The Restitution of all Things
Part 2: The teaching of Scripture, as to the destiny of the Human Race
The Testimony of Scripture
I pass on now from the nature of Scripture to its teachings as to the destiny of the human race, and more especially of those who here either reject or never hear the gospel. I feel how solemn the enquiry is, not only because no subject can be of greater moment, but because what appears to me to be the truth differs from those conclusions which have been received by the majority of Christians.
Believing, however, that the Holy Scriptures, under God and His Spirit's teaching, is the final appeal in all controversies,--regarding it as the unexhausted mine from whence the unsearchable riches of Christ have yet still more to be dug out,--acknowledging no authority against its conclusions, and with the deepest conviction that one jot and one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled,--I turn to it on this as on every other point, to listen and bow to its decisions. And knowing, for by grace this Word is no stranger to me, that like Christ's flesh it is a veil as well as a revelation,--knowing that it has many things to say which we cannot bear at first, and that, if taken partially or in the letter, it may appear to teach what is directly opposed to Christ's mind and to its true meaning;--in this like not a few of Christ's own words, as when He said, "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one;" (S. Luke xxii.36.) and again, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up;" (S. John ii.19.) and again, "He that eateth me shall live by me;" (S. John vi.57.) and again, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth;" (S. John xi.11.) all of which were misunderstood by not a few of those who first heard these words from Christ's own mouth; --knowing too that the words of Holy Scripture, in many places where they seem contradictory, and in its "dark sayings," (Psalm lxxviii, 2; Prov. i.6.) and "things hard to be understood," (2 S. Pet. iii.16.) ever cover some deep and blessed mystery, I see that the question is, not what this or that text, taken by itself or in the letter, seems to say at first sight, but rather what is the mind of God, and what the real meaning in His Word of any apparent inconsistency.
If I err in attempting to answer this, my error will, I trust, provoke some better exposition of God's truth. If what I see is truth, like His coming who was the Truth, it must bring glory to God on high and on earth peace and goodwill to men.
What then does Scripture say on this subject? Its testimony appears at first sight contradictory. Not only is there on the one hand law, condemning all, while on the other hand there is the gospel, with good news for every one; but further there are direct statements as to the results of these, which at first sight are apparently irreconcilable. First our Lord calls His flock "a little flock," (S. Luke xii.32.) and states distinctly that "many are called, but few are chosen;" (S. Matt. xx.16, and xxii.14.) that "strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it;" (S. Matt. vii.14.) that "many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able;" (S. Luke xiii.24.) that while "he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him;" (S. John iii. 36) that "the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment," (S. Matt. xxv. 46) "prepared for the devil and his angels;" (S. Matt. xxv. 41.) "the resurrection of damnation;" (S. John v. 29.) "the damnation of hell," (S. Matt. xxiii. 33.) "where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched;" (S. Mark ix. 44.) that though "every word against the Son of Man may be forgiven, the sin against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come;" (S. Matt. xii. 32.) and that of one at least it is true, that "good had it been for that man if he had not been born." (S. Matt. xxvi. 24.)
These are the words of Christ Himself, and they are in substance repeated just as strongly by His Apostles. St. Paul declares that while some are "saved" by the gospel, others "perish;" (2 Cor. ii. 15.) that "many walk whose end is destruction;" (Phil. iii. 19.) that "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power, when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe in that day." (2 Thess. i. 8-10) To the Hebrews he says, "If we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries;" (Heb. x. 26,27.) that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," (Heb. x. 31.) for "our God is a consuming fire." (Heb. xii. 29.) St. Peter repeats the same doctrine, that "judgment must begin at the house of God, and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God; for if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 St. Pet. iv. 17,18) He further says of "false teachers," who "deny the Lord that bought them," that they "shall bring upon themselves swift destruction," and, like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha, "shall utterly perish in their own corruption." (2 S. Pet. ii. 1,3,6,12.) St. John's words are at least as strong, that "the fearful, and unbelieving, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their place in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death;" (Rev. xxi. 8.) and that "those who worship the beast, and his image, shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and the presence of the Lamb, and they have no rest day and night, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever." (Rev. xiv.9,10,11.)
Words could not well be stronger. The difficulty is that all this is but one side of Scripture, which in other places seems to teach a very different doctrine. For instance, there are first the words of God Himself, repeated again and again by those same Apostles whom I have just quoted, that "in Abraham's seed all the kindreds of the earth shall be blessed;" (Gen. xii. 3; xxii. 18; Acts iii.25; Gal. iii. 8.) words which St. Peter expounds to mean that there shall be "a restitution of all things," adding that "God hath spoken of this by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." (Acts iii. 21.) St. Paul further declares this wondrous "mystery of God's will, that He hath purposed in Himself, according to His good pleasure, to rehead and reconcile unto Himself, in and by Christ, all things, whether they be things in heaven," that is the spirit-world, where the conflict with Satan yet is, (Rev. xii. 7.) "or things on earth," that is this outward world, where death now reigns, and where even God's elect are by nature children of wrath, even as other men. (Eph. i. 9,10; Col. i. 20; Eph. ii. 3.)
Further St. Paul asserts that "all creation, which now groans, shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Rom. viii. 19-23.)
In another place he declares, that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself," (2 Cor. v. 19.) and that Christ "took our flesh and blood, through death to destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;" (Heb. ii. 14.) that "if by the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God and the gift of grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many:" (Rom. v. 15.) that "therefore as by the offence of one, or by one offence, judgment came on all to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one, or by one righteousness, the free gift should come on all unto justification of life," while "they which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ;" (Rom. v. 17,18) that "as sin hath reigned unto death, so grace might reign unto eternal life," yea, that "where sin abounded, grace did yet much more abound." ( Rom. v. 20,21.) To another church he states the same doctrine, that "as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive;" (2 Cor. xv. 22.) and that "the end" shall not come "till all are subject to Him," that "God may be," not all in some, but "all in all; for He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet; the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." (1 Cor. xv. 24-28.) So he says again, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, . . . that in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in earth, even in Him." (Eph. i. 3-10.) To the same purpose he writes in another epistle, "that at, [or in, (S. John xiv. 13,14; and xvi. 23,24.)] the name of Jesus, (that is Saviour,) every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father;" (Phil. ii. 10,11.) "for to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living." (Rom. xiv. 9.) He further declares that "for this sake he suffers reproach, because he hopes in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those who believe;" (1 Tim. iv. 10.) that this God "will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;" that therefore "thanksgivings as well as prayers should be made for all," because there is "a ransom for all, to be testified in due time;" (1 Tim. ii. 1-6.) and lastly that "God hath concluded all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all." (Rom. xi. 32.) The beloved Apostle St. John repeats the same doctrine, that "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world;" (1 S. John iv. 14.) for God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world by Him might be saved;" (S. John iii. 17.) further he teaches that the Only-Begotten Son "is the propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world:" (1 S. John ii. 2.) that He is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," (S. John i. 29.) and "was revealed for this very purpose that He might destroy the works of the devil," (1 S. John iii. 8.) and that, as a result, "there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor pain, because all things are made new, and the former things are passed away." (Rev. xxi. 4, 5; and see Rev. v. 13.) For "the Father loveth the son, and hath given all things into His hand:" (S. John iii. 35.) and the Son Himself declares, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me. And this is the Father's will, which hath sent me, that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up on the last day." (S. John vi. 37-39.) And again He says, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." (S. John xii. 32.)
Now is not this apparent contradiction,--few finding the way of life, and yet in Christ all made alive,--God's elect a little flock, and yet all the kindreds of the earth blessed in Abraham's seed,--mercy upon all, and yet eternal punishment,--the restitution of all things, and yet eternal destruction,--the wrath of God for ever, and yet all things reconciled to Him,--eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, and yet the destruction through death, not of the works of the devil only, but of him who has the power of death, that is the devil,--the second death and the lake which burneth with fire, and yet no more death or curse, but all things subdued by Christ, and God all in all. What can this contradiction mean? Is there any key, and if so, what is it, to this mystery?
The common answer is, that these opposing words only mean, that some are saved and some are lost for ever; that the saved are the elect of this and other dispensations, who as compared with the world have hitherto been but a little flock; but that, though as yet few have found the strait and narrow way, all nations shall be saved in the Millennium; further that though we read, "There shall be no more death," yet, since the wrath of God is for ever, there must be eternal death, (words by the way not to be found in all Scripture,) and that this death consists in never ending torments, so endless that after the lapse of the ages on ages the punishment of the wicked shall be no nearer its end than when it first commenced; that therefore the words, "In Christ shall all be made alive," only mean that all who are here in Christ shall be made alive; that the Lamb of God, though willing to be, is not really the Saviour of the world, but only of those who are not of the world, but chosen out of it; that instead of taking away the sin of the world, He only takes away the sin of those who here believe in Him; that all things therefore shall not be reconciled to God, and that "the restitution of all things," whatever it may mean, does not mean the reconciliation to God of all men.
