Luk_24:32. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?
THE divine authority of the Christian religion was chiefly to be proved by the resurrection of Christ. Hence our Lord gave his Disciples the most unquestionable evidence of his resurrection during the space of forty days previous to his ascension to heaven. After several other manifestations of himself to different Disciples on the day of his resurrection, he entered into conversation with two of them on their way to Emmaus: under the appearance of a stranger, he then expounded to them all the most important parts of the Mosaic and prophetic writings, and shewed them, that there was no just reason for them to be so disconcerted by his death, or so incredulous about his resurrection, since their own Scriptures had so clearly declared that the Messiah should die and rise again. Arriving at Emmaus, he accepted their invitation to abide with them at the house whither they were going: and at supper, he took the bread, and implored the Divine blessing upon it, and brake it, and gave it to them, just as he had been wont to do in former times. Now their eyes were opened; and in this unexpected guest they recognized their Lord and Master. It pleased him however, for wise and gracious reasons, to withdraw himself suddenly from them, and to leave them to make their own reflections upon all that had passed. Accordingly, no sooner had they recovered their surprise, than they addressed one another in the words of our text, “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the Scriptures?”
This kind of appearance, and this mode of communicating instruction, were peculiar to the occasion, and must be looked for no more: Christ is personally gone into heaven, where he will abide till the time of the restitution of all things. But we must not therefore imagine that all intercourse has ceased between himself and his people; for he will still, in a spiritual way, maintain communion with them, and give them such discoveries of himself, as shall cause their “hearts to burn within them.”
In confirmation of this truth, we shall shew,
That communion with Christ is yet the privilege of his believing people—
Whilst we disclaim all idea of visions, and impulses, and wild enthusiastic conceits, we do affirm that Christ will yet “manifest himself unto his people, as he does not unto the world:”
In the private duties of the closet—
[Christ has said to his Church. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” This is to be understood, not of his corporeal, but spiritual, presence; according to what St. Paul prayed for in behalf of Timothy, “The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit [Note: 2Ti_4:22.].” In reading the Scriptures, he will, by his Holy Spirit, cast a light upon the Scriptures, as he did in this exposition which he gave to the Disciples; fixing our attention upon those points which are of primary importance, and “opening our understandings to understand them [Note: Luk_24:45.]” He will give us that spiritual discernment which is necessary for a right perception of their import [Note: 2Co_2:14.], and will so impress them on our hearts as to make them effectual for all the purposes of his grace [Note: Act_16:14.]. Sometimes he will cause his word to distil as the dew, or to descend as the rain and snow, which fall not to the earth in vain [Note: Deu_32:2. Isa_55:10-11.]; and at other times he will cause it to pierce as a sword [Note: Heb_4:12.], or to burn like fire, or, like a hammer, to break the rocky heart in pieces [Note: Jer_23:29.].
In prayer also will he give “boldness and access with confidence by faith in him [Note: Eph_3:12.].” His Holy Spirit will “help our infirmities and teach us what to pray for as we ought,” and “make intercession in us with groans which cannot be uttered [Note: Rom_8:26.].” He “will draw nigh to us whilst we draw nigh to him [Note: Jam_4:8.]:” he “will hear us and answer us,” and say, “Here I am [Note: Isa_58:9.]:” he will also impart to us the things we pray for, and give us “grace sufficient” for every occasion that can arise [Note: 2Co_12:9.]. Thousands can yet attest the truth of these things: they have gone to his throne of grace weak, dejected, disconsolate; and have lost all their burthen there, and come away filled “with joy and peace in believing.”]
In the public ordinances of religion—
[Our Lord has particularly promised, that “where two or three are met together in his name, there he will be in the midst of them [Note: Mat_18:20.].” In the public assemblies of his people therefore he will assuredly be present. Indeed it is his presence there which alone makes them effectual for the end designed: and “if he go not up with us, it is to little purpose that we go” thither. It is he who gives energy to the word preached: “though Paul should plant, or Apollos water, it is He only that gives the increase [Note: 1Co_3:5-7.].” Ministers are merely the instruments whereby God communicates his blessings to the Church. Good is then done, and sinners are converted to God, when the power of the Lord is present to work, and when the word comes to their hearts, “not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance [Note: 1Th_1:5.].” Hence it is that persons, who but a Little time before “knew not that the Lord God was in that place,” are constrained to cry out, “This is none other but the house of God, this is the gate of heaven [Note: Gen_28:16-17.].”]
In the common offices of life—
[There is no time, nor place, where the Lord Jesus will not vouchsafe his presence to those who call upon him. In a crowd, in the midst of business, no less than in the retired and lonely walk, will our Lord be with them [Note: Gen_28:15.]: he will even be as “their shade upon their right hand [Note: Psa_121:4-8.],” to keep them from all evil, and to load them with his richest benefits: “his goodness and mercy shall follow them;” yea, “he himself will walk with them, and dwell in them,” so that in every possible situation they shall be enabled to say, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ [Note: 1Jn_1:3.].” How often has this been realized in social converse, and in the chambers of the sick! — — —]
If this be the privilege of his people, it may justly be said,
That it is the most exalted privilege they can possibly enjoy—
There is no satisfaction that a human being can possess, that is at all to be compared with that which arises from communion with his God and Saviour. The pleasure it affords is,
The most refined—
[That which is usually called pleasure, is, for the most part, unworthy of the name: the gratifications of sense are suited only to our animal nature, and enjoyed only in common with the beasts. Even intellectual pleasures, though more suited to us as rational beings, are yet far below the desires which we feel, and the capacities with which we are endowed. The Christian is “made partaker of a Divine nature;” and he can be satisfied with nothing less than the enjoyment of the Divinity himself. Accordingly this is his actual attainment. The Spirit of God inspires him with a lively hope [Note: 1Pe_1:3.],” and “a peace that passeth all understanding;” and so reveals and “glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ” in his soul [Note: Gal_1:16. Joh_16:14.], as to make him “rejoice with joy unspeakable and glorified [Note: 1Pe_1:8. The Greek.].” Yes, the joy that he imparts, is such as disembodied spirits may be supposed to feel, an earnest and a foretaste of heaven itself [Note: Eph_1:13-14.].]
