Or The Trial Of Man, The Grace And The Government Of God
Nothing, unless it be personal salvation and the communion of the soul with our God, can be of greater importance, or of higher interest for the Christian, than the testimony which God has given to Himself in this world of darkness. After all, salvation and communion depend on this testimony. What would the state of man be without this testimony? What is his state where this testimony has not penetrated? What an immense privilege to possess the thoughts of God Himself, above all with regard to that which concerns us morally, to be in relationship with God through means of the communication of His thoughts, to be called His friends and to enjoy this privilege as a matter of fact by the possession of the truest, the most intimate, testimonies of His thoughts and His affections! And observe that, man being the great object of His affections, these develop themselves in the ways of God with regard to man—ways which even the angels desire to look into.
In fact man, according to the wisdom of God, is the being with regard to whom the character of God and all His moral ways unfold themselves most completely and in the most perfect and admirable way. It is not, by any means, the intellectual capacity of man, nor his moral power which renders him so fit for this, because it is not the judgment which he can form of what God is that is capable of revealing God— without even taking into account the fall of man. This judgment would always, by the fact that man is an imperfect and feeble creature, be below the truth with regard to God, in the proportion in which man is below God.
Moreover innocent man would have neither the need, nor the desire, to pass a judgment about God. He would enjoy His goodness with thanksgiving. Man who is a sinner is in no way capable of judging rightly, either of his state, or of his position before God; he has not even the wish for it. No, God reveals Himself in His own ways with regard to man. An angel does not furnish Him the occasion for it as man does; an angel has no need of mercy, of grace, of forgiveness, of divine righteousness, of a sacrificing priest, of power which, while sustaining him in weakness, raises him up from the dead. An angel is not, following upon all these things, made like to Christ, the glorious man, identified with His interests by the incarnation. Angels are a witness rendered to the creative and preserving power of God. They excel in strength. We see in them creatures kept by God, so that they have not lost their first estate. Now, grace and redemption, patience, mercy, divine righteousness, do not apply to such a state, but to fallen man they do.
Here the angels desire to fathom the wonderful ways of God with regard to man. It is from the heart of man, descended to the lowest step in the scale of intelligent beings, resembling alas! the beasts in his desires. Satan in his pride, a weak slave in his passions; strong, or at least proud, in his spirit and in his pretensions; having the knowledge of good and evil, but in a conscience which condemns him; by reason of sufferings, sighing after something better but incapable of attaining it; having the want of some other world than this material one, but fearful of getting to it; having the feeling that we ought to be in relationship with God, the only object worthy of an immortal soul, but at an infinite distance from God in his lusts, and animated by such a desire for independence that he is unwilling to admit God to the only place which becomes Him if He is God, and seeks consequently to prove that there is no God; it is from the heart of man, capable of the highest aspirations, with which his pride feeds itself, and of the most degrading lusts with which however his conscience becomes disgusted; it is from the heart of man, that God forms the divine harp on which all the harmony of His praises can resound and will resound for evermore.
By the bringing in of grace and the divine power which unfolds itself in a new life communicated to man, and by the manifestation of the Son of God in human nature, fallen man is brought to judge all evil, according to divine affections formed in him by faith, and to enjoy good according to the perfect revelation of good in God Himself manifested in Christ; while man gives God His place with joy, because He is known as a God of love. Man also takes again the place of dependence—the only one which is suitable for a creature; but of a dependence which is exercised in the intelligence of all the perfections of God, on which he depends, and depends with joy, as a child on his father, like Christ Himself who has taken this place in order that we may enter into it.
But in order that the character of God, that which He is, may be unfolded in the state of man, and that our hearts and consciences may take knowledge of it, man must pass through the different phases which furnish occasion for God to unfold Himself thus in grace. He must be, on God’s part, an innocent and happy creature, by his own will fallen and guilty, and in a state in which all the grace of God displays itself, and in which God unfolds all its riches and righteousness, while His sovereign good-pleasure raises man to a height which depends wholly on this good-pleasure and glorifies God Himself in the result which is produced but glorifies a God of love. In result, His sovereign goodness is displayed towards the most perfect misery, and causes to enter into its communion the most perfect excellence.
We are about to examine briefly these ways of God toward man.
God created man innocent, that is to say, having neither malice nor corruption nor lust, and without the discernment of good and evil—a discernment he had no need of, for he had only to enjoy with gratitude the good with which he was surrounded. At the same time he was bound to obey, and his obedience was put to the proof by his being forbidden to eat one tree alone which was found in the midst of the garden.
It has been supposed that he had the knowledge of good and that he acquired the knowledge of evil. To say so is to misunderstand the force of the expression. He acquired the knowledge of the distinction of good and evil in himself. He began to judge concerning that which is good and that which is evil. Eating of the forbidden fruit was only evil because it was forbidden to be eaten, it was not evil in itself. God has taken care that, in a state of sin, conscience should accompany man.
Man would have had opportunity, while in a state of innocence, to enjoy the visits of God, and to hold intercourse with God; but God did not dwell with him, nor he with God.
Man did not fall without being tempted. The enemy suggested to his mind distrust with regard to God; and this distrust, separating his heart from God, gave place to his own will and his lust, as well as to the pride which would be equal with God. Now self-will, lust, and pride are what mark the actual condition of the natural man. Thus man separated himself from God in making himself, as far as his will was concerned, independent of Him, that is to say, as much as sin can make independent, and as moral degradation does make us independent of sovereign good. In this state man could not endure the presence of God. On the contrary, that presence, which cast the divine light on the state of. man and made him feel what he had become—that presence which recalled his fault to him and what he had lost, must have been to him of all things the most intolerable. Man might cover himself to his own eyes from the shame of sin, but before God he knew that he was naked, as if not a fig-leaf had been found in the garden.
The question of God, “Adam, where art thou?” was equally touching and overwhelming. Why, when he heard the voice of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, with the divine familiarity of a goodness which could enter into communication with an innocent nature, did not man run to meet Him? Where was he? In sin and in nakedness.
Now the word of God lays man bare. Terrible truth when the conscience is bad!—truth before which all pretence to independence vanishes like falsehood before the truth, only leaving the shameful guilt of the pretence itself, as well as of the folly and ingratitude which have sought after this independence, and in which we have sought to be independent of supreme good.
Observe here that the promise was made to the last Adam, to the Seed of the woman, and that it goes before the expulsion of fallen Adam from the earthly paradise. Thus man fled from the presence of God before God drove him from the peaceful abode in which He had placed him. But the authority of God must be maintained. It was not becoming that sin should remain unpunished. Judgment must needs be put in exercise. The holiness of God abhors sin and repels it. The righteousness of God maintains His authority according to His holiness in executing a just judgment on him who does evil.