This is the approved teaching of Christendom; this is the orthodox solution of the mystery; the simple objection to which is, that in asserting one side of Scripture, it is obliged, not only to ignore and deny the other side, but to represent God in a character absolutely opposed to that in which the gospel exhibits Him. Nor does it meet the difficulty to say, as some have said, that though a large proportion of mankind are lost for ever, the greater part will probably be saved, inasmuch as at least one-half of the race die in infancy, whose sin is perfectly atoned for by Christ's sacrifice. What is this but saying, that, if evil has fair play, it will overmatch all that God can do to meet and remedy it? Is this indeed the glad tidings of great joy? Is this the glorious gospel of the blessed God? Is it not simply a misapprehension of God's purpose, arising out of some mystery connected with the method of our redemption? But "the Scripture cannot be broken" thus. (S. John x. 35.) Not a few therefore have confessed that there is some difficulty here, which as yet they cannot solve or reconcile. Is the mystery beyond our present light? Or is there any, and if so, what is the key to it?
The truth which solves the riddle is to be found in those same Scriptures which seem to raise the difficulty, and lies in the mystery of the will of our ever blessed God as to the process and stages of redemption:--
(1) First, His will by some to bless and save others; by a first-born seed, "the first born from the dead," (Col. i. 18.) to save and bless the later-born:--
(2) His will therefore to work out the redemption of the lost by successive ages or dispensations, or, to use the language of St. Paul , "according to the purpose of the ages:" (Eph. iii. 11.)—and
(3) Lastly, His will (thus meeting the nature of our fall,) to make death, judgment, and destruction, the means and way to life, acquittal, and salvation; in other words, "through death to destroy him that has the power of death, that is the devil, and to deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." (Heb. ii. 14.)
These truths throw a flood of light on Scripture, and enable us at once to see order and agreement, where without this light there seems perplexing inconsistency. We should of course get deeper views, if, instead of starting from the fall, and merely asking what is declared as to its results and remedy, we began with God, and enquired what He has revealed as to His end in making man, and how far, if at all, His purpose in creation is or has been frustrated in any way. Did the entrance of sin change or affect God's plan? Was redemption only an after-thought to meet an undersigned or undesired difficulty? What was the object of the Incarnation? On what grounds, and for what end, is judgment committed to the Son of Man? What was intended to be accomplished by the first and second death? These are questions which must meet us, if we think of God and of His thoughts, and give Him credit for having had a purpose in creation. Christ is the answer to them all; and His Word contains, though under a veil, the perfect key to these and all mysteries; though in His Word, as in His works, the open secret is unseen, and His wisdom, as in the wondrous laws of light, may be all around us and yet for ages undiscovered. For God's sons still think it strange and even unbecoming to enquire "what is the breadth and length and depth and height" of their heavenly Father's purpose. But for our present object we need not ask all this. It is enough to begin with ourselves as fallen, and to enquire what Scripture reveals as to the results of our fall, and of the remedy.
We shall see how God's will, as witnessed, first in the "law of the first-fruits" and "first-born," then in the "purpose of the ages," and lastly in the mystery of "death" and "judgment," as it is opened by Christ's cross and resurrection, clears away all that looks like contradiction between "mercy upon all" and yet "eternal judgment." By this light we see more fully God's purpose in Christ, and how He is "Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe;" (1 Tim. iv. 10.) how "to those who overcome He will grant to sit with Him on His throne," (Rev. iii. 21.) and make them partakers of the first resurrection, are only brought to God by the resurrection of judgment, that is by the judgments of the coming age or ages. But till God opens, all is shut. A man can receive nothing except it be given him from above. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear hear, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them to us by His Spirit, for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who knoweth the things of man but the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God." (1 Cor. ii. 9-11.)
Let us look then in order at each of these three points:--
(1) First, the purpose of God by the first-fruits or first-born to save and bless the later born.
This, which is in fact the substance of the gospel, like all God's secrets, comes out by degrees. Scarcely to be discerned, though contained, in the first promise of the Woman's Seed, (Gen. iii. 15.) it shines out brightly in the covenant made with Abraham:--"In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed;" (Gen. xxii. 18.) for the seed, in whom all the kindreds of the earth are blessed, must be distinct from, and blessed prior to, those nations to whom according to God's purpose in due time it becomes a blessing. This purpose is then revealed with fuller detail in the law of the first-fruits and the first-born, (Rom. xi. 16.) though here the veil of type and shadow hides from most the face of Moses. But in Christ the purpose is unveiled for ever, and the mystery, by the first-born to save others, is by the Holy Ghost made fully manifest. Christ, says the Apostle, is the promised Seed, (Gal. iii. 16.) the First-born, (Col. i. 18.) and in and through Him endless blessing shall flow down on the later-born.
Now Christ, as Paul shews, is first-born in a double sense. He is first-born from above, first out of life, for He is the Only-Begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; "for by Him were all tings created, which are in heaven and which are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers, all things were created by Him and for Him, and He is before all things, and by Him all things consist." ( Col i. 15-17.) But He is more than this, for He is also "first-born from the dead," first out of death, "that in all things He might have the pre-eminence;" ( Col i. 18.) and it is in this relation, as first-born from the dead, that He is the head of the Church, and first-fruits of the creature. All things are indeed of God, but it is no less true also that all things are by man; as it is written, "Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." (1 Cor. xv. 21.) Therefore as by one first-born death came into this world, so by another first-born shall it be for ever overthrown. Herein is love indeed, that the whole remedy for sin shall come through one man, even as the sin did. Thus not only is there salvation for man, but by man, for the Eternal Son is Son of Man also; who by a birth in the flesh has come into our lot, that by another birth out of the grave He might also be the first-born from the dead; and it is in virtue of this relation that He fulfils for us all those offices which are included in the word Redeemer. The law of Moses is most instructive here: for while it is true that the letter of that law cannot be explained but by the gospel, it is no less true that the gospel in its breadth and depth cannot be set forth save by the figures of the law, each jot of which covers some blessed mystery.
What then does the law teach us of this First-born from the dead; for be it observed it is ever the first-born from the grave that the law speaks of,--therefore the woman's, not the man's, first-born, "the male which first openeth the womb," (Exod. xiii.12;xxxiv.19; Numb. iii.12,13.) who might, though not necessarily, be also the father's first-born.
For the law, as made for sinners only, (1 Tim. i. 9.) needed not to speak of the First-born as proceeding out of God, but only of the First-born as raised up by Him out of the grave and barren womb of this present fallen and unclean nature. According to the law, the First-born had the right, though it might be lost, of being priest and king, that is of interceding for and ruling over their younger brethren; (Exod. xiii. 2; xxiv. 5; Numb. iii.12,13; viii 16; 1 Chron. v. 1, 2.) on him devolved the duty of Goel or Redeemer, to redeem a brother who had waxen poor, and sold himself unto a stranger; to avenge his blood, to raise up seed to the dead, and to redeem the inheritance, if at any time it were lost or alienated. (Lev. xxv. 47,48; Deut. xix. 4-12; Gen. xxxviii. 8; Deut. xxv. 5-10; Ruth iv. 6-10; Lev. xxv. 25; Ruth ii. 20.) To sustain these duties God gave him a double portion. (Deut. xxi. 17.) Need I point out how Christ fulfils these particulars; how as first out of the grave, that "barren womb, which cries, Give, give," (Prov. xxx. 15,16.) He is the First-born through whom the blessing reaches us? In this sense no Christian doubts that God's purpose is by the First-born from the dead to save and bless the later-born.
But the truth goes further still, for there are others beside the Lord who are both "first-born" and "Abraham's seed," who must therefore in their measure share this same honour with and under Christ, and in whom, as "joint-heirs with Him," (Rom. viii. 17.) the promise must be fulfilled, that in them "all the kindreds of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. xxii. 18.) This glorious truth, though of the very essence of the gospel, which announces salvation to the world through the promised seed of Abraham, is even yet so little seen by many of Abraham's seed, that not a few of the children of the promise speak and act as if Christ and His body only should be saved, instead of rejoicing that they are also the appointed means of saving others. Even of the elect, few see that they are elect to the birthright, not to be blessed only, but to be a blessing; as first-born with Christ to share the glory of kingship and priesthood with Him, not only to rule and intercede for their younger and later-born brethren, but to avenge their blood, to raise up seed to the dead, and in and through Christ, their life and head, to redeem their lost inheritance. Thank God, if the elect know not their double portion, God knows and keeps it for them, and will in due time, spite of their blindness, fulfill His purpose in and by them. But surely it is a reproach to the heirs, that they know not their Father's purpose, and that through not knowing it they bear so imperfect a testimony as to His good-will to all His fallen creatures.
The whole old law beams with light upon this point, not only in its ordinances and appointments as to the first-born and their double portion, but also in the details of the oblation of the first-fruits, which is only another aspect and presentation of the same mystery. The seed of nature figures the seed of grace, and the first-fruits of the one are but the shadow of the other, that "seed of the kingdom" which is first ripe for heaven, ripened by the true Sun (Psa. lxxxiv. 11.) and Light (S. John viii. 12.) and Air, (S. John iii. 8.) of which the sun and light and air of present nature in all their wondrous workings are the silent but ceaseless witnesses. The type is very full and striking here; for the law, which required the first-fruits, speaks of a double first-fruits. (Lev. xxiii. 10, 17.)
