"Until the times of the restitution of all things."
I believe that a serious hindrance in the minds of many to the reception of much important truth, lies in misconception of the Scripture doctrine of "restitution." Thus the expression which I have put at the head of this paper, and which is, as we know, a simple quotation from Acts 3: 21, conveys to many at the present day the idea of a restoration to a kind of Adamic state. This is argued to have been evidently God's original thought, which He would not let the entrance of sin set aside. Or else, it is contended, Satan would really have got a victory in compelling Him to change His plan about Eden. This thought has been carried so far in the minds of many, that the "new earth" has been supposed to be indeed a" Paradise regained," in which generations of men would, in the ordinary way of nature, but without death, replace each other to all eternity.
I mention this, not to reply to it, save as the general line of truth of which I desire to speak, furnishes reply; but to show how rooted it is in the minds of many, that Adam in Paradise was really God's first thought, instead of being merely a first step towards the accomplishment of what was really His first thought. Thus "restitution" becomes necessarily a getting back to a supposed Adamic state. And in this way both the state of Adam in Paradise is unscripturally exalted, and the work of Christ and its consequences really, though unintentionally, degraded.
Now, if the reader will turn with me for a moment to one of the Old Testament types, he will see at once that God's idea of restitution is not merely what we should call so. - I refer to the trespass-offering, (Lev. V. 15, VI. 7). The grand significance of this, which is of course, as all others, a type of Christ's work, has, I am persuaded, been too much passed over, even where understood. The grand thought in it is not merely of sacrifice for sin, nor should it be confounded with the sin-offering. It is that of compensation for wrong-doing, and that expressly in the double character of wrong done to God (chap. v. 14 - i6), and of wrong done to man (chap. vi. 1 - 7). "He shall make amends for the harm that he has done," is that which really distinguishes this offering from every other. It is not here simply "the sin committed must be atoned for" - its guilt must be met - but "the injury done must be compensated." This is indeed, if you take it in another way, what is absolutely necessary to true atonement in the sight of God. He must have restitution - reparation. And notice how far His thought of restitution goes: not only must there be the "estimation" of the injury, and the value brought in "shekels of the sanctuary " - pure money and full weight - but also "he shall add the fifth part thereto." Thus the one wronged should be gainer by the wrong done him. Mere making up would not do for God. And it is blessed to see that. For thus I judge the poverty of the thought that God would not suffer Satan to prevail to set aside His plan. True as that is, of course, Scripture teaches us to go beyond it, and to say, "He would not suffer sin at all if He could not have got glory by it." He would not suffer Satan to come in and mar His "old creation," merely that He might show His skill in restoring it, but that He might, IN THE RUINS OF IT, get the material of a "new." In the language of the Old Testament, "He maketh the wrath of man not to be of no effect, but - " to praise Him; the remainder of wrath shall He " - not make of no effect, but - " restrain." Even so would He have restrained Satan's working, could He not have brought out of it a harvest of blessing and of glory; and instead of being content with the patching up of what Satan has marred, the word of Him who sitteth upon the throne is, "Behold, I make all things new." (Rev. xxi. 5.)
Now, Christ is He who restoreth: "I restored that which I took not away" (Ps. lxix. 4), is what is prophetically said of Him. He is the offerer of this trespass-offering. He is the One who has overpaid God (if I may say so) for all the wrong that sin has done Him. He is the One also who has to man (to as many as receive Him) more than restored all that sin had taken away. But let us inquire a little how He has done it, and what the restitution is. And here we shall find the consequences of the work of Christ to be really contrasted with what would have been the consequences of Adam's continuance and of the old creation with him.
In men's minds the fruits of Christ's work have been mixed up with what would have been the fruit of Adam's continuance, and serious mischief ensues. The original creation is taken as the perfection of what was in the mind of Him who created it. Thus (without a word of Scripture for it) Adam is considered to have been a creature made for heaven, to whom it was secured by covenant that he should gain it by well-doing; and the Ten Commandments are carried back two thousand five hundred years before they were given to be the measure of what he was required to fulfill. Thus, too, when he failed, Christ is supposed to have taken up the broken contract, and to have gained for us, by His fulfillment of it, what Adam lost.
