The St. Paul’s Pulpit
Never Lonely Again
Delivered on May 27, 2018, by
Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph.D. at
St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Baton Rouge, LA
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you. He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (John 14:16-23)
When we used to go to Mexico to visit my wife’s mother, one of the saddest moments was when we got in the car to leave. As we would look at my mother-in-law, she would have the most mournful and lonely face you have ever seen. It got so bad, that my wife and I didn’t want to look at her as we drove away because we would feel so guilty and depressed. Now our daughter says that we look the same way when she and the grandchildren drive away from our house. To be apart from those we love, even if it is for a short time, is something that brings great sadness to our hearts. Some of our most famous love songs are about being apart from the one we love, and the sadness that it brings. When my wife and I were dating, she would go back to Mexico for summer vacation, and all summer long I played, “See You in September,” which only made my loneliness worse. To be parted from those we love, even for a few short weeks can seem unbearable.
In the passage before us, Jesus is in the process of preparing his disciples for his departure. He has told them that he is going to leave them, and, naturally, they are saddened to hear the news. But he comforts them by saying that he will only be away from them for a little while. He says, “I will come to you.” When he says, “I will come to you,” he is not speaking of his second coming. He is speaking of how he will come to them in the person of the Holy Spirit in just a few short weeks. And when he comes to them in this way, their relationship will be even stronger than it was when he was physically with them. He says, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:16-18). Jesus promises that he will send the Holy Spirit to them, and the Holy Spirit would abide with them forever. The will no longer be lonely and sad. The Holy Spirit would always be with them. Jesus says in verse 17 that the Holy Spirit will be both with us and in us.
It is a wonderful thing to realize that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity will reside in his people forever, but it gets even better than that. Our Lord promises that not only will the Holy Spirit come to the person, but also, Jesus and the Father would come to the person and dwell with them. The coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to us in our baptisms is the coming of the Holy Trinity to dwell in the Christian. He says, “I will not leave you comfortless.” The word that is translated “comfortless” could be translated as “orphans.” Jesus was saying that he would not leave us as orphans. The only other time this word is used in the New Testament is when James said that pure religion was to visit the fatherless and the widows. Jesus was saying, “I will not leave you fatherless.” What a wonderful way to put it! When the Holy Spirit comes to us, he will make us to know what it is to have fellowship with the Father, for St. Paul says, “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:15-16). It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the assurance that God is our Father and that we are in a father/child relationship with him. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that enlightens our hearts and minds to know that the Father is always present with us and that we can always have fellowship with the Father. Since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father (Matt. 10:20), it can be said that the Father comes to have fellowship with us. Since the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), the Son also comes to have fellowship with us.
Today is Trinity Sunday, and in the Athanasian Creed that we just recited, we delved into all the mysteries of the Holy Trinity. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, that there is only one God, yet that one God is three, having revealed himself in three persons is a great mystery. The human mind will never understand how three can be one and one can be three, but we accept by faith that these things are true. Though we cannot explain all the mysteries of the Holy Trinity, we can experience the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Because of what Christ has done, all three persons of the Holy Trinity take up residence in the Christians. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will come to us and abide with us forever. Then he says that he will come to us and the Father will come to us, and he and the father will make their abode with us. The word for “abode” means “to dwell,” just like someone who moves into a house and makes that house their dwelling. Jesus promises that the Father and the Son will move in. You will become their house where they take up residence. So, by the Holy Spirit coming to dwell in us, all three members of the Holy Trinity live within us—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
As I have told you many times, eternal life is simply knowing God. Jesus said, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is simply having communion and fellowship with God. For this reason, we can say that eternal life begins now in this life and simply never ends, no matter what may happen to the body. Our fellowship with God begins in this life, and it continues throughout all eternity.
Think of the richness of the fellowship that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had with one another in the ages past before the universe was created. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit always existed in unity, as one, before time began. In the eternal counsels of God, it was determined that they would share this fellowship with human beings, so that the joy and delight that they had experienced in union with one another could be experienced by us. The Holy Trinity takes up residence with us and allows us to enter into the joy of fellowship with them.