Man was banished from paradise, and the world began. Sin against one’s neighbour was consummated in the world, as sin against God in paradise, and the death of the righteous one presented a striking image of that of the Lord Himself. Driven from the presence of God, man in despair sought to put in order and to embellish the world: this was all that remained to him; and civilization, the arts, and the delights of a life of luxury occupied and developed the intelligence of a being, who, having no longer any relation with holiness and the divine perfections, lost himself in that which was below him, while boasting himself of the fruits of his perverted intellect.
But, without the repression of the will of man by a superior power, civilization, although it may deceive for a moment the judgment of man as to the state of his heart in occupying the mind, cannot arrest the vehemence of lusts, nor the violence of the will which seeks to satisfy them and to make a way for its passions through all obstacles. “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.”
But the grace of God did not leave itself without witness. The judgment of God on the serpent announced the Seed of the woman. Abel, who “being dead yet speaketh,” testified of the power of evil and of Satan in the world; but he also testified of the acceptance on God’s part of the righteous one who comes to God through a sacrifice which recognizes sin and atones for it, and lays the foundation of a hope outside the world in which the one who was accepted of God had been rejected and sacrificed to the hatred of the wicked. The departure of Enoch, who walked with God, confirmed this hope, and tended to assure faith (which believes that God is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him) that there is a happiness for the righteous in the presence of Him whom he loves—a happiness which the world does not give, neither does it take away. This, although obscure, nourished and sustained the faith of those who sought to walk with God, whilst evil went on always increasing.
When the evil was approaching its height, another testimony was raised up in the person of him who was to pass through the judgment which put an end to the frightful development of evil that prevailed in spite of the testimony already given.
This was a testimony, not for the affections of the saints, fitted to carry them outside the world, but a testimony of the judgment of the world itself—a judgment necessary according to the principles of divine government, but through which a small righteous remnant should be preserved in an ark of safety which God revealed to them.
Such was the condition of man, such his history, when, in consequence of the violation of a law, he had been driven from the earthly paradise in which God had placed him, and left, without law, to his own will, though not without a testimony. It needed that the deluge should put an end to a state of things in which corruption and violence had covered the face of the earth and left only eight persons disposed to listen to the testimony that God granted to them of the judgment which awaited them.
During the period which transpired between the expulsion of Adam from the terrestrial paradise and the deluge, man was one family, one race. There was no idolatry. Man was left to his own ways (not without witness, but without restraint from without), and the evil became insupportable: the deluge put an end to it. After this event—this judgment of God, a new world began, and the principle of government was introduced. He who should kill a man should himself be put to death: a curb was put upon violence, a bridle on outward sin. The corruption of the heart in a world at a distance from God remained just as it was. But although there were as yet no nations, the destiny of various races, such as it has been to the present day, began to dawn at least prophetically. Noah failed in the position in which he had been placed after the deluge, as Adam had failed in paradise, as man has always done; as every creature has done which has not been directly sustained of God.
The reader may, in passing, remark Adam as an image of Him who was to come, of the last Adam; and Noah as also a figure of Christ, inasmuch as the government of the world and the repression of evil were now entrusted to man.
Two great principles, which subsist to the present day, characterize the world which is developed after Noah: they are connected with the tower of Babel. Up to this time, whether before or after the deluge, there had been only the human race, one family only. Now, in consequence of the judgment of man, who seeks to exalt himself on the earth and to make himself a name or centre which may give him strength, God scatters those who were building the tower, and there are nations, languages, and peoples. The actual form of the world was established in reference to its division into different tribes and different nations. Moreover individual energy forms an empire which has Babel for its centre and point of departure. Now that the world is constituted, we arrive at the testimony and ways of God. In the midst of this system of nations, there were languages, peoples, and nations.
The judgment of God had thus ordered the world, but an immense fact appears in the history of the world. The sin of man is no longer only sin against God, manifested in corruption and in the activity of an independent will. Demons take the place of God Himself in the eyes and for the imagination of men. Idolatry reigns among the nations, and even in the race brought the nearest to God, the race of Shem. Although, at bottom, this idolatry was everywhere the same, each nation had its gods. The system established by God Himself, at the time of the judgment of the race at the tower of Babel, acknowledged demons as its gods. This gives occasion to the call of Abraham; The God of glory appears to him and calls him to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house. He must break completely with the system established by God, and that in its most intimate relationships. He must be for God, and for God alone. He is chosen by sovereign grace; being called, he walks by faith, and the promises are made to him.
But this call introduces another principle of great importance. There had already been many faithful ones who had walked with God—Abels, Enochs, Noahs; but none was like Adam, who was head of evil, the stock of a race. Now Abraham, being called, became the stock of a race which was to inherit the promises outside the world. Of course this may be developed in a spiritual manner in Christians, or in a carnal manner in the people of Israel; but the heir of the promise (and this applies to Christ Himself) enjoys it as the seed of Abraham. If the nations, the peoples, the families, and the languages took demons for their gods, God took a man by His grace to be the head of a family, the stock of a people, who may belong to Him for His own. The fatness of God’s olive-tree is found in those who grow on the root of Abraham, whether it be in a people, the seed according to the flesh, or in a seed which shares in the promised blessings, inasmuch as belonging to Christ the true Seed of the promise. This call and this vocation, whatever the phases may be which the objects to which they apply pass through, always remain firm. Christ Himself came to accomplish the promises made to the fathers, as a witness of the unchangeable truth of God.
The state of the first heirs, however, changes; and in a little while we find a people who care little for the promises, but who, far removed from the faith of Abraham, groan under the yoke of a merciless tyranny.
This state of the people of God brings in an event in which a principle of immense importance is brought into view, namely, that of redemption, or of the deliverance of the people of God from the consequences of sin and from the slavery in which they were held. We shall see also, in the fruits of redemption, facts of the highest interest for us. The cry of the people went up to the ears of Jehovah of Hosts, and He comes down to deliver them. But the Saviour is the just Judge, and it is needful that He should reconcile these two characters. In order to be able to deliver, His own righteousness must be satisfied. A God who is not righteous cannot, morally speaking, be a Saviour. It is in this character that God definitely appears, when He intends to deliver the people. He had manifested His power in calling on Pharaoh to let the people go, in declaring the rights he had over Israel; but the deliverance must needs be accomplished without the goodwill of man and by the judgment of God, by the full manifestation of what He is with regard to evil, and in love also, so that He may be known. Now the people themselves were, in certain respects, more guilty than the Egyptians; and God comes in as a judge. But the blood of the paschal lamb is put upon the door, and Israel escapes the judgment that was due to them, according to the value which that blood had in the eyes of God. God judges, and, by reason of the blood recognized by faith, passes over His guilty people. But Israel was still in Egypt; their deliverance was not yet effected, although the price of redemption was paid in figure. Israel sets forth. On arriving at the Red Sea, the question of their deliverance or their ruin must be decided. Pharaoh had pursued them, sure of his victory. The wilderness in which Israel was, in appearance, lost, offered them no outlet; and the Red Sea (figure of death and judgment) was straight before them. On the morrow Israel only saw the corpses of their enemies who had perished in the sea—the road of salvation for the people of God. The death and judgment of Christ make us pass on dry land, far away from the place where we were captives.
