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The Family of God

“His whole family in heaven and on earth.” Ephesians 3:15

Excerpts from “THE FAMILY OF GOD” by J. C. Ryle

The words which form the title of this paper ought to always stir some feelings in our minds. There is not a man or woman on this earth who is not a member of some “family.” The poorest as well as the richest has his relative and kin, and can tell you something of his “family.”

Community of blood is a most powerful tie. I have often observed that people will stand up for their relatives, merely because they are their relatives, and refuse to hear a word against them, even when they have no sympathy with their tastes and ways.

Family gatherings, nevertheless, are often sorrowful things. It would be strange indeed, in such a world as this, if they were not. Few are the family circles which do not show gaps and vacant places as years pass away. Changes and deaths make sad havoc as time goes on. Thoughts will rise up within us, as we grow older, about faces and voices no longer with us..

There is one great family to which I want all the readers of this paper to belong. It is a family despised by many, and not even known by some. But it is a family of far more importance than any family on earth. To belong to it entitles a man to far greater privileges than to be the son of a king. It is the family of which Paul speaks to the Ephesians, when he tells them of the “whole family in heaven and earth.”

It is the family of God.

I want to tell you of the amazing benefits which membership of this family conveys. I want you to be found as a member of this family, when it is finally gathered together in the end–a gathering without separation, or sorrow, or tears. Hear me while, as a minister of Christ, and friend to your soul, I speak to you for a few minutes about “His whole family in heaven and on earth:”

What is that family which the Bible calls “His whole family in heaven and on earth”? Of whom does it consist?

The family before us consists of all real Christians–all who have the Holy Spirit living within them–all true believers in Christ–all the saints of every age, and Church, and nation, and language. It includes the blessed company of all faithful people. It is the same as the Elect of God–the household of faith–the mystical body of Christ–the bride–the living temple–the sheep that never perish–the Church of the firstborn–the holy universal Church.

All these expressions are “the family of God” only using other names.

Membership in “the family of God,” does not depend on any earthly connection.

It does not come by natural birth, but by new birth. Ministers cannot impart it to their hearers. Parents cannot give it to their children. You may be born in the godliest family in the land, and enjoy the sweetest fellowship of grace that any Church can supply, and yet never belong to the family of God.

To belong to it you must be born again. No one but the Holy Spirit can make you a living member of this family. It is His special function to bring into the true Church all those who will be saved. Those who are born again are born, “not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” [John 1:13]

Do you want to know the reason that the Bible gives this name to all true Christians? Would you like to know why they are called “a family”?

Listen and I will tell you.

(a) True Christians are called “a family” because they all have one Father.

They are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. They are all born of one Spirit. They are all sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. They have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, “Abba Father.” [Galatians 3:26; John 3:8; 2 Corinthians 6:18; Romans 8:15] They do not regard God with a cringing kind of fear, as they would to a harsh Being, that is always ready to punish them. They look up to Him with tender confidence, as a reconciled and loving parent–as one forgiving evil and sin, to all who believe in Jesus–and full of pity even to the least and feeblest.

The words, “Our Father in heaven,” are no mere form of prayer in the mouth of true Christians. No wonder they are called God’s “family.”

(b) True Christians are called “a family,” because they all rejoice in one name.

That name is the name of their great Head and Elder Brother, even Jesus Christ the Lord. Just as a common family name is the uniting link to all the members of a clan, so does the name of Jesus tie all believers together in one vast family. As members of outward visible Churches they have various names and distinguishing classifications. As living members of Christ, they all, with one heart and mind, rejoice in one Savior. Every heart among them feels drawn to Jesus as the only object of hope. Every tongue among them would tell you that “Christ is all.”

Sweet to them all is the thought of Christ’s death for them on the cross. Sweet is the thought of Christ’s intercession for them at the right hand of God. Sweet is the thought of Christ’s coming again to unite them to Himself in one glorified fellowship forever. In fact, you might as well take away the sun out of heaven, as take away the name of Christ from believers. To the world His Name may not mean much, but to believers, it is full of comfort, hope, rest, and peace. No wonder they are called “a family.”

(c) True Christians, above all, are called “a family” because there is so strong a family resemblance among them.