The richest fellowship that we know in this life is that between husband and wife. Just like the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the intimacy of that relationship cannot be described in human language. As Paul is describing the relationship of husbands and wives, he uses that imagery to describe the intimacy of fellowship that we experience with our Lord Jesus Christ, so he writes, “For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:30-32). St. Paul goes back to the creation of the woman to illustrate the intimacy of this relationship. When Adam sees Eve for the first time, he says, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:23-24). This is the great mystery of marriage. When two people are married, they become one. Jesus put it like this: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:4-6). When Jesus described the relationship between husband wife, he said, “They shall no longer be two, but one flesh.” Certainly, the husband and wife retain their individual personalities and so on, but the intimacy of the relationship is so intense that it can truly be said that they are one—one, with the same dreams, hopes, loves, pleasures, purposes, and aspirations. When we are joined to Christ, we are made one with him, and therefore, one with all the members of the Holy Trinity.
How does this union between us and the Holy Trinity take place? It begins with baptism. Our catechism asks the question, “Who gave you this name (your Christian name)?” The answer is, “My Sponsors in Baptism: wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of God.” When we are baptized, we are made members of Christ. We are joined to him, joined to his body. Our fellowship and communion with Christ begins there. Since we are joined to Christ in baptism, we are joined to the other members of the Holy Trinity as well. Then, this relationship is nourished and strengthened by the sacrament of Holy Communion. When we pray the Prayer of Humble Access each Sunday, we are reminded of this intimacy of fellowship that we have with our Lord: “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” I don’t know if we will ever understand fully the glory and mystery of the truth taught in those words: “that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” I can understand how he can dwell in us. I can understand how we can dwell in him. But how both of those things happen at the same time—we are dwelling in him, and he is dwelling in us, is simply beyond my comprehension. But you see, that union is the kind of relationship that the Father and the Son have. The Father dwells in the Son and the Son dwells in the Father. But here is the truly amazing thing. Jesus invites us to participate in the mystery of that communion between the Father and the Son. In John 17 he prays, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:21-23). Notice again how Jesus says that the Father is in him, and he is in the Father. But, Jesus says to the Father that he, the Son, is in them, and since he is in them, and the Father in is him, then the Father and the Son are in them. Therefore, we are one with the Father and the Son. Furthermore, since we are one with the Father and the Son, we are all one with one another. God is one. The great truth of Scripture is “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one.” The purpose of God is to bring us into that unity within himself. Christ came into the world to make us members of the Church, his body—his one body. Since we are members of that one body, we are one with God and with one another. The apostle John opens his little epistle of First John by saying, “ That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:1-3). John wants other believers to have fellowship with him, and John says that his fellowship is with the Father and the Son. Salvation is having fellowship with the Father and the Son, and if we have fellowship with the Father and the Son, then we will have fellowship with all others who have fellowship with the Father and the Son. Again, the richest experience of this union and fellowship is experienced in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In Holy Communion, Christ comes to serve us, and we eat his flesh and drink his blood. The Son dwells in us and we in him. Since he dwells in the Father, and the Father dwells in him, the Father also dwells in us and we in him. Since Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and Jesus was given the Holy Spirit without measure, then the Holy Spirit dwells in us and we in him. Since we are all baptized into one body, the Church, the body of Christ, and since we all eat of the one bread and drink of the one cup, we are all united to one another. We all dwell within the Holy Trinity and the Holy Trinity dwells in us.
Now, I ask you, “Could anything be more wonderful than experiencing this union and fellowship with the Holy Trinity? No wonder Jesus told the disciples to be of good cheer, even during the that they thought was going to be the most horrible period of their lives—they were going to be separated from their master. If we really believed these great truths, how rich our lives would be. Bishop J. C. Ryle wrote:
Let us note the condescension of the Father and the Son, and the high privileges of a believer. No matter how poor and lowly a man may be, if he has faith and grace, he has the best of company and friends. Christ and the Father dwell in his heart, and he is never alone, and cannot be poor. He is the temple of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. (84)
Just think of that great truth! You are the temple of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. When are we ever going to believe that teaching of Holy Scripture? Jesus was telling his disciples that their fellowship with him is going to be richer than it ever has been. In this glorious mystery of the Holy Trinity dwelling in us, we relate to God in such powerful way, for we relate to each person of the Holy Trinity. Charles Spurgeon dedicated each volume of his sermons in this way:
To the Glorious Father, as the Covenant God of Israel;
To the Gracious Son, the Redeemer of His People;
To the Holy Ghost, the Author of
Be Everlasting Praise for that Gospel of the
Free Grace of God
Herein Proclaimed unto Men.