Redemption is more than the fact of our being secured from the judgment of God. It is a deliverance wrought by God. He Himself acts for us, and places us in an altogether new position, by the exercise of the power of God Himself.
We have, in this important history, the figures of the great facts on which our eternal blessing is founded. It prefigures propitiation, redemption, and justification under a double aspect; on the one hand, propitiation by the blood which sets us free from all imputation of sin in presence of the righteousness of God; and on the other, our introduction, in virtue of the value of that blood, into an altogether new position by the resurrection. Christ was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification.
Some very important principles come before our eyes, consequent upon deliverance by redemption. God dwells with the redeemed—if you will, in their midst.
He did not dwell with innocent Adam, nor with Abraham called by His grace and heir of the promises. But, as soon as Israel is redeemed and delivered by redemption, God dwells in the midst of the people. Compare Exodus 15:2, and chap. 29:45, 46.
The holiness of God and of the relations of His people with Him then appear for the first time. Never in Genesis was the holiness of anything whatever set before us (except in the alone case of the sanctification of the sabbath in paradise), nor the holiness of God’s character. But Exodus 15 and 19; Leviticus 19:26, and other passages shew us that, once redemption is accomplished, God takes this character, and establishes it as necessary for everything that is in relation with Himself. Compare Exodus 6:5.
In immediate connection with this truth another is found, which, moreover, flows necessarily from redemption, namely, that the ransomed ones no longer belong to themselves; they are taken for God, consecrated to God, set apart for Him. Afterwards they are brought to God Himself; Exod. 19:4.
Israel enter into the wilderness, the character of this world for the people of God who have the consciousness of their redemption, and the faithfulness of God takes care of His people there. Next, they enter into Canaan, where it is a question of the victories which we must win in order to enjoy in this world the heavenly privileges which belong to us. As to the title, we enjoy these privileges before gaining a single victory; but, in order to realize these privileges, we must conquer. The wilderness and Canaan prefigure the two parts of Christian fife: patience in the world under the hand of God who is leading us; and victory in our combats with Satan, in order to enjoy and to cause others to enjoy spiritual privileges.
But another very important privilege comes to light during the sojourn of Israel in the wilderness. If the reader examines Exodus 15 to 18, he will find that all is grace. But in chapter 19 the people put themselves under the law, and accept the enjoyment of the promises under the condition of their own obedience to all that Jehovah would say. Obedience was a duty; but to place themselves under this condition was to forget their own weakness and to ensure their being lost, a consequence which did not fail. Before Moses came down from the mountain, Israel had made the calf of gold. The patience of God continued His relations with the people by the means of the intercession of Moses, until, as Jeremiah says, there was no longer any remedy. But our aim now is to point out the ways of God, and not to enter into details.
The promises of God had been made to Abraham without condition, and in consequence the question of righteousness had not been raised. Now this question was raised, and first, as was reasonable, righteousness in man demanded on God’s part. It was the duty of the creature. The question must needs have been raised, but the result was—and with sinners it could be no other—that man, having violated the law, aggravated his sin, instead of attaining to righteousness. With a rule which would have made his happiness if he had kept it, he is only a transgressor and by so much the more guilty before God. Moreover, it was in order to convince him of his state of sin that the law, which brought in positive transgressions, was given to him. God never had the thought of saving by a law; and man needs to be saved. The law of God must propose a rule which expresses the perfection of a man, nay, of every intelligent creature. But that could do nothing else than make sin evident, when man was already a sinner. This last truth is forgotten, when people speak of the law. However the law of God must be the perfect expression of what man ought to be, that is to say, must condemn man, a sinner. An exact measure does not add anything to a too short piece of cloth which has been sold to me, but it manifests the fraud. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” The question of human righteousness has been resolved by the law. Ordained with promise of life for obedience, it has been in fact a ministry of death and condemnation for those who have borne its yoke.
This is an immense fact and principle. Human righteousness does not exist. The guilt of man is made manifest.
We have seen that God manifested all patience with regard to man under the law, the while preparing him for a better hope. He sent His prophets to warn, to seek for fruits in His vineyard. All were rejected. At last He sent His Son. All was useless. He was cast out of the vineyard and put to death. But this exposes to view another character of sin: men rejected the mercy of God, as they failed to meet the just requirements of the law. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” But man had no desire for this reconciliation, and did not wish for God at any price. For His love Christ found hatred. When He appeared, they saw no beauty in Him that they should desire Him.
Thus the sin of man was completely demonstrated. Innocent, he abandoned God; but afterwards left to himself, except as to the testimony of God, he made of the world a scene of corruption and of violence, such that God must needs bring in the flood. Placed under the law, he violated it, and sought other gods of dung which he had invented. God Himself arrives in mercy in this world of sin, with the manifestation of the most perfect love and of a power capable of re-establishing man in blessing on the earth; but the carnal mind is enmity against God, and man manifested this enmity in rejecting Jesus and putting Him to death. The cross of Jesus served as a proof that man hated God and expressed this hatred in the rejection of the Saviour. Morally speaking, it is the end of the history of man. Completely put to the proof, he is corrupt and violent, a transgressor, guilty; but, more than that, he hates the God of goodness.
What we have gone through is the history of man put to the proof. There remains the history of the grace of God toward man, and the government of the world on the part of God.
There can exist no more serious question for the soul than this: where shall I find righteousness before God? We have said that the law raised this question. It is of importance to see the position it takes when the law is given.
From the first existence of man on the earth the question between responsibility and grace was placed at issue. In the earthly paradise there was the tree of life which only communicated life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to which the responsibility of man was attached. As to the tree of life, man did not eat of it; and (once become a sinner) the mercy of God, as well as His righteousness and the moral order of His government, closed against him the way of this tree. An immortal sinner on the earth would have been an insupportable anomaly in the government of God. Besides, man had deserved to be shut out of the garden. On the other hand man failed in his responsibility. Before his fall he did not know sin, but he was in the relation of a creature towards God. There was no sin in eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, except inasmuch as this had been forbidden.