They are all led by one Spirit, and are marked by the same general features of life, heart, taste, and character. Just as there is a general bodily resemblance among the brothers and sisters of a family, so there is a general spiritual resemblance among all the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.

They all hate sin and love God. They all rest their hope of salvation on Christ, and have no confidence in themselves. They all endeavor to “come out and be separate” from the ways of the world, and to set their affections on things above. They all naturally turn to the same Bible, as the only food for their souls and the only sure guide in their pilgrimage toward heaven: they find it “a lamp to their feet and a light for their path.” [Psalm 119:105]

They all go to the same throne of grace in prayer, and find it as needful to speak to God as to breathe. They all live by the same rule, the Word of God, and strive to conform their daily life to its precepts. They all have the same inward experience. They all are, in varying degrees, acquainted with repentance, faith, hope, love, humility, and inward conflict. No wonder they are called “a family.”

This family likeness among true believers is a thing that deserves special attention. To my own mind it is one of the strongest indirect evidences of the truth of Christianity.

It is one of the greatest proofs of the reality of the work of the Holy Spirit. Some true Christians live in civilized countries, and some in the midst of heathen lands. Some are highly educated, and some are unable to read a single letter of the alphabet. Some are rich and some are poor. Some are old and some are young. And yet, despite all these differences, there is a marvelous oneness of heart and character among them. Their joys and their sorrows, their love and their hatred, their likes and their dislikes, their preferences and their aversions, their hopes and their fears, are all most curiously alike. Let others think what they please, I see in all this the finger of God. His handiwork is always one and the same.

No wonder that true Christians are compared to “a family.”

Take a converted Englishman and a converted Hindu, and let them suddenly meet for the first time.

I will ensure you, if they can understand one another’s language, they will soon find common ground between them, and feel at home. The one may have been brought up at Oxford, and enjoyed every privilege of English civilization. The other may have been trained in the midst of gross heathenism, and accustomed to habits, ways, and manners as unlike the Englishman’s as darkness compared to light. And yet now in half an hour they feel that they are friends! The Englishman finds that he has more in common with this Hindu brother than he has with many of his old college companions.

Who can account for this? How can it be explained? Nothing can account for it but the unity of the Holy Spirit’s teaching. It is “one touch” of grace (not nature) “that makes the whole world family.” God’s people are in the brightest sense “a family.”

This is the family to which I wish to direct the attention of my readers in this paper. This is the family to which I want you to belong. I ask you this day to consider it carefully, if you never considered it before. I have shown you the Father of the family–the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I have shown you the Head and Elder Brother of the family–the Lord Jesus Himself. I have shown you the features and characteristics of the family. All its members have great marks of resemblance. Once more I say, consider it well.

Outside this family, remember, there is no salvation.

No one but those who belong to it, according to the Bible, are on the road that leads to heaven. The salvation of our souls does not depend on union with one Church or separation from another. They are miserably deceived who think that it does, and will find it out to their loss one day, unless they wake up. No! the life of our souls depends on something far more important. This is eternal life, to be a member of “the whole family in heaven and earth.”

What is the present position of the whole family in heaven and earth?

The family to which I am directing the attention of my readers this day is divided into two great parts. Each part has its own residence or dwelling place.

Part of the family is in heaven, and part is on earth.

For the present the two parts are entirely separated from one another. But they form one body in the sight of God, though resident in two places; and their union is sure to take place one day.

Remember, two places, and only two, contain the family of God. The Bible tells us of no third habitation. There is no such thing as Purgatory, despite what some may falsely teach! There is no house of purifying, training, or probation for those who are not true Christians when they die. Oh no! There are only two parts of the family–the part that is seen and the part that is unseen, the part that is in “heaven” and the part that is on “earth.” The members of the family that are not in heaven are on earth, and those that are not on the earth are in heaven. Two parts, and only two! Two places, and only two! Let this never be forgotten.

Some of God’s family are safe in heaven. They are at rest in that place which the Lord Jesus expressly calls “Paradise.” [Luke 23:43] They have finished their course. They have fought their battle. They have finished their appointed work. They have carried their cross. They have passed through the waves of this troublesome world and have reached the harbor.