The first, the sheaf or handful of unleavened ears, the first to spring up out of the dark and cold earth, which lay the shortest time under its darkness, soonest ripe to be a sacrifice on God's altar, was offered at the first great feast of the year, the feast of unleavened bread, which is the Passover. (Lev. xxiii. 10, 11; S. Luke xxii. 1.) The other, which are also called "first-fruits," were offered in the form of leavened cakes, fifty days later at Pentecost. (Lev. xxiii. 17.) Both in the law are distinctly called "first-fruits," though they are distinguished by a separate name, the ears at Passover being called Rashith, the leavened cakes at Pentecost, Bicourim; to which the gospel exactly agrees, saying, "Christ the First-fruits," (1 Cor. xv. 23.) and "we a kind of first-fruits:" (S. James i. 18. See also Rev. xiv. 4.) Christ "the First-born," (Col. i. 18.) and we "the church of the first-born;" (Heb. xii. 23.) words which carry with them blessings unspeakable, "for if the first-fruit be holy, the lump is also holy," (Rom. xi. 16.) the offering of the first-fruits to God being accepted as the sanctification and consecration of the whole coming harvest.
( NOTE: Rashith, or "the beginning," the title given in the law to the Paschal first-fruits, is the very word used by St. Paul of Christ in the passage already quoted,--"He is the head of the body, the Church, who is the beginning , the first-born from the dead," —Col. i. 18.)
Need I say Christ is the Paschal first-fruits and first-born. The day of His resurrection was the very day of the offering of the first first-fruits!
(NOTE: These first first-fruits were offered "on the morrow after the Sabbath" after the Passover, (Lev xxiii. 11,) that is the very day "the first day of the week," on which Christ rose from the dead. I may, perhaps, add here, for it is most noteworthy, that in 2 Sam. xxi. 9, we are told that "all the seven sons of Saul fell together in the days of harvest, in the first day, in the beginning of barley harvest;" that is they fell on the day of the first first-fruits. The books of Kings, where this is recorded, are the books of Rule shewing out in mystery all the forms of Rule under which God's elect have been either in bondage or liberty. The first form of rule is Saul, whose name means Death or Hell. He is the figure of the rule under which we are at first, while "death reigns" by God's appointment. (Rom. v. 14, 17.) All his seven sons, that is, the fruits of death, fall in one day, under the reign of David, that is the Beloved; that one day being the sacred day of the Paschal first-fruits, the day of Christ's resurrection).
But who are those, who, as leavened bread, share the honour with and under Him of being the Pentecostal first-fruits? Who with Christ and through Christ are Abraham's seed?
First, the Jew is Abraham's seed,--"the people that dwell alone, and are not reckoned among the nations;" (Numb. xxiii. 9.) and though "all are not Israel who are of Israel ," (Rom. ix. 6.) Scripture will indeed be broken, if Israel is not again grafted in; when, if the casting away of them has been the riches of the world, the receiving of them, as St. Paul says, shall be life from the dead. (Rom. xi. 15.) " Israel is my son, my first-born, saith the Lord." (Exod. iv. 22.) All nations, therefore, shall yet be blessed in them. They are indeed only the earthly first-born, but as first-born, though of the least-loved wife, they must in their own sphere possess the double blessing; (Deut. xxi. 15, 16.) being not blessed only, but made blessings to the nations, whose conversion the Church is rightly looking for, but whom the Church shall not convert; for the conversion of the nations is already promised to Israel, who, dwellers among all nations, yet not of them, are even now being trained and prepared for this, and who at their conversion, converted like Paul, who is their type, not by the knowledge of Christ in humiliation, but by the revelation of His heavenly glory, shall like Paul become apostles to the Gentiles, "priests to the Lord and ministers to our God," (Exod. xix. 6; Isa. lxi. 6.) to all upon the earth.
(NOTE: 1 Tim. i. 16; literally, "for a type of those who shall hereafter believe." Paul is not a type of "the first trusters in Christ," (see Eph. i. 12,) that is of believers now, but of "those who shall hereafter believe," when Christ reveals Himself in glory; and his peculiar experience, for he was "as one born out of due time," (1 Cor. xv. 8,) as well as his conversion in an extraordinary way by a sight of Christ's glory, were earnests and figures of what should be wrought in Israel, who shall be converted to Christ in a similar and no less sudden manner. Isa. lxvi. 8, 12, 18, 19.)
Very wonderful is the statement in the Song of Moses, (Deut. xxxii. 8,) addressed both to the heavens and earth, which declares that, "when the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel ." Now the number of the children of Israel, when they went down to Egypt, was seventy; (Gen. xlvi. 27; Exod. i. 5; Deut. x. 22;) and, answering to this, in Gen. x., which gives the account of the peoples to whom the earth was divided after the flood, we read of seventy heads of nations. Surely there is a secret here, connected with Christ's mission of the Seventy, which was distinct from and followed the mission of the Apostolic Twelve, by whom and under whom the Church is gathered out. See S. Luke x. 1.
But (and this concerns us) the Church is also Abraham's seed; for, as St. Paul says, "If you be Christ's you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal. iii. 29) To the Church therefore belongs the same promise, as first-fruits with Christ, not to be blessed only, but to be a blessing, in its own heavenly and spiritual sphere. For if the Jew on earth shall be a "kingdom of priests," what is our hope but to be heavenly "kings and priests," (Rev. i. 6,10) as "kings," for the Lord shall say, "Be thou over five cities," to rule and order in the coming age what requires order; not only with Christ to "judge the world," (1 Cor. vi. 2.) but to be "equal unto the angels" and to "judge angels;" as "priests," for a priest is "for those out of the way," (Heb. v. 2.) to minister to those who yet are out of the way. This is the Church's calling, to do Christ's works, as He said, "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also;" with Him to be both prophet, priest and king, and this, not here only in these bodies of humiliation, but when changed in His presence to bear His image and do His works with Him. Christ barely entered on His priestly work till He had passed through death and judgment; (Heb. iv. 14; vii. 15-17; viii. 4, 6.) so with those who are Christ's, their death and resurrection shall only introduce them to fuller and wider service to lost ones, over whom the Lord shall set them as priests and kings, until all things are restored and reconciled unto Him.
It is, alas, too true that of the Church's sons, some like Esau shall sell their birthright for some present good thing, and that in this age as in the last some of the children of the kingdom shall be cast out, while others from the east and from the west press in and win the crown and kingdom; yet an elect first-born shall surely be preserved, who are sealed to this pre-eminence, to be priests to God and rulers of their brethren.
To whom, I ask, shall the Church after death be priests? Shall it be to that great mass of our fellow men, who have departed hence in ignorance? Shall it be to "spirits in prison," such as those to whom after His death Christ Himself once preached?
(NOTE: 1 Pet. 3:18-20. This passage, I know, is called "difficult," that is, it is one which it is hard and even impossible fairly to reconcile with the views called Orthodox. The words, however, are not difficult. They distinctly assert that our Lord went and preached to the spirits in prison, who once had been disobedient in the days of Noah. The "difficulty" is the Protestant orthodoxy has decided that there can be no message of mercy to any after death. Protestant commentators therefore have attempted to evade the plain statements of this Scripture, and their forced and unnatural interpretations shew how very strong the passage is against them. Any one who wishes to see a summary of these interpretations may find them collected in Alfred's Greek Testament, in loco . His own comment is as follows;--"I understand these words to say, that our Lord, in his disembodied state, did go to the place of detention of departed spirits, and did there announce His work of redemption, preach salvation, in fact, to the disembodied spirits of those who refused to obey the voice of God, when the judgment of the flood was hanging over them." The fact, that in the Prayer-book these verses are appointed to be read as the Epistle for Easter Even, that is for the day after the crucifixion, and before the resurrection of our Lord, shews plainly enough the judgment of the English Church as to the true sense and interpretation of this passage. The Early Fathers, almost without exception, understand it to speak of Christ's descent into Hades.)
Shall not His saints, made like Him, do the same works, still following Him, and with Him being priests to God? Will not their glory be to rule and feed and enlighten and clothe those who are committed to them, even as Christ has fed and clothed them? For He is "King of kings and Lord of lords," (1 Tim. vi.15.) words which indicate the many kings and rulers under Him, of whom He is head, and whom He makes heads to others.
I should perhaps be going beyond my measure were I to follow in detail all that the law says further as to the first-fruits and the first-born; but I may add here, that this same truth, that the first-blessed must save others, is set forth, though in a slightly different form, in the kindred law of redemption touching the firstlings of beasts, whether clean or unclean. The lamb redeems the ass. (Exod. viii. 12,13.) So it must be. The clean are called, and content, to be sacrifices. For the law of redemption, which is the law of love, if this, that they who are first redeemed and blessed must bless others. And this is their joy, to be like Christ, that is to be channels of blessing to viler, weaker souls. For all higher and elder beings serve the lower and younger. The first-born therefore must serve and save others. Their calling is to be, like Christ, channels of blessing and life to thousands of later-born.