When man fell, the Seed of the woman, the last Adam, was immediately announced: the hopes of the human race are thenceforth placed upon a new ground. The deliverance presented does not consist in something which would have been but a means of raising up again founded on the moral activity of man already in a fallen condition; but another person is announced, who, while of the human race, should be a source of life independent of Adam, and who should destroy the power of the enemy; a person who should not represent Adam, but replace him before God, should be the seed of the woman, which Adam was not, and should at the same time be an object of faith for Adam and for his children— an object which, being received into the heart, should be the life and salvation of whoever should receive it. The first Adam was made a living soul; he was lost: the last Adam, the second Man, is a quickening spirit. Until the coming of Christ the promise only was the source of hope; it alone, through grace, begat and sustained faith. We believe in its accomplishment. When God called Abraham, He gave him (Gen. 12) the promise that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed. Afterwards (chap. 22) this promise was confirmed to his Seed. The one who was to be the seed of the woman was also to be the seed of Abraham. Thus the ways of God towards man were established on an indefectible promise. It was without condition, a simple promise, and consequently it did not raise the question of righteousness nor of the responsibility of man.
Four hundred and thirty years afterwards the law comes, and, as we have said, raises the question of righteousness, and that, on the footing of the responsibility of man, by giving him a perfect rule of what man, the child of Adam, ought to be. Now, observe it well, he was a sinner. This law had a twofold aspect, a kernel of absolute truth, which the Lord Jesus was able to draw from its obscurity—supreme love to God and love to one’s neighbour. It is the perfect rule of the blessedness of the creature as a creature. The angels realize it in heaven. Man is as far as possible from having accomplished the law on earth. But this rule is developed in the details of relative duties, which flow from the relation in which man finds himself, as a fact, before God, and from the relation in which he finds himself placed as towards others in this lower world.
Now, in the circumstances in which man found himself these details necessarily had reference to the moral state in which he was, supposed sin and lusts, and forbad them. As the law of God applying itself to the actual state of man, it necessarily condemns sin on the one hand, and necessarily proves it on the other. What can a law do in such a case, but condemn—be, as the apostle says (2 Cor. 3), a ministry of death and condemnation? It demanded righteousness according to a rule which the conscience of man could not but approve, and which at the same time proved his guiltiness. It is in this, in fact, that the usefulness of the law consists; it gives the knowledge of sin. God never gave it to produce righteousness. In order to this, an inward moral power is absolutely necessary. But the law on the tables of stone is not the power. The law requires righteousness of man, and pronounces the last judgment of God, makes sin exceeding sinful, and brings the just anger of God. No law produces a nature. Now the nature of man was sinful. The commandment demonstrates that he will seek to satisfy that nature, in spite of God’s forbidding it. The law is thus, and because it is just and good, the strength of sin. It entered that the offence might abound. Those who are of the works of the law (these are not bad works: the apostle speaks of all who walk on this principle) are under the curse it has pronounced on such as disobey it. The flesh is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The promise of God remains sure. Man is put to the proof so that it may be made manifest whether he can produce a human righteousness.
The law was presented to man under a twofold aspect—the law pure and simple, and the law mingled with grace, that is to say, given to man after the intervention of grace, but leaving man to his own responsibility after a forgiveness accorded by grace. The history of the first point of view is very short. Before Moses came down from Mount Sinai, Israel had made the golden calf. The tables of the law never entered the camp. They never were able to form the basis of the relations of man with God. How reconcile the commandments with the worship of the calf of gold? Subsequent to this sin Moses intercedes for the people, and they receive the law anew, God acting in mercy according to His sovereignty and proclaiming Himself merciful and gracious. The relationship of the people with God is founded on the pardon which God grants, and established no longer as an immediate relationship with God, but on the ground of Moses’ mediation. The people however are put under the law, and everyone is to be blotted out of God’s book through his own sin, if he render himself guilty. At the same time the law is hidden under an ark, and God Himself is hidden behind a veil, within which the sprinkling of blood was to be made on the mercy-seat which formed, together with the cherubim, the throne of God.
But this mixture of grace and law could not, any more than the unmingled law, serve to establish between God and man relations capable of being maintained. It could serve to demonstrate that, whatever might be the patience of God, man, responsible for his conduct, could not obtain life by a righteousness which he himself should accomplish. Also, the impossibility in which man finds himself of subsisting in presence of the exigencies of the glory of God, however feebly it may be revealed, is presented to us in a remarkable figure, which the apostle makes use of in 2 Corinthians. The people prayed Moses to cover his face, which still shone with the reflection of the glory of Jehovah, with whom he had been in communication on the top of Mount Sinai. Man cannot endure the revelation of God when God demands of man that he should be what he ought to be before Him. The veil disclosed, at bottom, the same truth. God must hide Himself. The way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest. A law was given on God’s part to direct man’s life, a priesthood established to maintain the relations of the people with God, notwithstanding the faults of which they became guilty; but man could not come nigh to God. Sad state, in which the revelation of the presence of God, the only thing which can really give blessing, necessarily repelled the one who needed the blessing! We shall see that, in Christianity, exactly the contrary takes place: the veil is rent.
But let us pursue the ways of God with man under the law.
We have already seen that, in the system we are considering, life was proposed to man as the result of his faithfulness. Whatever may be the patience and grace of God, all depends on this faithfulness; and not only is the responsibility of man completely at stake, but all depends on the way in which he meets this responsibility. God, no doubt, had patience, and manifested His grace. He bore with Israel in the desert and introduced them into the land of Canaan, in spite of all sorts of unfaithfulness on the part of the people. He put the people in possession of the country, giving them victories over their enemies. He raised up judges to deliver them, when their unfaithfulness had subjected them to their powerful neighbours. He sent them prophets to recall them to the observance of the law. At length, with a goodness which would not judge them without using every means to gain their hearts, He sent His Son to receive the fruit of His vine, on which He had expended all His care, and on which He had lavished so many proofs of love. But His vine yielded only wild grapes; and those who cultivated it, those to whom He had entrusted it, rejected His servants the prophets, and cast His Son out of the vineyard and killed Him. Such was the end of the proof to which man was put under the law: all the grace and all the patience of God having been employed to induce them to obey and maintain them in obedience—all was useless.