The most independent—
[For all other pleasures we are dependent either on outward circumstances, or on the state of our own minds. If, for instance, we are racked with pain, or bowed down with grief, or standing on the brink of the grave, no earthly thing will afford us any comfort. Not so the pleasure of which we are speaking; that is even advanced by the want of other things, and never is enjoyed with so rich a zest, as when it has nothing to aid, but every thing to counteract it. Then it is that the excellency of communion with Christ appears in its true colours — — —]
The most ennobling—
[Earthly pleasures prevent, for the most part, the ascent of the soul towards heaven — — — but communion with Christ raises the soul to heaven, and transforms it by constantly progressive changes into the Divine image [Note: 2Co_3:18.] — — —]
The most diffusive—
[Other pleasures we are content to enjoy alone: but this no one ever tasted, without instantly feeling in his soul a desire to impart it to those around him. “Come unto me, all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul.” “Draw me” says the Church. “and we will run after thee [Note: Son_1:4.];” for no one that is drawn would ever willingly come alone; he would, if possible, draw all others along with him — — —]
Some questions, which may possibly arise in the minds of those who desire communion with Christ, we shall now endeavour to answer—
How are we to attain it?
[It is not to be sought for in the circles of gaiety or in the cares of business, but in reading the word of God and prayer. We are aware, that all persons cannot dedicate to these exercises an equal degree of their time: nor is it necessary that they should: but all may, and must, devote some portion of their time to this great pursuit. God has given us six days for worldly labour, and requires the seventh to be sanctified to him: and if that day were conscientiously consecrated to the Lord, we should not long be unacquainted with the subject before us: “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost,” would soon he known to us by sweet experience. “Search the Scriptures,” says our Lord; “for they are they that testify of me.” Again, “He spake a parable, to teach us that we should pray always, and not faint.” These are the occupations in which we should take delight: and like the Apostles in their way to Emmaus, we should make the great mysteries of redemption a subject of our deepest research, and of our most familiar converse. Were we thus to seek after Christ, we should soon have the veil removed from our eyes; and God would “shine into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ.”]
How are we to distinguish it?
[I grant that there are enthusiasts, who pretend to such impulses, and such communications as the Scriptures do not warrant us to expect: and it is certainly desirable to be on our guard that we be not led astray by them. But we must not despise those manifestations which God does vouchsafe to his people, because there are enthusiasts who profess to have experienced more. We do not reject good coin because a spurious coin is sometimes obtruded in its stead: but we learn to distinguish between them. So in reference to the subject before us, we should “prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.”
We apprehend then that the genuine experience of communion with Christ may be distinguished from enthusiastic pretensions to it, both by its rise, and its operation on the mind. Enthusiasts found their pretensions on some visions, or dreams, or on the word of God coming in a peculiar manner to their minds: and they are filled with pride, and conceit, and an unhallowed presumptuous confidence, which are certain indications of spiritual delusion. The true child of God, on the contrary, is humbled in the dust by the favours vouchsafed to his soul: he prostrates himself like Abraham and Moses [Note: Gen_17:3. Exo_34:8.], and covers his face with his mantle, as Elijah [Note: 1Ki_19:13.], and abhors himself, like Job, in dust and ashes [Note: Job_40:4; Job_42:5-6.]. Nor is he hasty to talk of these manifestations: he will strive indeed to bring others to similar enjoyments; but he will not be forward to boast of his own: and the confidence which they create within him renders him tenfold more watchful against every occasion of sin. By such marks as these it will not be difficult for an humble person to judge; but such is the blinding efficacy of pride and vanity, that it is little less than a miracle if an enthusiast be ever brought to try himself by them.]
How to improve it?
[We know of no better advice than that of St. Paul, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit, whereby ye are sealed to the day of redemption.” God is a jealous God. There are no bounds to his love to those who truly honour him and walk circumspectly before him; “He will rejoice over them to do them good:” but if we presume upon his favour, and give way to any sin, we may soon provoke him to withdraw from us. What God himself then said to his people respecting the Angel of the Covenant, whom he sent to bring them into the land of Canaan, I would say to you; “Beware of him, and obey his voice; provoke him not: for he will not pardon your trans-gressions [Note: Exo_23:20-21.].” Merciful as he is towards repenting sinners, he will not endure any secret abomination in the hearts of his believing people; and if he behold any, he will hide his face from them till it be put away. If then he has made you new creatures, and sealed you for his own, be careful to “glorify him in your body and in your spirit, which are his.”]