Such glories are in store, to be revealed when the two leavened cakes of first-fruits, then completed, shall together be offered up, in that great coming Pentecost, of which the fiery tongues of old, and the rushing wind, in the upper room were but the type and earnest; when the elect, Christ's mystic body, being raised with Him, the Head not born alone, but all the members with it, the Spirit shall be poured out upon all flesh, and, the first-fruits being safe, the harvest, already sanctified by the first-fruits, shall all begin to be gathered in. Oh glorious day, when our Lord and Head shall give of His treasure to His first-born, that they may with Him redeem all lands and all brethren; (Lev. xxv. 25, 47, 48) when with Him they shall judge their captive brethren, who through their unbelief have lost their own inheritance.
Then shall the laver be multiplied into "ten lavers," (compare Exod. xxx.18, which speaks of the wilderness, with 1 Kings vii. 38,39 which describes the far larger provision made for cleansing in the glorious reign of the Man of Peace, the true Son of David.) till the water of life become a "sea of crystal," large enough even for Babylon the great to sink into it, and to be found no more at all for ever. Then shall the elect "run to and fro as sparks among the stubble;" (Wisdom iii. 7, 8) and as all sparks or seeds of light, though they may come forth at long intervals from one another, are yet congenial, if they have come out of a common root,--as they can not only mingle rays with rays and embrace each other, but in virtue of a common nature have the same power of consuming and purifying that they come in contact with,--so shall Christ's members judge the world with Him, and consume the evil with that same fire which Christ came to cast into the earth, and with which He is yet pledged to baptize all nations. For our Lord, who gave Himself, with Himself will give us all things, grudging His children nothing of that inheritance He has obtained for them.
Here then is the key to one part of the apparent contradiction between "mercy for all," and yet "the election" of a "little flock;" between "all the kindreds of the earth blessed in Christ," and yet a "strait and narrow way" and "few finding it." Here is the answer to the question, "Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise thee? Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave, or thy faithfulness in destruction? Shall thy wonders be known in the dark, and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?" (Psa. lxxxviii. 1-12.) The first-born and first-fruits are the "few" and "little flock;" but these, though first delivered from the curse, have a relation to the whole creation, which shall be saved in the appointed times by the first-born seed, that is by Christ and His body, through those appointed baptisms, whether by fire or water, which are required to bring about "the restitution of all things."
St. Paul expressly declares this when He says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,...that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in the earth, even in Him." (Eph. i. 3-10...the same doctrine is stated in almost the same words in Eph. ii. 4-7) The Church, like Christ its Head, is itself a great sacrament; "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto men; ordained by God Himself, as a means whereby they may receive the same, and a pledge to assure them thereof;" and "blessing" of the elect, "with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ," is but the means and pledge, as the Apostle says, of wider blessing; the means by which "in the dispensation of the fulness of times" God designs to "gather together in one all things in Christ, whether they be things which are in heaven or which are in earth, even in Him;" and the pledge that He both can and will do it, as He has already done it in some of the weakest and worst; for "God hath chosen the base things of the world, yea and things which are not;" (1 Cor. i. 27, 28.) to shew to all that there are none so weak but He can save, and none so vile, but He can change and cleanse them. Thus when "He comes with ten thousands of His saints," He will not only by them "convince all ungodly sinners of all their hard speeches, which they have spoken against Him;" (S. Jude 14,15)--for if the thief be saved, and the Magdalene changed, who shall dare to say that the lost are uncared for or beyond the reach of God's salvation;--but He will by them also, as His royal priests, joint-heirs with Christ, fulfill all that priestly work of judgment and purification by fire, which must be accomplished that all may be "subdued" (1 Cor. xv. 28) and "reconciled" (Col. i. 20).
To say that God saves only the first-born would be, if it may be said, to make Him worse than even Moloch, whose slaves devoted only their first-born to the flames, founding this dreadful rite upon the true tradition that the sacrifice of a first-born should redeem the rest; a requirement, tender, as compared with that which some ascribe to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who, according to their view, accepts the elect or first-born only, and leaves the rest to torments endless and most agonizing. The gospel of God tells us of better things, of a sacrifice indeed, even of God's Only-Begotten Son, who because we were dead, came into our death to quicken us, who took on Him the darkness, and death, and curse, which bound and would have forever held us, and broke through it in the power of His eternal life, not only reconciling us by His blood, but also shewing us by His death the way out of the bondage of sin and this world, and who having thus in His own person, as Man, broken through death, gives Himself now to as many as will receive and follow Him, that in and by His life they also in the same path may come forth as first-fruits and first-born from the dead with Him. But Scripture never says that these only shall be saved, but rather that "in this seed," whose portion as the first-born is double, (Deut. xxi. 17) "all kindreds of the earth shall be blessed."
I fear that the elect, instead of bearing this witness, have too often ignored and even contradicted it. And yet the fact, that the Church for many hundred years has had an All-Souls Day as well as an All-Saints Day in her calendar is itself a witness that she may have been teaching far more than some of her sons as yet have learnt from her. For why did the Church ordain a celebration for All-Souls as well as for All-Saints, but because, spite of her children's contradictions, she believed that like her Lord she is truly linked to all, and with Him is ordained at last to gather all. And why does All-Souls Day follow All-Saints, (November 1 st is All-Saints Day: November. 2 nd , All-Souls.) but to declare that All-Saints should reach All-Souls, going before them indeed, yet going before to be a blessing to them. For indeed All Saints are to All Souls as the first-born to their younger brethren, elect to be both kings and priests to them; or as the first-fruits to the harvest, the pledge of what is to come, if not also the means to bring it about in due season. I know of course, that, through the abuse of masses for the dead, All-Souls Day has since the Reformation been dropped out of the calendar of our English Church . I neither judge nor defend our Reformers for what they did in a time of very great difficulty. I only say that the truth once taught by All-Souls Day, if ever a truth, must be a truth for all generations. And I thank God that the Church had, and yet has, such a day; and that, if not with English saints now living, yet "with all saints," as the Apostle says, "we may be able to comprehend the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we may be filled with (or into) all the fulness of God." (Eph. iii. 19.) And in faith of that love and fulness I look for the day when All-Souls shall become the inheritance and prize and glory of All-Saints, who by grace have gone before them.
Our knowledge, however, of this or any other mystery will serve us nothing, yea be far worse than nothing, if, instead of running for the prize which the Gospel sets before us, we sit down content merely to understand how the apparent contradictions of Scripture can be reconciled. Not so do the first-born win the prize. Christ has shewn the way, and there is no other. He died to live--He suffered to reign--He humbled Himself; therefore God hath greatly exalted Him. (Phil. ii. 8, 9) If we be dead with Him, we shall live with Him,--if we suffer, we shall reign with Him, (2 Tim. ii. 11, 12.)--joint-heirs with Christ, if so be we suffer with Him, that we may be glorified together. (Rom. viii. 17.)
Only by the cross can the change be wrought in us, which conforms us to Christ and His image,--which makes us, like Him, lambs for the slaughter, (Rom. viii. 36.) and as such fitted to bless and serve others. And as corn does not grow by any thinking of the process; as gold is not melted by any speculation of the nature of the fire, but by being cast into it; so the change required is only wrought in us through the baptism of fire, which is so sharp that even the blessed Paul could say, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable," (1 Cor. xv. 19) a trial very different from that of the mass of professors, who suffer no more than the common lot of humanity. And indeed so narrow is the way, and so strait is the gate, that leadeth to the life and glory of the first-born, who "follow the Lamb withersover He goeth; (Rev. xiv. 4) so entire is the loss and renunciation of the things dear to the old man, whose will is entranced by the things that are seen and temporal; so bitter is the cross that few can bear it, and pass willingly through the fires which must be passed to win that "high calling." (Phil. iii. 8-14) Here is the patience of the saints, to bear that fire in and by which the old Adam is dissolved and slain, out of which they rise, through "blood and fire and pillars of smoke," that is the Pentecostal offering, (Acts ii. 19) as sacrifices to God, to stand as kings and priests before Him.
(2) I pass on to shew that God's purpose, by the first-born from the dead to bless the later-born,--as it is written, "So in Christ shall all be made alive,"--is fulfilled in successive worlds or ages, or to use the language of St. Paul, "according to the purpose of the ages," (Eph. iii. 11).
Therefore, the dead are raised, not all together, but "Every man in his own order--Christ the first-fruits--afterwards they that are Christ's at His coming;" (1 Cor. xv. 23) which latter resurrection, though after Christ's, is yet called "the resurrection from among the dead," (Phil. iii. 11.), or "the first resurrection." (Rev. xx. 5).