There is the history of man under the law. If we examine the bearing of the law on the conscience, we shall find that it brings condemnation and death as soon as it is spiritually understood; but the aim of this article is to consider the ways of God. Nevertheless I cannot leave this subject without entreating my reader to weigh well what is the bearing of the law, if it be applied to his conscience and his life before God, if he be responsible—and he surely is—if all he can do is to recognize the justice and excellence of that which the law demands. If he sees that he ought to avoid that which the law condemns, and that the two commandments which form the positive part of the law are the two pillars of the blessedness of the creature; if he finds that he has constantly done and loved that which the law and his own conscience condemn, and that he has entirely failed in that which his conscience must acknowledge as being the perfection of the creature: if all that be true, where is the life which is promised to obedience? How escape the condemnation pronounced on the violation of the law, if he places himself on the ground of his own responsibility and has to be judged according to a rule which he himself acknowledges as perfect? Another law could not be found. If he is without law, good and evil are indifferent; that is as much as to say that man is more than wicked; even natural conscience is ruined, good does not exist, and man is unbridled in evil, save by the violence of his neighbour or the just judgment of God displayed in an event like the deluge. No; the law is just and good, and man knows it, his conscience tells him so. But if the law is good and just, man on the ground of his own responsibility is lost. The life which it promises to obedience man has not obtained; the judgment which will make good the authority and justice of the law awaits the one who has disobeyed it, and will at the same time be pronounced against all the shamelessness of an unbridled will. All the guilty will be reached. As to the law, as the apostle expresses it—happily for the awakened conscience—that which was ordained to life, man finds it to be unto death.
The presence however of the Son of God in this world had not alone for its object the seeking, on the part of Jehovah, fruit from His vine. This task was even the smallest part of the object of His coming; necessary, no doubt, in order to make evident the state in which man was, as a child of Adam, responsible before God; but not at all the object of God’s counsels in His coming, nor even the principal thing which was revealed by His manifestation in flesh. Moreover neither did the fact that man did not render the fruit which God had the right to expect bring to its full height the sin of man. God has been manifested in the flesh; He has appeared, He is love: love then has been manifested. He has been manifested in relation with the wants, the weakness, the misery, the sins of man. He was divine in His perfection, but He shewed this perfection while adapting Himself perfectly to the state in which man was found. It was a love which was above all our miseries, but which adapted itself to all our miseries and did not weary itself of any of them. The Lord Jesus has manifested in His life here below a power which destroyed entirely the power of Satan over men. He healed all the sick, cast out devils, raised the dead, gave to eat to those who were hungry. He had, as man, bound the strong man and spoiled his goods. And not only that, but what was still more important, the human being who was the most abandoned to sin found in Him a way by which he could return to God, God Himself was come to seek him, God who was shewing that no sin was too great for His love, no defilement too repulsive for His heart. Satan had ruined man by destroying his confidence in God: God neglected nothing to re-establish it, but with a perfect condescension; perfect, because His love could not do otherwise; perfect, because it was the true expression of His heart, which found in the miseries, the faults, the weakness of man, the occasion of assuring them that there was a love on which they could always count.
We see, in effect, in the cases of the woman of bad life and of the one whom the Lord met at Jacob’s well, how the Saviour’s love attracted the heart, when once the awakening of the conscience had created in the heart the want of His goodness. There was then produced a confidence which revived the heart, turned it aside from evil, a confidence which no human being knows how to inspire and which delivers the soul from the evil influence which surrounds and possesses it, as well as from the fear of man, to turn it towards God with a sincerity which demonstrates that it is in the light with God, but which demonstrates also that the goodness of God has found its way to the heart, in such sort that it has no desire to get out of a position in which all the evil that is found there is manifested, but manifested where all is love, and where one can rest because all is known. It is a love which inspires confidence, because, when all is known, God remains always love. Here is the divine character of Christ, to be the light which makes all manifest, the love which loves when all is made manifest, which knows all beforehand, which produces perfect uprightness in the heart, because it is a comfort that such a heart should know all.
Such was Christ on earth: one was with God. The sinner who would have been ashamed to shew himself to man could hide his face in the bosom of Jesus, sure of not finding a reproach there. Not a sin allowed (if there had been, confidence would not have been established, because He would not have revealed the holy God), but a heart which, through the midst of the sin, received the sinner in His arms; and it was the heart of God. Christ was all that in this world, and He was much more than my poor pen could tell; yet man rejected Him. He was all that through opposition, hatred, outrages, and death; but all was in vain as regards man. It is this which has definitively demonstrated the state of man. It is not only that he is a sinner, that he has violated the law and refused to hear the appeals of the prophets; but when God Himself appeared as goodness, man would not have Him; his heart was entirely hostile to God fully manifested, not in His glory which will crush all that shall rise against Him, but with the attraction of a perfect goodness.
All the gravity of man’s condition consists not in that God has driven man out of paradise, but rather in that man, so far as it depended on him, has driven from the earth God come in grace into a world such as the sin of man had made it. “Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? when I called, was there none to answer?” “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” At the commencement of His ministry, we remarked, Christ had bound the strong man, and had spoiled his goods. But the result of the exercise of this ministry was that man did not want even a deliverer-God, did not want God at any price. Man, the child of Adam, was entirely condemned in the death of Jesus. There no longer remained anything; there no longer remained any resource to God Himself, any means to employ in the hope of awakening the desire for good in the heart of man. Not only was he a sinner, but nothing could bring him back to God. Everything had been tried, save the exceptional mode founded on the intercession of Jesus on the cross (intercession which the Holy Spirit answers by the mouth of Peter in saying that, if even now Israel repented, Jesus would return). But Israel refused this appeal also. God exhausted all the resources of sovereign grace; He exhausted them, and the heart of man repelled them all.
A new nature was needed, and redemption; a justification available for a sinner before the throne of a righteous God, a righteousness which should render man acceptable, without there remaining on some other side any sin which God must occupy Himself with in judgment, and which should do more still—which should make man perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God, fit for the glory which God had prepared for him. There needed an altogether new state, which should leave to man before God no trace of his previous state of sin. There needed a state which should satisfy the glory of God, and render man perfectly capable of enjoying it.
According to the doctrine of Christianity the question of man’s responsibility is entirely disposed of. The doctrine fully recognizes this responsibility, but declares that man is lost. It is a message of pure love, but of a love which finds the basis of its exercise in the fact that man has been already put to the proof and that he is lost. Christianity announces that “the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
The day of judgment, which will execute the just judgment of God, has been for faith anticipated by the clear and distinct declaration of the gospel. “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth in unrighteousness”; but also “the righteousness of God is revealed on the principle of faith for faith.”
It is the death and resurrection of Jesus which reveal to us these things. His death terminates the history of responsible man; His resurrection begins anew the history of man according to God. His death is the point at which evil and good meet in their full strength for the triumph of the latter. His resurrection is the exercise and the manifestation of the power which places man in the Person of Christ who has triumphed, and, by virtue of that triumph, in a new position, worthy of the work by which Christ has gained the victory, worthy of the presence of God. In this new state man is clear of sin, and outside its empire and the reach of Satan.
In the position in which the resurrection of Christ has placed us we see man living in the life of God, where redemption, purification, and justification have placed him, and fit for the state in which the counsels of God intend to place him, that is, for the glory which is attached to this resurrection. Man is also pleasing to God as the new creation of His hands, the fruit of the work in which God has perfectly glorified Himself. Let us examine this a little more closely.