It may startle some to be told that this is all theory, not only apart from Scripture, but in opposition to it.
Yet so it is. And its plain tendency is to rob Christ of His glory, by reducing His work to almost the level of what simply a perfect man could be expected to perform. For, manifestly, if the law be the measure of what Adam ought to have done, and what Christ did do, no more was asked of one than of the other. And yet this is what is being more and more insisted on in (so-styled) "Evangelical " writings.
To answer this, let the pregnant figure of the trespass-offering speak. Plainly, had man in that case fulfilled the law as regards God and his fellow, there need have been, and would have been, no offering at all. If Christ had merely taken up Adam's broken contract to fulfill it, death would have had no place in that work, because death was the penalty of the breach of it. If He could have fulfilled the work for Adam, and given to God the obedience in which Adam failed, and in Adam's behalf, the punishment of the breach of it could not have been required from Him. What was wrong would have been set right without shedding of blood. "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. ii. 21).
But furthermore, in this matter of the trespass-offering, after the injury inflicted had been duly estimated and made up, still restitution, in God's thought of it, was not complete, until there had been added to it a fifth part more. Thus the person who offered the trespass-offering did more than could have been required had the trespass not been committed, and the injured person was now a gainer to that extent. But here, as ever, the antitype goes far beyond the type. God and man are both gainers by Christ's work; but not only so - the work of Christ, and any work that could be required of Adam, differ essentially from each other, as, for example, the righteousness of God manifested, differs from human obedience performed.
People's attention is so fixed upon what they get by the work of Christ, that its real value, which can only be at all properly Seen from the Divine side of it, escapes them, along with much of the truth of what they do get. Let us try and look a little at the Divine side of Christ's work, and see how a moment's glance there upsets poor human thoughts.
What did God gain, to speak humanly, by Christ's work? What would He have gained by Adam's?
Is it not plain that the first need, in order to answer these questions in any measure, depends on our estimate of the worker in each case?
Just as the altar sanctifies the gift, so does the glory of the Person of the Son of God set His work apart from all mere human work, and give it another value.
What was the "first man, Adam?"
Not, if I am to take Scripture, a being framed for heaven, but, in express contrast with heaven (i Cor. xv. "of earth, earthy.") If I open Genesis, I find no promise of heaven held out to him, no idea of being raised above the estate in which he was created. I find no works enjoined for which he was to be rewarded; one prohibition only of a thing, which would have had no moral character attaching to it, if it had not been forbidden.
Created "very good," he was to keep his first estate, not seek a new one. Nor, until sin had made our estate evil, and only with fallen man, do we find one thought of a creature quitting its estate, except as sin. Thus "the angels which kept not their first estate," of whom Jude speaks. Not made to toil at working out a righteousness, but to enjoy the bounteous goodness which had provided richly for him, one test of obedience alone was given. If he ate of the tree he died.
What did God gain by such obedience?
Save as one of the countless creatures He had made whose happiness bore witness of creating goodness and wisdom - nothing. Had he obeyed, what marvel? Had he obtained witness that he was righteous, it would have been creature righteousness, not Divine. With Eliphaz we might have asked, "Is it gain to God, that thou makest thy ways perfect?"
And had he been obedient, as angels were, would the fitting reward for it have been a place in the glory, and at the right hand of God? Would he have inherited all things? Would he have been where Christ as man is, and have shared what the saint shares now as joint-heir with Him?
Simple questions, yet needful. For if the work done were to be the same, and Christ fulfills the broken contract and obtains the forfeited reward, some such conclusions follow as these questions suggest.