Now it is simply a matter of fact, that Christ, the first of the first-fruits, through whom all blessing reaches us, rose from the dead eighteen hundred years ago, while the Church of the first-born, who are also called first-fruits, (James i. 18; Rev. xiv. 4) will not be gathered till the great Pentecost. Some are therefore freed from death before others; and even of the first-fruits, the Head of the body, as in every proper birth, is freed before the other members. So far it is clear that this purpose of God is wrought, not at once, but through successive ages. But this fact gives a hint of further mysteries, and some key to the "ages of ages," which we read of in the New Testament, during which the lost are yet held by or under death and judgment, while the saints share Christ's glory, as heirs of God, in subduing all things unto Him. The fall here gives us some shadow of the restoration.
For just as in Adam, all do not come out of him or die at once, but descend from or through each other, and die generation after generation, though all fell and died, as part of him, and therefore partakers of his sad inheritance; so in Christ, though all have been made alive in Him by His resurrection, all are not personally brought into His life and light at once, but one after another, and the first-born before the later-born, according to God's good pleasure and eternal purpose.
The key here as elsewhere is to be found in the details of that law, of which "no jot or tittle shall pass till all be fulfilled;" (Matt. v. 18) the appointed "times and seasons" of which, one and all, are the types or figures of the "ages" of the New Testament; for there is nothing in the gospel, the figure of which is not in the law, nor anything in the law, the substance of which may not be found under the gospel; God's once oppressed and captive Israel being the vessel, in and by which He would shew out His purpose of grace and truth to other lost ones.
Observe, then, not only that the first-fruits are gathered, some at the feast of the Passover, and others not till Pentecost, while the "feast of ingathering," is not held until the seventh month, "in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field;" (Exod. xxiii. 16; Lev. xxiii. 39; Deut. xvi. 13.) but how no less distinctly both cleansing and redemption are ordained to take effect at different times and seasons. I refer to those mystic periods of "seven days," (Lev. xii. 2; xiii. 5, 21, 26; xiv. 8, &c.) "seven weeks," (Lev. xxiii. 15.) "seven months," (Lev. xvi. 29; xxiii. 24; Numb. xxix. 1.) "seven years," (Lev. xxv. 4; Deut. xv. 9, 12.) and the "seven times seven years," (Lev. xxv. 8, 9.) which last complete the Jubilee, which are all different times for cleansing and blessing men,--the former of which are figures of "the ages," the last, of "the ages of ages," in the New Testament; under which last blessed appointment all those who had lost their inheritance, and could not go free, as some did, at the Sabbatic year of rest, might at length, after the "times of times," that is the "seven times seven years," regain what had been lost, and find full deliverance.
For in the Sabbatic year the release was for Israel only, not for foreigners; (Deut. xv. 1, 3) while in the Jubilee, liberty was to be proclaimed to all the inhabitants of the land. (Lev. xxv. 10.) What is there in the ordinary gospel of this day, which in the least explains or fulfills these various periods, in and through which were wrought successive cleansings and redemptions, not of persons only, but of their lost inheritance? And if in the gospel, as now preached, no truth is found corresponding with these figures of the Law, is it not a proof that something is at least overlooked? God knows how much is overlooked from neglect of those Scriptures, which Saint Paul tells us are needed, "to make the man of God perfect," (2 Tim. iii. 16, 17) but which by others are openly despised, and by others are neglected, as the useless shadows of a by-gone dispensation. In them is the key, under a veil perhaps, of those "ages" and "ages of ages," during which so many are debtors and bondsmen under judgment, without their true inheritance. And though indeed it is true, that "it is not for us to know the times and the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power," (Acts i. 7.) it is yet given us to know that there are such times and seasons, and in knowing it to gain still wider views of the "manifold wisdom of God," and of the "unsearchable riches of Christ," our Lord and Saviour.
It would far exceed my measure to attempt to shew how the law in all its "times" figured the gospel "ages." But I may give one more example to prove, that in cleansing, as in giving deliverance, God's method is to accomplish the end through appointed seasons, which vary according to a fixed rule,--I refer to the different periods prescribed for the purification of a woman on the birth of a male or a female child. (Lev. xii. 1-5. A similar distinction of times is to be seen in the cleansing of the leper; Lev. xiv. 7, 8, 9, 10, 20; and of those who were unclean by the dead; Numb. xix. 12.) If a son is born, she is unclean in the blood of her separation seven days, after which she is in the blood of her purifying three and thirty days, making in all forty days; but if she bear a maid child, she is unclean for twice seven days, and in the blood of her purifying six and sixty days, in all eighty days; that is double the time she is unclean for a man child. For the woman is our nature, which if it receive seed, that is the word of truth, may bring forth a son, that is "the new man;" in which case nature, or the mother, which brings it forth, is only unclean during the seven days of this first creation, and then in the blood of purifying till the end of the forty days, which always figure this dispensation; (The number "forty," wherever found in Scripture, always points to the period of this dispensation, as the time of trial or temptation; e.g. Gen. vii. 1; Exod. xxiv. 18; Ezek. iv. 6; Deut. xxv. 2, 3; S. Mark i. 13; Exod. xvi. 35; Numb. xiv. 33; 2 Sam. v. 4; 1 Kings xi. 42; Acts i. 3; and xiii. 21, &c.) for wherever Christ is formed in us, there is the hope that even "our vile body" shall be cleansed, when we reach the end of this present dispensation. But if, instead of bearing this "new man," our nature only bear its like, a female child, that is fruits merely natural, then it is unclean for a double period, till twice seven days and twice forty pass over it.
Here as elsewhere the veil will I fear hide from some what is yet revealed as to the varying times when cleansing may be looked for; but even the natural eye can see that two different times are here described; and those who receive this as the Word of God will perhaps believe that there is some teaching here, even if they cannot understand it. Those too, who believe that the Church was divinely guided in the order and appointment of the Christian Year, ought surely to consider what is involved in the fact that the purification of the woman after forty days is kept as one of the Church's holy days, under the title of "The Purification of St. Mary." (Forty days after Christmas, that is on Feb. 2.) The Church of course reckons among her greatest days the conception and birth of that New and Anointed Man, who by almighty grace and power is brought forth out of our fallen human nature; but she does not forget to mark also the cleansing according to law, at the end of the mystic forty days, of that weak nature into which the Eternal Word has come, and out of which the New Man springs. There is like teaching in every time and season of the law, and its days and years figure the "ages" of the New Testament.
The prophets repeat the same teaching, still further opening out this part of God's purpose, in a later age to visit those who are rejected in an earlier one, and so to work through successive worlds or ages. Thus though at the time they wrote Moab and Ammon were under a special curse, and cut off from the congregation of Israel, according to the words, "Thou shalt not seek their peace or prosperity for ever," and again, "Even to the tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever; (Deut. xxiii. 3, 6.) in obedience to which law both Ezra and Nehemiah put away, not only the wives which some Israelites had taken from these nations, but also the children born of them; (Ezra. x. 2, 3, 44; Neh. xiii. 1, 23, 25, 30.) though the prophets further declare the judgment of these nations, that " Moab shall be destroyed," (Jer. xlviii. 42.) and "Ammon shall be fuel for fire, and be no more remembered;" (Ezek. xxi. 28, 32.) yet they declare also that "in the latter days the Lord shall bring again the captivity of Moab and of the children of Ammon." (Jer. xlviii. 47, and xlix. 6.) Similar predictions are made respecting Egypt and Assyria , (Isa. xix. 21, 25.) Elam , (Jer. xlix. 39.) Sodom and her daughters, and other nations, who in the age of the prophets were "strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in this world," who yet are called to "rejoice with God's people," (Deut. xxxii. 43; Rom. xv. 10.) and of whom even now an election, "though sometime far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ." (Eph. ii. 12, 13.)
(NOTE: Ezek. xvi. 53, 55. Compare with this S. Jude 7, where we are told that Sodom is "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." And yet of this very " Sodom and her daughters" the prophet declares, that they shall "return to their former estate.")
These nations in the flesh were enemies, and as such received the doom of old Adam; yet for them also must there be hope in the new creation, according to the promise, "Behold, I make all things new." (Rev. xxi. 5.) For Christ, who, "being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in spirit, went in spirit and preached to the spirits in prison, which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah," (1 S. Pet. iii. 18-20.) is "Jesus Christ, (that is Anointed Saviour,) the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever."
(NOTE: Heb. xiii. 8. I may perhaps add here, that to me the scene recorded in S. Matt. viii. 28-34, and in the parallel passages of the other Evangelists, is most significant. Our Lord calls His disciples to "pass over to the other side," and there heals "the man possessed with devils, who had his dwelling among the tombs, exceeding fierce, whom no man could bind, no, not with chains." Christ not only heals all forms of disease in Israel, but casts out devils also on the other side of the deep waters.)