I have said that good and evil met in all their force in the cross. It is well to seize this fact in order to understand the moral importance of the cross in the eternal ways of God. The cross is the expression of the hatred, without cause, of man against God manifested in goodness. Christ, the perfect expression of the love of God in the midst of the wretchedness that sin had brought into the world, had brought in the remedy for this wretchedness wherever He met it. In Him this love was in constant exercise, notwithstanding the evil; He was never wearied, never thrown back, by the excess of evil or by the ingratitude of those who had profited by His goodness. Sin, disgusting as it was, never arrested the course of Christ’s love: it was but the occasion of the exercise of this divine love. God was manifested in flesh, attracting the confidence of man by seeking him, sinner as he was; by shewing that there was something superior to evil, to misery and defilement. This was God Himself. Christ, perfectly holy, of a holiness that remained always unfailingly intact, could carry His love into the midst of evil, so as to inspire the wretched with confidence. If a man touched a leper, he was himself defiled: Christ stretches forth His hand and touches him, saying, “I will, be thou clean.”
Man, who might fear to approach God on account of his own sin, found in grace (which was seeking the sinner in perfect goodness, which made of sin an occasion for the testimony of God’s love towards man) that which was fitted to inspire confidence in his heart. It could relieve itself by unburdening the load of a guilty conscience into the heart of God who knew all. All was of no avail. The cross was the recompense of this love. Man would have none of God.
But there are other sides of this power of evil, which are shewn in the cross. The effect of evil—death—reigns in it. I say “reigns in it.” It is true that this is shewn more in Gethsemane than in the cross, but it is only another part of the same solemn scene, and the anticipation of the cross itself in the soul of Jesus. “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” Death, as the power of evil, was pressing with all its force on the entire being of Jesus. Death is the present judgment of man in the flesh, wielded by the power of him who thus has the power of it; but it implies the sin of man, and the wrath of God against sin. This is what Jesus met. It is true that, in yielding himself entirely to the will of His Father, He accepted the cup at His hand in a perfect obedience which left Satan no place. But that was His perfection. He was fully put to the proof. Death was the power of Satan over man on account of sin, but at the same time it was the judgment of God. It was also the weakness of man even to nought as regards his existence in this world.
If we enter into details, we find evil develop itself under the power of Satan in this hour of his power. If a man is a judge, he condemns the innocent, washing his hands as to it. If he is a priest, whose duty is to plead for those who are out of the way, he pleads against the innocent and just person. If it be a question of friends, one betrays, another denies, the rest forsake, Him who had shewn unceasingly the abundance of His affection. In men no fear of God, no compassion for man. The Saviour went low enough for a wretched thief, suffering the punishment of his crimes, to insult Him in death.
In a word, good had been fully manifested in Jesus, and evil attained its moral highest pitch in the rejection of the Saviour. Jesus dies, but He is dead to sin. He never admitted it into His nature, but now He has left the life in which He had sustained the combat. He leaves all relation with the order of things in which sin is found, breaking it by death which destroys this relation. There is no longer for Christ any link with man in flesh. That is what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 5, not even an outward link, or the likeness of sinful flesh. Man has severed every link between himself and God; and Christ has done with those relations in which He never suffered sin to enter His holy nature, but in which He had to do with sin and man. There was an end of man and sin. Man is left in sin so far as in flesh; and there is a risen man, a man completely outside the condition of the children of Adam, dead, not existing in relation with the state in which man was found, but to live to God outside sin.
Immense truth! Christ (who had a perfect life, who was life, and who, tempted in all things like unto us, passed through this present life in obedience and faithfulness, who manifested nought but the power of the Holy Ghost in His walk and looking only to God, and who passed through all the power that the enemy had over man in soul and body by death) has closed the history of man in ceasing to exist in relation with him, man led by Satan having consummated his wickedness by putting Him to death. Nevertheless it was Christ who offered Himself. Moreover for Him it is the path of life, and He rises beyond the scene of the power of Satan, whether as tempter or as having the power of death.
Let us now see good manifesting itself in all its perfection, and as superior to evil. First, the life of Jesus has shewn the obedience of man by the Spirit through a world of sin, and in spite of all the temptation by which the enemy can try a soul. His life was according to the Spirit of holiness—His death perfect obedience. All we have spoken of, as the power of evil, only heightened the character and value of the obedience. But there is more than this. Man is now by death absolutely set free from evil. He dies to sin. Death breaks his relation with evil, because the nature which can be in relation with evil no longer exists, at least if there is life. We have seen that Christ, although in the likeness of sinful flesh, never for a moment admitted sin into His being; but death ended, and ended for us, all relation with the scene where sin exists, with all this sphere of existence, and ends it in Christ in a life which is holy. Christ dies, and we die in Him by the power of a life which is divine.
Besides this, perfect love has been manifested, and when man rejected it, it did not weaken, but it accomplished, the work necessary for the reconciliation of those who were enemies. Good, love, God shewed Himself superior to evil, in such sort that, in the act in which the hatred of man against God was fully manifested, in which the iniquity of man’s heart came to its height, the love of God in Christ triumphs in the act which sin, come to its height, accomplishes. It is the death of Christ. The greatest sin of the world is (on the part of God and of Christ, who offers Himself as a sacrifice for sin) the propitiation made for sin.
Thus, for the one who is in Christ, for the believer, the sin of the old nature is entirely blotted out, and he lives as raised in Jesus—in a new life in relationship with God. What wisdom of God! We are dead to sin by the act which manifested this sin in the highest degree; and the love of God is declared in that which is the expression of man’s hatred. And observe, is it in permitting evil? No; the just judgment of God is also manifested. If His Son takes sin upon Himself, if He is made sin for us, He must suffer. The justice of God is executed against sin in His Person, and grace reigns through righteousness magnified in Christ. If evil has ripened and borne all its fruits, good has triumphed with a divine perfection. All blessing and all glory are but the effect of this work, the moral centre of all the relations of God with man in judgment and in grace.
It remains for us to trace its fruit in the ways of God.
The death of Christ had fully glorified God and shewn His love. It had glorified Him in the obedience of man, had glorified Him in respect of His righteousness, and in the judgment pronounced against sin, in respect of His holy wrath against sin. And at the same time the perfect love of God had been shewn in it by the gift of His Son, His only-begotten, for poor sinners, given to bear the sins of all those who shall believe on Him to the end.
What then are the effects of this work and of this love, free now to exercise itself, because what glorified love exalts righteousness?