As little as we know about them, we know that they are happy. They are no longer troubled by sin and temptation. They have said goodbye forever to poverty and anxiety, to pain and sickness, to sorrow and tears. They are with Christ Himself, who loved them and gave Himself up for them, and in His company they are indeed very happy. [Philippians 1:23] They have nothing to fear in looking back to the past. They have nothing to dread in looking forward to things to come. There are only three things lacking that would make their happiness complete. These three are the Second Coming of Christ in glory, the resurrection of their own bodies, and the gathering together of all believers.

Some of God’s family are still on the earth. They are scattered everywhere in the midst of a wicked world, a few in one place and a few in another. All are more or less occupied in the same way, according to the measure of their grace given them.

All are running a race, doing a work, fighting a warfare, carrying a cross, striving against sin, resisting the devil, crucifying the flesh, struggling against the world, witnessing for Christ, mourning over their own hearts, hearing, reading, and praying, however feebly, for the life of their souls.

Each is often disposed to think no cross is so heavy as his own, no work so difficult, no heart so hard. But each and everyone is steadfast in their way–a wonder to the ignorant world around them, and often a wonder to themselves.

But, however divided God’s family may be at the present time, on the earth, it is still one family.

What are the future prospects of the whole family in heaven and on earth?

The future prospects of a family! What a vast amount of uncertainty these words open up when we look at any family we now see in the world! How little we can tell of the things coming on any of us! What a mercy it is that we do not know the sorrows and trials and separations which our beloved children may have to experience, after we have left the world! It is a mercy that we do not know “what a day may bring forth,” and a far greater mercy that we do not know what may happen in the next twenty years. [Proverbs 27:1] Surely, foreknowledge of the future prospects of our household would spoil many a family gathering, and fill the whole party with gloom!

But, thank God, there is one great family whose “prospects” are very different.

It is a family of which I am speaking in this paper, and commending your attention. The future prospects of the family of God are not uncertain.

(a) The members of God’s family will all be brought safely home one day.

Here on earth they may be scattered, tried, tossed with storms of life, and bowed down with afflictions. But not one of them will perish. [John 10:28]

The weakest lamb will not be left to perish in the wilderness: the feeblest child will not be missing when the roll call is called out at the last day. In spite of the world, the flesh, and the devil, the whole family will get home.

“For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” [Romans 5:10]

(b) The members of God’s family will one day all have glorious bodies.

When the Lord Jesus Christ comes the second time, the dead saints will all be raised and the living will all be changed. They will no longer have a vile mortal body, full of weaknesses and infirmities: they will have a body like that of their risen Lord, without the slightest vulnerability to sickness and pain. They will no longer be clogged and hindered by an aching frame, when they want to serve God: they will be able to serve Him night and day without any weariness, and to attend to Him without any distraction. The former things will have passed away.

That word will be fulfilled, “I am making everything new!” [Revelation 21:5]

(c) One day, the members of God’s family will all be gathered into one company.

It does not matter where they have lived or where they have died. They may have been separated from one another both by time and space. One may have lived in tents, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and another traveled by the modern transportation of our day. One may have his bones laid to rest in an Australian desert, and another may have been buried in an English churchyard. It makes no difference. All will be gathered together from north and south, and east and west, and meet in one happy assembly, never to part again.

The earthly partings of God’s family are only for a few days. Their meeting is for eternity.

Little does it matter where we live. It is a time of scattering now, not of gathering. Little does it matter where we die. All graves are equally near to Paradise. But it does matter whether we belong to God’s family. If we do we are sure to meet again in the end.

The family gathering of all God’s people will make up for all that their religion now costs them.

A meeting where none are missing—a meeting where there are no gaps and empty places—a meeting where there are no tears—a meeting where there is no parting—such a meeting as this is worth a fight and a struggle. And such a meeting is yet to come to “the whole family in heaven and earth.”

In the meantime let us strive to live worthy of the family to which we belong. Let us labor to do nothing that may cause our Father’s house to be spoken against. Let us endeavor to make our Master’s name beautiful by our disposition, conduct, and conversation.

Let us love as brethren, and abhor all quarrels. Let us behave as if the honor of “the family” depended on our behavior.

So living, by the grace of God, we will make our calling and election sure, both to ourselves and others. So living, “we will have the sure hope of receiving a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” [2 Peter 1:11]

So living, we will recommend our Father’s family to others, and perhaps by God’s blessing induce them to say, “We will go with you.”

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