Such is the light which the law and prophets give us as to God's purpose of salvation through successive ages. But even creation and regeneration, both works of the same God, tell no less clearly, though more secretly, the same mystery. God in each shews how he works, not in one act, but by degrees, through successive days or seasons. In creation each day had its own work, to bring back some part of the creature, and one part before another, from emptiness and confusion, to light and form and order. All things do not appear at once. Much is unchanged, even after "light" and a "heaven" are formed upon the first and second days. (Gen. i. 4-8.) But these first works act on all the rest, for by God's will this "heaven" is a fellow-worker with God's Word in all the change which follows, till the whole is "very good."
(NOTE: The firmament was called "heaven," or "the arrangers," because it is an agent in arranging things on earth. "This appellation was first given by God to the celestial fluid or air, when it began to act in disposing or arranging the earth and waters. And since that time the heavens have been the great agents in disposing all material things in their places and orders, and thereby producing all those wonderful effects which are attributed to them in Scripture, but which it has been of late years the fashion to ascribe to attraction, gravitation , &c."—Parkhurst, sub voce .)
What is this but the very truth of the first-born serving the later-born?
So in the process of our regeneration, there is a quickening, first of our spirits, then of our bodies, the quickening of our spirits being the pledge and earnest that the body also shall be delivered in its season. (Eph. i. 13, 14; Rom. viii. 11.) What a witness to God's most blessed purpose; for our spirit is to our body what the spiritual are to this world. And just as the quickening of our spirit must in due time bring about a quickening even of our dead and vile bodies; so surely shall the quickening and manifestation of the sons of God end in saving those earthly souls who are not here quickened. Thus does the microcosm foretell the fate of the macrocosm, even as the macrocosm is full of lessons for the microcosm.
But even had we not this key, the language of the New Testament, in its use of the word which our Translators have rendered "for ever" and "for ever and ever," but which is literally "for the age," or "for the ages of ages," points not uncertainly to the same solution of the great riddle, though as yet the glad tidings of the "ages to come" have been but little opened out. The epistles of St. Paul will prove that the "ages" are periods, in which God is gradually working out a purpose of grace, which was ordained in Christ before the fall, and before those "age-times," (2 Tim. i. 9; Tit. i. 2.) in and through which the fall is being remedied.
So we read, that "God's wisdom was ordained before the ages to our glory," (1 Cor. ii. 7.) that is, that God had a purpose before the ages out of the very fall to bring greater glory both to Himself and to His fallen creature; then we are told distinctly of the "purpose of the ages," (Eph. iii. 11; translated, in our Authorized Version, "the eternal purpose.") shewing that the work of renewal would only be accomplished through successive ages. Then we read, that "by the Son, God made the ages," (Heb. i. 2; and xi. 3.) for it was by what the Eternal Word uttered and revealed of God's mind in each successive age that each such age became what it distinctly was; each age, like each day of creation, being different from another by the form and measure in which the Word of God was uttered or revealed in it, and therefore also by the work effected in it, the work in each successive age, as in different days of creation, being wrought first in one measure, then in another, first in one part, then in another, of the lapsed creation. Then again we read of the "mystery which has been hidden from the ages," (Eph. iii. 9.) and again that "the mystery," (for he repeats the words,) "which hath been hid from ages and generations, is now made manifest to the saints, to whom God hath willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery; which is, Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col. i. 26.) In another place the Apostle speaks of "glory to God in the church by Christ Jesus, unto all generations of the age of ages." (Eph. iii. 21.) He further says, that Christ is set "far above all principality, and power, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but in the coming one;" (Eph. i. 21.) and again, that "now once in the end of the ages He hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself;" (Heb. ix. 26.) and that on us "the ends of the ages are met;" (1 Cor. x. 11.) words which plainly speak of some of the ages as past, and seem to imply that other ages are approaching their consummation. Lastly, he speaks of "the ages to come," in which God will "shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus."
(NOTE: Eph. ii. 4-7. I may add here that in all the following passages aion is used for this present or some other limited age or dispensation:--S. Matt. xii. 32; xiii. 39, 40; xxiv. 3; S. Luke xvi. 8; xx. 34, 35; Rom. xii. 2; 1 Cor. i. 20; ii. 6, 8; iii. 18; 2 Cor. iv. 4; Gal. i. 4; Eph. i. 21; ii. 2; vi. 12; 1 Tim. vi. 17; 2 Tim. iv. 10; Tit. ii. 12.)
Now what is this "purpose of the ages," which St. Paul speaks of, but of which the Church in these days seems to know, or at least says, next to nothing? I have already anticipated the answer. The "ages" are the fulfillment or substance of the "times and seasons" of the Sabbatic year and Jubilee under the old law. They are those "times of refreshment from the presence of the Lord, when He shall send Jesus Christ, who before was preached;" (Acts iii. 19.) and when, in due order, liberty and cleansing will be obtained by those who now are without their rightful inheritance. In the "ages," and in no other mystery of the gospel, do we find those "good things to come," of which the legal times and seasons were the shadow." (Heb. x. 1.) Of course, as some of these "ages" are "to come," being indeed the "times and seasons which the Father hath put in His own power," (Acts i. 7.) we can as yet know little of their distinctive character, except that, as being the ages in which God is fulfilling His purpose in Christ, we may be assured their issue must be glorious. Yet they are constantly referred to in the New Testament, and the book of the Revelation more than any other speaks of them, (Rev. i. 6, 18; iv. 9, 10; v. 13, 14; vii. 12; x. 6; xi, 15; xiv. 11; xv. 7; xix. 3; xx. 10; xxii. 5.) for this book opens out the processes and stages of the great redemption, which make up the Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gives Him; and this Revelation is not accomplished in one act, but through the "ages" and "ages of ages," foreshadowed by the "times" and "times of times" of the old law, the "age-times," again to use the language of St. Paul, in which the Lord is revealed as meeting the ruin of the creature. And the reason why we sometimes read of "ages," and sometimes of "the age," when both seem to refer and speak of the same one great consummation, is, that the various "ages" are but the component parts of a still greater "age," as the seven Sabbatic years only made up one Jubilee. But because the mind of the Spirit is above them, men speak as if the varied and very unusual language of Scripture, as to the "ages" or the "age of ages," contained no special mystery. They will see one day that the subject is dark, not because Scripture is silent, but only because men's eyes are holden.
(NOTE: Every scholar knows that the expressions, "ages," "to the ages," "age of the ages," and "ages of the ages," are unlike anything which occurs in the heathen Greek writers. The reason is, that the inspired writers, and they alone, understood the mystery and purpose of the "ages." They, or at least the Spirit which spake by them, saw that there would be a succession of "ages," a certain number of which constituted another greater "age." It seems to me that when they simply intended a duration of many "ages," they wrote "to the ages." When they had in view a greater and more comprehensive "age," including in it many other subordinate "ages," they wrote "to the age of ages." When they intended the longer "age" alone, without regard to its constituent parts, they wrote "to an aeonial age"; this form of expression being a Hebraism, exactly equivalent to "age of the ages:" like "liberty of glory," for "glorious liberty," (Rom. viii. 21,) and "body of our vileness," for "our vile body." (Phil. iii. 21.) When they intended the several comprehensive "ages" collectively, they wrote "to the ages of ages." Each varying form is used with a distinct purpose and meaning).
At any rate, and whatever the future "ages" may be, those past (and St. Paul speaks of "the ends" of some,) are clearly not endless; and the language of Scripture as to those to come seems to teach that they are limited, since Christ's mediatorial kingdom, which is "for the ages of ages," must yet be "delivered up to the Father, that God may be all in all." (Compare Rev. xi. 15, and 1 Cor. xv. 24.) And the fact that in John's vision, which describes the Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gives Him, our Lord is called "Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending," (Rev. xxi. 6.) seems to imply an end to the peculiar manifestation of Him as King and Priest, under which special offices the Revelation shews Him, offices which, as they involve lost ones to be saved and rebels ruled over, may not be needed when the lost are saved and reconciled.
Would it not have been better therefore, and more respectful to the Word of God, had our Translators been content in every place to give the exact meaning of the words, which they render "for ever," or "for ever and ever," but which are simply "for the age," or "for the ages of ages;" and ought they not in other passages, where the form of expression in reference to these "ages" is marked and peculiar, to have adhered to the precise words of Holy Scripture? I have already referred to the passage of St. Paul , in his Epistle to the Ephesians, which in our Version is rendered "throughout all ages, world without end," but which is literally, "to all generations of the age of ages." (Eph. iii. 21.) But even more remarkable are the words, in St. Peter's Second Epistle, which our Version translates "for ever;" but which are literally "for the day of the age;" the key to which may perhaps be found in a preceding verse of the same chapter, where the Apostle says, that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (Verse 8.)
(NOTE: 2 Pet. iii. 18; this phrase, which, I may add here, is an exact literal translation of the words in Micah v. 2, and which in our Authorized Version are translated "from everlasting.")
These and other similar forms of expression cannot have been used without a purpose. It is, therefore, a matter of regret that our Translators should not have rendered them exactly and literally; for surely the words which Divine Wisdom has chosen must have a reason, even where readers and translators lack the light to apprehend it.
