleansing, sanctifying virtue in itself, as offered and poured out. Hence it is called, “A fountain for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 13:1); that is, for their washing and taking away—-a fountain opened”; ready prepared, virtuous, efficacious in itself, before any be put into it; because poured out, instituted , appointed to that purpose. The saints see that in themselves they are still exceedingly defiled; and, indeed, to have a sight of the defilements of sin is a more spiritual discovery than to have only a sense of the guilt of sin. This follows every conviction and is commensurate unto it; that, usually only such as reveal the purity and holiness of God and all his ways. Hereupon they cry with shame, within themselves, “Unclean, unclean” –unclean in their natures, unclean in their persons, unclean in their conversations; all rolled in their blood of their defilements; their hearts by nature a very sink, and their lives a dung hill. They know, also, that no unclean thing shall enter into the kingdom of God [Eph. 5:5], or have place in the new Jerusalem; that God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity [Hab. 1:13]. They cannot endure to look on themselves; and how shall they dare to appear in his presence? What remedies shall they now use? “Though they wash themselves with nitre, and take them much soap, yet their iniquity will continue marked” [Jer. 2:22] Wherewith, then, shall they come before the Lord? For the removal of this, I say, they look, in the first place, to the purifying virtue of the blood of Christ, which is able to cleanse them from all their sins (1 John 1:7); being the spring from which flows all the purifying virtue, which in the issue will take away all their spots and stains, “make them holy and without blemish, and in the end present them glorious unto himself” (Eph. 5:26-27). This they dwell upon with thoughts of faith; they roll it in their minds and spirits. Here faith obtains new life, new vigor, when a sense of vileness has even overwhelmed it. Here is a fountain opened: draw nigh, and see its beauty, purity, and efficacy. Here is a foundation laid of that work whose accomplishment we long for. One moment’s communion with Christ by faith herein is more effectual to the purging of the soul, to the increasing of grace, than the utmost self-endeavors of a thousand ages.
Owen is right my brethren and this is only the first of three vital ways believers hold to Christ for communion. Isn’t this in and of itself far deeper and more spiritual than what most receive and are taught in our churches in our time? This was my point at the beginning. Yes, the evangelicalism in our time is mighty thin. It has no depth. This is why so many seek other ways of and means of filling in what is missing. Christ is more than enough, but the Jesus being taught is not the real Jesus and the offense of the Gospel is taken away so there is no focus on what Owen spoke of above of the blood of Christ. So, what is left for these people? Sigh… Owen Continues:
BELIEVERS LOOK TO CHRIST’S BLOOD OF SPRINKLING
They eye the blood of Christ as the blood of sprinkling. Coming to “Jesus the mediator of the new covenant,” they come to the “blood sprinkling” (Heb. 12:24). The eyeing of the blood of Christ as shed will not of itself take away pollution. There is not only haimatekchusia—a “shedding of blood,” without which there is no remission (Heb. 9:22); but there is also haimatos rhantismos—a “sprinkling of blood,” without which there is is not actual purification. This the apostle largely describes in Hebrews 9:19-23:
For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. (Hebrews 9:19-23 ESV)
He had formerly compared the blood of Christ to the blood of sacrifices, as offered, in respect of the impetration and the purchase it made; not he does it unto that blood as sprinkled, in respect of its application unto purification and holiness. And he tells us how this sprinkling was performed: it was by dipping hyssop in the blood of the sacrifice, and so dashing it out upon the thing and persons to be purified; as the institution also was the paschal lamb (Ex. 12:7). Hence, David, in a sense of the pollution of sin, prays that he may be “purged with hyssop” (Ps. 51:7). For that this peculiarly respected the uncleanness and defilement of sin is evident because there is no mention made, in the institution of any sacrifice (after that of the lamb before mentioned), of sprinkling blood with hyssop, but only in those which respected purification of uncleanness; as in the case of leprosy (Lev. 14:6); and all other defilements (Num. 19:18): which latter, indeed, is not of blood, but of the water of separation; this also be eminently typical of the blood of Christ, which is the fountain for separation for uncleanness (Zech. 13:1). Now, this bunch of hyssop, wherein the blood of purification was prepared for the sprinkling of the unclean, is (unto us) the free promises of Christ. The cleansing virtue of blood of Christ lies in the promise unto the universal holiness and purity: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh, and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). This, then, the saints do: they eye the blood of Christ as it is in the promise, ready to issue out upon the soul, for the purification thereof: and thence is purging and cleansing virtue to be communicated unto them, and by the blood of Christ are they to be purged from all their sins (1 John 1:7). Thus far, as it were, this purifying blood, this prepared and made ready, is at some distance to the soul. Though it be shed to this purpose, that it might purge, cleanse, and sanctify, though it be taken up with the bunch of hyssop in the promises, yet the soul may not partake of it. Wherefore-
BELIEVERS LOOK TO CHRIST AS THE DISPENSER OF THE SPIRIT AND OF ALL GRACE
They look upon him as, in his own Spirit, he is the only dispenser of the Spirit and of all grace of sanctification and holiness. They consider that upon his intercession it is granted to him that he shall make effectual all the fruits of his purchase, to the sanctification, the purifying and making glorious in holiness, of his whole people. They know that his is actually to be accomplished by the Spirit, according to the innumerable promises given to that purpose. He is to sprinkle that blood upon their souls; he is to create the holiness in them that they long after; he is to be himself in the a well of water springing up to everlasting life. In this state they look to Jesus: here faith fixes itself, in expectation of his giving out the Spirit for all these ends and purposes; mixing the promises with faith, and so becoming actual partaker of al this grace. This is their way, this their communion with Christ; this is the life of faith, as to grace and holiness.
Of course, there is much more in which Owen describes this growth of the life of faith as to grace and holiness, but I pray that you get the idea. Isn’t this far deeper and far more spiritual than anything mysticism can offer? Mysticism is all about the temporal while our life in Christ is all about our preparation for eternity. Our everlasting life began at our new birth, but it is all pointed to eternity. Christ is our sufficiency. Our fulfillment is found in Him. We must seek it in the promises about our cleansing, forgiveness of sins, adoption into the family of God, and our continued spiritual growth in Christ as we cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness n the fear of God. This is how we commune with Christ in this life and prepare ourselves for what is coming in eternity with Him. All that those who pursue the “deeper spirituality” stuff through mysticism have awaiting them is judgment for what they possess is not real faith. As John Owen said, real Christians are drawn down a different path and that path is to the fountain of Christ’s blood for cleansing and to commune with Him as the dispenser of the Spirit and of all grace.
Soli Deo Gloria!