We relate to God in each of these three ways. We relate to God as a Father who created us, watches over us, directs our ways and all events in our lives, and who loved us so much he gave his only begotten son. We relate to God as the Son, the one who loved us and gave himself for us on the cross, shedding his own blood—the one who ever lives to make intercession for us. We relate to God as the Holy Spirit who sanctifies us, makes us holy people and gives us power to serve him. I could go on forever to describe all the ways in which we relate to the one God in the three persons of the Trinity. It would take forever to describe how we relate to each member of the Trinity. The glorious thing about being a Christian is to be able to have a relationship with each member of the Holy Trinity. No wonder Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphans. How could we ever be lonely when we have such fellowship with the Holy Trinity.”
Sadly, though all Christians have the Holy Trinity dwelling within them, few people experience the reality of that indwelling. What is the problem? Notice what Jesus said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” Though it is true that the Holy Trinity dwells in each Christian, most people do not experience the reality of that indwelling, because that reality comes only through love and obedience. Jesus said that if we loved him and kept his commandment, then the Father and the Son would love us and reveals themselves to us. We think it strange that Jesus said, “He that loveth me shall be loved of my father.” Well, I thought the Father loved everybody. Yes, in a benevolent way, he does love everyone. But this love that Jesus speaks of here is God’s special love that is reserved for his own people. If you show your love for Jesus by keeping his commandments, you will know that special love God reserves for his people, and you will know what it is like to be in his presence all the time. To quote Bishop Ryle again:
How is it, people often ask, that so many professing believers have so little happiness in their religion? How is it that so many know little of “joy and peace in believing,” and go mourning and heavy-hearted towards heaven? The answer to these questions is a sorrowful one, but it must be given. Few believers attend as strictly as they should to Christ’s practical sayings and words. There is far too much loose and careless obedience to Christ’s commandments. There is far too much forgetfulness, that while good works cannot justify us they are not to be despised. Let these things sink down into our hearts. If we want to be eminently happy, we must strive to be eminently holy…. Christ will specially love that man, and will give him special manifestations of His grace and favor, invisibly and spiritually. He shall feel and know in his own heart comforts and joys that wicked men and inconsistent professors know nothing of. That the “manifesting” of Himself here spoken of is a purely unseen and spiritual thing, is self-evident. It is one of those things which can only be known by experience, and is only known by holy and consistent Christians. We should carefully observe here, that Christ does more for the comfort of some of His people than He does for others. Those who follow Christ most closely and obediently will always follow Him most comfortably, and feel most of His inward presence. (81, 83)
I believe that we often think that this fellowship with God is some sort of mystical experience that we have when we are in meditation or something. But the fellowship with the Trinity is experienced in acts of obedience. It is when we are going through difficult times that we experience the Father’s comforting power. It is when are being persecuted for Christ’s sake that we experience the fellowship of the sufferings of the Son and the power of his resurrection. It is when we are striving for holiness, resisting temptation, that we experience the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, to truly know the fellowship of the Trinity we must be engaged in the service of the Trinity. When we are engaged in the service of God, he reveals himself to us, we know the richness of fellowship with him, and we are never lonely, even when we feel forsaken by others.
Loneliness can be a very terrible feeling, and it can also be dangerous. I think of many young people who are so lonely, they will often jump into a relationship with another person just escape the feeling of loneliness. Loneliness can cause us to make some terrible choices-sometimes, sinful choices. But God has given us a way to know that we are never alone. When I was a boy, we used to sing the old gospel song, “I’ll Never Be Lonely Again.” So many people in our world would give anything to be able to say they will never be lonely. Some people are so terribly lonely right now. As the Beatles sang, “Ah, look at all the lonely people.” The Christian conquers loneliness through union with God. Christians are in constant fellowship with the Holy Trinity which also unites us to all the saints around the world, and as our hymn says, we have mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. With such fellowship with the Holy Trinity and all the saints of God, we will never be lonely again. On this Trinity Sunday, let us celebrate our fellowship with God in three persons, blessed Trinity. Amen.
Ryle, J. C. Expository Thoughts on John. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1880.