The "ages," therefore, are periods in which God works, because there is evil and His rest is broken by it, but which have an end and pass away, when the work appointed to be done in them has been accomplished. The "ages," like the "days" of creation, speak of a prior fall: they are the "times" in which God works, because He cannot rest in sin and misery. His perfect rest is not in the "ages," but beyond them, when the mediatorial kingdom, which is "for the ages of ages," (Rev. xi. 15.) is "delivered up," (1 Cor. xv. 24.) and Christ, by whom all things are wrought in the ages, goes back to the glory which He had "before the age-times," "that God may be all in all." (1 Cor. xv. 28.)
(NOTE: 2 Tim. i. 9; and Tit. i. 2; translated, in our Version, "before the world began." The Vulgate translation here is, "Ante saecularia tempora," which is as literal a rendering as possible.)
The words "Jesus Christ, (that is, Anointed Saviour,) the same yesterday, to-day, and for the ages," (Heb. xiii. 8.) imply that through these "ages" a Saviour is needed, and will be found, as much as "to-day" and "yesterday." It will I think too be found, that the adjective (aionios) founded on this word, whether applied to "life," "punishment," "redemption," "covenant," "times," or even "God" Himself, is always connected with remedial labour, and with the idea of "ages" as periods in which God is working to meet and correct some awful fall. Thus the "aeonial covenant," (Heb. xiii. 20) (I must coin a word, to shew what is the term used in the original,) is that which comprehends "the ages," during which "Jesus Christ is the same," that is, a Saviour; an office only needed for the fallen, for "they that are whole need not a physician." The "aeonial God," language found but once in the New Testament, refers, as the context shews, to God as working His secret of grace through "aeonial times," that is, successive worlds or "ages," in some of which "the mystery has been hid, but now is made manifest by the commandment of the aeonial God," that is, (if I err not,) the God who works through these "ages."
(Please be aware that the following note, and several others to come contain some blank areas that originally held a Hebrew word in a Hebrew font. Wherever you see a blank line, just know that a Hebrew word was originally there in the book).
(NOTE: Rom. xvi. 25, 26. In this passage we read, first, of "the mystery kept secret from the aeonial times, (translated in our English version, "Since the world began,") and then of " the aeonial God ," "by whose command this mystery is now made manifest." Is it not reasonable to conclude that the same word, twice used here in the same sentence, must in each case have the same sense. But as applied to "times," passing or past, aeonial cannot mean never-ending. In the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, the epithet aionios is only applied to God four times, in one of which the corresponding ____ of the Hebrew is not to be found; though in all the reference is direct, either to "the age of ages," or to God's redeeming work as wrought through "the ages." The passages are Gen. xxi. 33, where after the birth of Isaac, the type of Christ, God is known by this name _____; then Isa. xxvi. 4, and xl. 28, in both which the context shews the reason for the epithet; and lastly Job xxiii. 12, in which passage the LXX. have given us aionios for ____ or Elohim, in the original; which name, as we see from a comparison of Gen. i. and ii., (in the former of which God is always Elohim, in the latter Jehovah Elohim,) refers to One who is working through periods of labour to change a ruined world, until His image is seen ruling it; a title not lost when the day of rest is reached, but to which another name, shewing what God is in Himself, is then added. In Exod. iii. 15, we read of God's __________, that is, His name as connected with deliverance. I believe the word is never used but in this connection. See further below, Note 1, page 66.)
And so of the rest, whether "redemption," (Heb. ix. 12.) "salvation," (Heb. v. 9.) "spirit," (Heb. ix. 14.) "fire," (Jude 7.) or "inheritance," (Heb. ix. 15.) all of which in certain texts are called "aeonial," the epithet seems to refer to this in the well-known words, "This is life eternal, (that is, the life of the age or of the ages,) that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent"? (S. John xvii. 3.) Does He not say here, that to know the only true God, as the sender of His Son to be a Saviour, and to know the Son as a Saviour and Redeemer, mark and constitute the renewed life which is peculiar to the ages? Aeonial or eternal life therefore is not, as so many think, the living on and on for ever and ever. It is rather, as our Lord defines it, a life, the distinctive peculiarity of which is, that it has to do with a Saviour, and so is part of a remedial plan. This, as being our Lord's own explanation of the word, is surely conclusive as to its meaning. But even had we not this key, the word carries with it in itself its own solution; for "aeonial" is simply "of the ages;" and the "ages," like the days of creation, as being periods in which God works, witness, not only that there is some fall to be remedied, but that God through these days or ages is working to remedy it.
(NOTE: As to the Old Testament use of the word "age" or "ages," (translated "for ever" in the English Version,) a few words may be added here. We have first the unconditional promise of God, that "the seed of Abraham shall inherit the land for ever; Exod. xxxii. 13. The same words are used of the Aaronic priesthood; Exod. xl. 15; of the office of the Levites; 1 Chron. xv. 2; of the inheritance given to Caleb; Joshua xiv. 9; of Ai being a desolation; Joshua viii. 28; of the leprosy of Gehazi cleaving to his seed; 2 Kings v. 27; of the heathen bondsmen whom Israel possessed, of whom it is said, "They shall be their bondsmen for ever;" Lev. xxv. 46. The same words are also used of the curse to come on Israel for their disobedience:--"These curses shall come on thee, and pursue thee till thou be destroyed; and they shall be upon thee for a sign, and upon they children for ever;" Deut. xxviii. 45, 46. so of Ammon and Moab it is said:--"Thou shalt not seek their peace for ever;" Deut. xxiii. 6; and again, "They shall not come into the congregation of the Lord for ever;" Deut xxiii. 3. In all these and other similar instances, the Hebrew word Olam and its equivalent aion mean the age or dispensation. In Exod. xxi. 6, where the ear of the servant, who will not go free, is bored, and he becomes a "servant for ever," the sense must necessarily be much more limited; as also in 1 Sam. i. 22. It is to be observed also that not only the singular, as in 1 Kings ix. 3, and 2 Kings xxi. 7, but the plural is used in 1 Kings viii. 13, and 2 Chron. vi. 2, in reference to the temple at Jerusalem . The double expression is variously translated by the LXX.; sometimes ________ as in Dan. xii. 3, where it is used of those "that turn many to righteousness;" sometimes ________ as in Exod. xv. 18, where it is used of God; sometimes _________ as in Psalm xlv. 2, where it is used of Christ and His kingdom; while in Micah iv. 7, the same Hebrew words here are translated by the LXX., and here only, by the plural. More commonly, however, ________ is rendered simply _________ by the LXX., as in Gen. xiii. 15, Joshua iv. 7, and elsewhere. Lastly, in dan. vii. 18, we have both the singular and the plural form together. The adjective aionios is used continually by the LXX.,--in reference to the Passover, Exod. xii. 14, 17,--the tabernacle service, Exod. xxvii. 21,--the priestly office of the sons of Aaron, Exod. xxviii. 43,--the meat-offering, Lev. vi. 18,---and other things of the Jewish dispensation, all of which are called aionios . So in Jer. xxiii. 40, we have _____________ , and ______________, used of the corrective judgments on Israel , whose restoration is also foretold. I will only add that the very remarkable language of S. Paul, (2 Cor. iv. 17,) seems intended to add to the force of the word aionios , which could scarcely be, if aionios meant eternal . Beza's comment here is, _________________. See too Corn. A Lapide, in loco .
Be this as it may, the adjective, "aeonial" or age-long, cannot carry a force or express a duration greater than that of the ages or "aeons" which it speaks of. If therefore these "ages" are limited periods, some of which are already past, while others, we know not how many, are yet to come, the word "aeonial" cannot mean strictly never-ending. Nor does this affect the true eternity of bliss of God's elect, or of the redeemed who are brought back to live in God, and to be partaker's of Christ's "endless life," of whom it is said, "Neither can they die any more, for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection;" (S. Luke xx. 36.) for this depends on a participation in the divine nature, and upon that power which can "change these vile bodies, that they may be fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able to subdue even all things unto Himself." (Phil. iii. 21. See also 1 Cor xv. 53; Rom. viii. 29; Heb. vii. 16; xii. 28; 1 S. Pet. i. 3, 4, 5; 1 S. John iii. 2.
(NOTE: See Heb. vii. 16. The word here used of Christ's resurrection-life, which we share with Him, is __________, translated in our Version " endless "; literally "indissoluble"; a word never used in Scripture respecting judgment or punishment, but only of that life which is beyond all dissolution.)
(3) It yet remains to shew that this purpose of God, wrought by Him through successive worlds or ages, is only accomplished through death and dissolution...
...which in His wisdom He makes the means and way to life and higher glory; for it is "by death," and by death only, that He "destroys him that has the power of death, that is the devil, and delivers them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." (Heb. ii. 15.)