In the first place, Christ raised by the glory of the Father, all that is in the glory of the Father (that is, the revelation of His nature, love, righteousness, the relation of the Father with Christ as Son, His good pleasure in the life of the Saviour down here, His satisfaction in that He had glorified Him, and rendered the accomplishment of His counsels morally possible, and in particular the glory of His own among the children of men), all that was in the heart of the Father, answered to the excellence of the One who lay in the tomb—was engaged in the resurrection of the Son of man. The first-fruits of the power of God in answer to this work, in which good triumphed at the expense of Christ, is the resurrection of Christ. Here, as we have already seen, an entirely new position is taken by man; yes, entirely new. Death is left behind. Sin, so far as separating us from God, exists no longer. The divine life is the life of man. Righteousness is manifested in the acceptance of man, not in his condemnation. And man subsists, not in the weakness of his own responsibility and mortal, but as the fruit of the power of God who has been already glorified in respect of His righteousness.
We are speaking in an abstract manner of the position. In applying some of these expressions to Christ, it would naturally be necessary to modify them. Christ has acquired this position for us: we enjoy it as a new position. He is in it Himself; the divine life was always in Him. When in responsibility He was not weak. He was, even in the flesh, born of God. At the same time His own position was very different from what it now is. He was, before His death, in the likeness of sinful flesh; He was not in it after His resurrection. He lived in flesh and blood before His death, He did not live in them after His resurrection. He has been really dead, although it was impossible that death should hold Him; now He dieth no more. He is the first who entered into the position He has gained for His own. Now that the Holy Spirit has been given to us, this position, and even the glory, are already the portion of those who believe in Him by faith, and by the possession of divine life and of the Spirit. As to the actual fact, we are still in our mortal bodies.
But although the resurrection placed the Saviour, and us in Him, in a position which is the fruit of the power of God, not of the responsibility of man, and which at the same time, by virtue of the work of Christ, is the result of the exercise of the righteousness of God; and although Christ was thus declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, this did not constitute the whole result, even as to His Person. He must needs be glorified to immediate nearness to God, and glorified with the glory of God. Wonderful fact! transcendent divine righteousness! a man is in the glory of God—is seated at the right hand of God on His throne.
In placing Himself there Christ takes personally the place which was due to Him according to the value of His work on earth. “Now is the Son of man glorified” (morally in accomplishing the work on the cross), “and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.” “I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” That which Christ demanded He received. The words, “Sit thou on my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool,” place the Lord at the right hand of God to execute the judgment that will put an end to evil. Looked at as entered into the glory of the Father, Christ makes sure to those who know Him there all the fulness of blessing which is connected with it.
But here we have an immense fact: a man, the Son of man, is seated at the right hand of God in the divine glory.
We may, before pursuing the consideration of the consequences, verify the bearing of this fact. On the one hand we see the first Adam, responsible, fallen, and in sin; afterwards the law and judgment; on the other we see the Son of God, the supreme God, come down from heaven and become man in grace, and, after having manifested the perfect grace of God toward man (grace much more abounding where sin abounded), and, after having accomplished the work of propitiation for sin and glorified God with regard to the position in which man was found, ascend, according to the righteousness of God by virtue of this accomplished work, to the right hand of God, so that man is placed in the glory of God. On the one hand it is the responsibility of man and judgment; on the other the grace of God, the work of God, salvation and glory, the righteousness of God for us as well as His love, and this righteousness of God ours also, by virtue of the work of Christ.
Hereupon the door is opened to every sinner, and God (by virtue of the blood of Christ, which has glorified His love,92 His righteousness, His truth, His majesty, all that He is) can receive him to Himself.
Man has entered into His place in glory according to the counsels of God, to be the head of everything that exists. (Psa. 8:3-7; 1 Cor. 15:25-27; Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 2:5-9.) Compare Colossians 1:15, etc. There is the truth in its full largeness. Christ, as man, is established head of all things in heaven and earth. In this respect the first Adam was only a figure of the last. At the same time, as for the first Adam there was a help who was like himself; it is the same with Christ. Eve did not form part of the inferior creation of which Adam was lord. Neither was she lord; she was the spouse and companion of Adam in the same nature and the same glory. It will be thus with the church when Christ shall take the dominion over all things into His hands. Compare Ephesians 5:25-27, and the passages already cited. But at the present time He is seated at the right hand of God, and His enemies are not yet subjected to Him. But it remains to point out the various parts of the dominion He will exercise. The angels (1 Pet. 3:22) are made subject to Him. (Compare Eph. 1:10.) But His dominion must also be extended over the earth.
Now this dominion over the earth is subdivided with respect to the human race. The Jews are to be subjected to Him, and the Gentiles also. King of the Jews is His indefectible title; He must also reign over the nations, and in Him shall the Gentiles trust. Every creature is also subjected to Him (see the passages referred to); they sigh after His reign; Rom. 8:21. At the same time all judgment is committed to the Son, because He is the Son of man; John 5:27. He has power over all flesh (John 17:2), and judgment is committed to Him, that all men may honour the Son even as they honour the Father. In this judgment there is the judgment of the living and the judgment of the dead. The first connects itself with the government of God on the earth, while at the same time it is final as far as individuals are concerned. The other is the boundary of all the revealed ways of God, when the secrets of heart of all the wicked, when their hidden motives, shall be brought into light.
Then the man Christ, when He shall have subjected all things, and set all in order, will yield up (1 Cor. 15) the kingdom to the Father, and God shall be all in all. The yielding up the kingdom makes no change in His divinity, be it carefully observed. Man up to that time had possessed the kingdom according to the counsels of God. This mediatorial kingdom comes to an end. Christ is neither more nor less God. He was God on the earth and in His humiliation. He will be so in the glory of the kingdom which He will hold as man. He will be so when, as man, He shall be subject unto God, the firstborn eternally among many brethren, in the joy of the family of men eternally blest before God.
Some remarks remain to be made concerning the ways of God, which are destined to bring in this blessed result and to establish the mediatorial glory of the Christ.
During the time that the Saviour is seated at the right hand of God, God gathers the church by the action of the Holy Ghost on earth. The glad tidings of grace are announced in the world in order to convince the world of sin, and in particular of sin in that it has rejected the Son of God; John 16:7-9. It is not the tidings that sin is forgiven, and that this has to be believed; but that the world lies in wickedness, the grand proof of which is that it has rejected the Son of God, and at the same time that the blood is on the mercy-seat, and that all men are invited to come to God who will receive them according to the value that blood has in His eyes. (1 Pet. 1:12; 2 Cor. 5:20; Col. 1:23; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; 1 Cor. 15:3, and a host of passages.) But other precious truths proceed from this descent of the Holy Ghost from heaven. Observe that He comes in virtue of the fact that Christ has gone up to heaven; John 16:7. Divine righteousness is exercised and manifested in that man (Christ), who is at the right hand of God because of His having glorified God and of a perfect propitiation having been made for sin; John 13:31, 32; ch. 17:4, 5; Phil. 2:8, 9.