But Adam fell. That wrong was done to God of which the trespass-offering speaks. Sin had spoilt the old creation, and (again to speak humanly, as we must) raised the question of God's character. What would He do? Cut off the offenders in righteousness? Spare them in love how could He, and be holy? Slowly and patiently was the question answered. Christ was that answer. Not simply the taker up of man's cause; not the worker out of human righteousness; but the brightness of the Father's glory - the wisdom and the power of God - the fulfiller of Divine righteousness, and the revealer of Divine love.
Hence, the glory of the gospel of Christ is, not that it saves man merely, but that it reveals God. No longer shut up in the thick darkness, (as in Israel it was declared at the very time of their magnificent temple being dedicated,) - " He is in the light" (i Jno. i. 7). The glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ. There we see it. If the entrance of sin into the world had in any wise raised a question about God, not only are such questions forever at rest, but the way in which it has been dealt with in the Cross of the Son of God becomes the very way in which His attributes shine out. Christ is not merely "the Lord our righteousness," He is "the righteousness of God." Could Adam have been that, or wrought it? We are in another sphere altogether, plainly. And there, amid the sin which might have seemed to compromise His glory, there is wrought a work in which He is glorified as never beside. Inseparably connected with man's worst wickedness is the display of God's righteousness, and not in wrath, but through which He justifies the ungodly.
I ask again, if God had merely meant to restore (in our mode of speaking), would not the question rise, then, why suffer the fall? But if the fall were to be the background upon which He could display Himself in such a character as should reveal Him in His glory to the adoring gaze of His creatures for eternity, what then? Ah, might not the angels well repeat that "glory to God in the highest," when they could link it through the Christ born in Bethlehem, with "on earth peace, good pleasure in men!" Did not the arms of love which were stretched out around men, encompass angels also? As it is written, "that in the ages to come, He might shew forth the exceeding riches of His grace" (how?) "in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus."
Thus Christ's work is different in its character and results, Godward, from anything that could be of Adam, asked or had. It was one such as the "Only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father" alone could accomplish. Peerless in His person and work, the place which He has taken as the result of it with God is one suited not to the first man, "of the earth, earthy," but to "the second man, the Lord from heaven." Taking His seat at the right hand of God, He is become Head of a "new creation," not Restorer of the "old." He is not the first Adam set up again, but a second Adam, and He is "the beginning of the creation of God." All things are restored, but not to the primitive condition before the fall. They are "made new." The old condition of things is done away.
Let us see how this affects us as Christians: how to us also the fifth part is added; how Christ has restored to us, not the primitive condition of unfallen Adam, but all things in a higher way.
1. As to position, we are "in Christ" "new creation, old things passed away, and all things become new."
As to what we were as men in the flesh, "dead with Christ," "our old man crucified with Him," so that we are "not in the flesh," not "living (alive) in the world," not "of" it - carnal, if we "walk as men." To give us boldness in the day of judgment, we are told that "as Christ is, so are we," even "in this world." Hence, "there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus," for we are "accepted in the Beloved," and already "seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
Thus the position of men in the world is completely passed away, and we are in a new place before God, as and what Christ is; "made the righteousness of God in Him."
2. As to nature, we are "born again," "born of God," "partakers of the Divine nature," "have eternal life abiding in us," that eternal life that was in the Son of God through the back eternity, therefore truly "eternal," not mere existence or Adamic life. And though we carry the old nature, the flesh, still about with us, it is only as an enemy, and to be destroyed.
As to inheritance, "we are heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ," begotten to "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for us," where Christ is, in the "mansions of a Father's house," that we may be "ever with the Lord."
But I must close. Even for the earth comes surely, as promised, the restitution of all things, but, beyond the fires in which the elements shall be dissolved, such a scene as never Adam knew. My purpose, however, is but to give the thought, not work out the details. In eternity alone shall we "fully know " what our "fifth part " beyond Adam blessing is. Meanwhile we know enough to bow our hearts in adoration, and to make us echo the song:
"Unto Him that loveth us, and has washed us from our sins in His own Blood, and made us kings and priests unto God and His Father:
"To Him be glory and honour forever. Amen."