Now He glorified God by His work, accomplished for those who believe in Him. The Holy Ghost then descends on those who already believed in Him (John 7:39; Luke 24:49; Acts 1 and 2), and announces through their means this glorious salvation; announces to all men that the blood is on the mercy-seat, and invites them to draw near. But, besides that, He gives, as dwelling in the believer, the assurance that all his sins have been borne by Christ (1 Pet. 2:24), and are blotted out for ever (Rev. 1:5; Heb. 1:3, and other passages); that he, the believer, is made the righteousness of God in Christ; 2 Cor. 5:21. For the righteousness of God must accept and glorify the believer: otherwise the work of Christ has been done in vain, and God’s righteousness is not put in exercise with respect to it; God does not recognize the value of this work, does not render to Christ that which He in every way deserved, which is absolutely impossible. Next, the Holy Ghost is in the believer, the seal for the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30), that is to say, for his entering actually into the glory of Christ; then He gives to the one in whom He dwells the consciousness that he is with Christ, in Christ, and Christ in him (John 14:16-20); that he is the child of God, and His heir, joint-heir with Christ (Rom. 8:16,17; Gal. 4:5-9); finally, He takes of the things of Christ, and shews them to him, while leading him through the wilderness by the path that leads to the glory; Rom. 8:14.
All that is for the individual. But there is only one Spirit in all believers, and He unites them all to Christ, and consequently all together as one body (Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 12:13, etc.), the body of Christ, head (as we have seen) over all things. It is the church united to Christ, His body, and Christians members of Christ and one of another, the bride of the Lamb; Eph. 5:25, etc. The Holy Spirit thus causes her to wait for her Bridegroom, for the marriage of the Lamb; Rev. 22:17; ch. 19. But this can only be in heaven. Believers, by the Spirit, are there already (Eph. 2:6; Phil. 3:21, 22), united by Him to the One who is there, having a heavenly calling, and detached from the world in order to look on high. Thus they go up to meet Christ in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17); Christ who has come to take them according to His promise, changing or raising them, and in order to have them with Him in His Father’s house, where He Himself is; John 14:2. Thus they are for ever with the Lord; 1 Thess. 4:17. Believers who have suffered are children93 of the Father in the glory, and together form the bride and body of Christ.
This does not establish the kingdom, but gathers the coheirs who are to reign with Christ, and gives their place to them with Him, infinitely above all reign (whatever it be) over the earth; although the latter be the necessary, blessed, and glorious consequence of it. Satan is cast out of heaven, where he will never again enter; Rev. 12:12; ch. 16:13,14; ch. 18:13, 14; ch. 19:18, etc. Afterwards the saints return with Christ (Rev. 19; Col. 3:4; Jude 14; Zech. 14:5), and the power of the enemy is destroyed on the earth set free from evil; Satan cast into the bottomless pit (Rev. 20:1-3)—not yet into the lake of fire—is no longer the prince of this world. Even the angels no longer govern it as administrators on God’s behalf. Christ and those who are His own—man is established according to the counsels of God (Psa. 8; referred to in 1 Cor. 15; Eph. 1; Heb. 2) over all things, over all the works of God’s hands. (Compare Col. 1:16-20.) Christ appears in glory, the saints also appear with Him. (Compare John 17:22, 23.) It is the kingdom of God established in power. (Compare Matt. 16:28, and ch. 17; Mark 9; Luke 9.) Righteousness reigns, and men, the world, are in peace; Eph. 1:10. There is in this state of things, fruit of the reign of Christ, the realization of all that the prophets have spoken of peace and blessing on the earth. Blessed time, in which war and oppression shall entirely cease, and in which all shall enjoy the fruits of God’s goodness, without passions inflamed by the enemy impelling men to snatch from each other the objects of their lusts. Christ will maintain the blessing of all; if evil appear, it will be at once judged and banished from the earth.
Some accessory facts have to find their place here. The kingdom of the Son of David is to be established. All the promises of God with regard to Israel shall be accomplished in favour of that people; the law being written on their hearts, the grace and power of God shall accomplish the blessing of the people, blessing which they could not obtain when it depended on their faithfulness, and when they were placed on the principle of their own responsibility. At the same time the dominion over the Gentiles will be in the hands of the Lord, while they will be subordinate to Israel, the supreme people on the earth. Thus all things will be gathered together under a single head—Christ: angels, principalities, the church in heaven, Israel, the Gentiles, and Satan will be bound.
But before the introduction of this universal blessing, the wicked one will be in open and public rebellion against God. The Jews will be joined to him, at least the great majority of the people, and the Gentiles will gather themselves together against God. This rebellion will bring in a time of extraordinary tribulation on the land of Judah, and in general there will be a temptation which shall put to the proof all the Gentiles. But the testimony of God will go throughout the world, and the judgment will come, and will be executed upon the apostates from among Christians, upon the rebellious Jews, and upon all nations which shall have rejected God’s testimony. This will be the judgment of the quick, the first resurrection having already taken place. The fulness of times begins at this period.
A few words will complete our sketch. Satan will be loosed from the abyss, after the inhabitants of the earth have long enjoyed the repose and blessing of the reign of Christ, and have seen His glory. When the temptation shall come, those who are not vitally united to Christ fall; and Satan leads the world against the seat of God’s glory on the earth (Jerusalem) and against all those who are faithful to the Lord. But those who follow him are destroyed.
Then comes the judgment of the dead and the eternal state.
There is a new heaven and a new earth, in which dwells righteousness. The kingdom having been delivered up to God the Father, Christ, who will have already subjected all things, is Himself subjected as man: a truth so precious for us, because He remains eternally the Firstborn among many brethren. Moreover I do not think that the church loses its place as the bride of Christ and the habitation of God. (See Eph. 3; Rev. 21.) The kingdom only, the existence of which supposed evil to be subjugated, will have an end.
All things will be made new, and God will be all in all. We shall enjoy Him in perfect blessedness, and we shall know Him according to the perfection of His ways already developed in the history of humanity. His Son will be the eternal expression of His thoughts, and the First among those who are eternally blessed through His means—blessing founded on the value of His blood, which never loses its worth in the constantly fresh remembrance of the blessed.
92 If God had forgiven all without propitiation, it would have been to shew Himself indifferent to sin. If He had simply condemned all sinners, He would not have manifested His love. By the death of Christ righteousness is glorified, perfect love exercised, the immutable truth of God proved. The wages of sin were there; and the divine majesty was maintained in the highest degree.
93 See (Eph. 1) the precious instruction of the word on the whole of this subject. Christians, in relationship as Christ Himself is to His God and Father (compare John 20:17), are like God spiritually, and His sons, inasmuch as He is the Father; then heirs of all things; then the body of Christ.