Nature everywhere reveals this law, though the divine chemistry is often too subtle to allow us to see all the stages of the transformations and the passages or "pass-overs" from life to death and death to life, which are going on around us everywhere. But the great instance cited by our Lord, that "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die, it brings forth much fruit," (S. John xii. 24.) forces the blindest to confess that all advance of life is through change, and death, and dissolution. The seed of the kingdom, which is above all kingdoms, and the seed of the Son, who is above all sons, does not, anymore than the seed of wheat or the seed of man, come to perfection in a moment or without many intermediate changes, but "goes from strength to strength," (Psa. lxxxiv. 7.) from the bursting of one shell of life to fuller life, from the opening of one seal to another, and "from glory to glory," (2 Cor. iii. 18.) till all is perfected. Christ has shewn us all the way, from "the lowest parts of the earth," (Psa. cxxxix. 15.) from the Virgin's womb, through birth, and infant swaddling clothes, to opened heavens, through temptation, and strong crying and tears, and the cross, and grave, and resurrection, and ascension, till He sits down at God's right hand to judge all things. And the elect yield themselves to the same great law of progress through death, and "faint not though the outward man perish, that their inward man may be renewed day by day." (2 Cor. iv. 16.) Others may think they will be saved in another way than that Christ trod. His living members know it is impossible. To them, as the Apostle says, "to live is Christ;" (Phil. i. 21.) and they cannot live His life without being "partakers of His sufferings. (2 Cor. i. 5; Phil iii. 10; Col. i. 24.)
Therefore "we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." (2 Cor. iv. 11.) Because this is so little seen, -- because so many take or mistake Christ's cross as a reprieve to nature, rather than a pledge that nature and sin must be judged and die, they think that Christ died that they should not die, and that their calling is to be delivered from death, instead of by and out of it.
(NOTE: Our translators have sometimes rendered the Greek words here by the English words " from death;" as in Heb. 5:7; but the force of the original is always " out of death.")
How sad that the true meaning of Christ's cross is not understood, but rather perverted--and therefore death is shrunk from, instead of being welcomed as the appointed means by which alone we can be delivered from him that has the power of death, who more or less rules us till we are dead, for "sin reigns unto death," (Rom. v. 21.) and only "he that is dead is freed from sin;" (Rom. vi. 7.)--because this, which is indeed the gospel, is not received, or if received in word is not really understood, even Christians misunderstand what is said of that destruction and judgment, which is the only way for delivering fallen creatures from their bondage, and bringing them back in God's life to his kingdom.
As this is a point of all importance, lying at the very root of the cross of Christ and of His members, and giving the clue to all the judgments of Him, who "killeth and maketh alive," who "bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up," (1 Sam. ii. 6; Deut. xxxii. 39.) I would shew, not the fact and truth only, that for fallen creatures the way of life is and must be through death, but also the reason for it, why it must be thus, and cannot be otherwise. For the cross is not a fact or truth only, but power and wisdom also, even God's power and wisdom; (1 Cor. i. 18-24.) as power, meeting the craving of our hearts for deliverance; as wisdom, answering every question which our understanding can ask as to the mystery of this life. For both to head and heart life is indeed a riddle, which neither the Greek nor Jew, the head and heart of old humanity, could ever fully solve, though each people by its special craving shewed its wants; the Jew, as St. Paul says, requiring signs of power, for the heart wants and must have something to lean upon; the Greek, man's head or mind, seeking after wisdom, for it felt the darkness and asked for some enlightening. To both God's answer was the cross of Christ, which gave to each, to head and heart, what each was longing for; power to the one to escape from that which had tied and bound it, for by death with Christ we are freed from the bondage of corruption and from all that hinders the heart's best aspirations; wisdom to the other to see why we must die, and what is the reason for all present suffering.
As to the fact and doctrine, a few words may suffice, for in one form or another it is the creed of all Christendom, that for fallen man the way of life is and only can be through death and judgment. The cross the way to life--this is confessedly the special teaching of the gospel. But what is the cross? Does Christ's death save us unless by grace we die with him? Our Lord distinctly says, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me; for whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." (S. Matt. xvi. 25.) "This is a faithful saying, If we be dead with Him, we shall live with Him: If we deny Him, He also will deny us." (2 Tim. ii. 11, 12.) The saint must say, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. ii 20.) "We are debtors, not to live after the flesh, for if we live after the flesh we shall die; but if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live." (Rom. viii 12-13.) In baptism therefore we profess our death with Christ, that dying with Him we may also live with Him. (Rom. vi. 3, 4.)
Such is the doctrine we all receive. But what is the reason for it? Why is the way of life for us through the cross, that is through death? Why cannot it be otherwise? If we see the way by which man got away from God, we shall see the way of his return, and why this must be through death; for indeed the way, by which we came away from God, must be retraced if by grace we come back to Him.
How then did man depart from God, and die to Him, and fall from His kingdom? By believing a lie. By the serpent's double lie,--a lie about God, that God grudges and is not true, and a lie about man, that in disobedience he shall be as God,--the divine life in man's soul was poisoned and destroyed, and man was separated from God, and died to God's world. (Gen. iii. 1-5.)
And because to a being like man, made in God's image, death cannot be the end of existence, but is only a passing out of one world into another, by this death to God, man who is a spirit, lost the place which God had given him, the Paradise, called by Paul "the third heaven," (2 Cor. xii. 2, 4. Paradise is the word used by the LXX. in Gen. ii. 8, 9. Compare Rev. ii. 7.) and was driven out, and fell into the kingdom of darkness, his inward life of ceaseless aching restlessness; to escape which he turns to outward things, hating to come to himself even for a moment, unconsciously driven by his own inward dissatisfaction to seek diversion from himself in any outward care, pleasure, or vanity; while his body became like that of the beasts, subject to the elements of this world, and to all the change and toil which make up "the course of this world."
Such was the fall of man, and it explains why death is needful for our return to God. Death is the only way out of any world in which we are. It was by death to God we fell out of God's world. And it is by death with Christ to sin and to this world that we are delivered in spirit from sin, that is the dark world, and in body from the toil and changes of this outward world. For we are, as Scripture and our own hearts tell us, not only in body in this outward world, but in our spirits are living in a spiritual world, which surely is not heaven, for no soul of man till regenerate is at rest or satisfied; and being thus fallen, the only way out of these worlds is death: so long as we live their life, we must be in them. To get out of them, therefore, we must die: die to this elemental nature, to get out of the seen world, and die to sin, to get out of the dark world, called in Scripture "the power of darkness." (Col. i. 13.) And since the life of the one is toil and change, and the life of the other is dissatisfaction and inward restlessness, we must die to both if we would be free from the changes of this world, and from the restlessness and dissatisfaction in which by nature our spirits are. Christ died this double death for us, not only "to sin," (Rom. vi. 10.) but also "to the elements of this world." (Col. ii. 20.) And to be free, we also must die with Him to both. Only by such a death are we delivered.
In pressing this point however, that death is needful for the sinner's deliverance, I need scarcely add, that death, alone, and without another life, is not and cannot of itself be enough to bring us back to God's world. We need death to get out of this world and out of the power of darkness; but we also need and must have the life of God, which is only perfected in resurrection, to live in God's world. (S. John iii. 3, 5.) Just as without the life of this world, we could not enter this world, or without the life of hell, enter or live in hell; so without the life of heaven we cannot enter or live there; for we cannot live in any world without the life of it. And therefore as the serpent's lie kindled the life of hell in man, before he could fall into the power of darkness, so God's life must be quickened again in man, before he can live again in God's kingdom. And, blessed be God, as the life of hell was quickened by a lie, so the life of God is quickened by the truth, even by the Word of God, who came where man was to raise up God's life in man, in and by which through a death to sin and to this world man might be freed perfectly.
(NOTE: Not without a deep and wondrous reason is _____ both Good-news and Flesh in the Hebrew; for by the one as by the other the captive creature is reached and quickened. Great indeed is the mystery of the flesh of Christ, touching which there are indeed many unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. Yet the mystery is revealed from faith to faith.)
In Christ the work has been accomplished. In Him by God's Word and Spirit God's life has been again raised up in man; and in the power of this life man in Christ has died both to sin and the world, and so, through death, resurrection, and ascension, by steps we yet know little of, has come back out of darkness to God's right hand. Through Christ the self-same work is yet accomplished, to bring lost man by the same process to the same blessedness. But whether in Christ, or in us, the work is only wrought through death. Man to be saved must not only be quickened by God's life, but must also die to that which keeps him far from God. And the way to bring about this death is God's judgment, who, because He loves us, kills to make alive, and "turneth man to destruction," that He may say, "Return, ye children of men." (Psa. xc. 3.)
And this explains why God alone of all teachers has had two methods, and must have them, namely, law and gospel, which appear opposed, for law condemns while the gospel justifies, each to meet one part of our need and of the devil's double lie. For man is yet held by both parts of this old lie, that God grudges and is untrue, and that man by self-will may be as God; and he needs not only to have God's life quickened again in him, whereby he may be prepared to live in God's world, but no less to have the life of hell and of this world slain in him, by which he may be delivered out of that power of darkness and of this present world, which hold him captive, that so he may come back again to God's kingdom. To meet the first, we have the promise or gospel, long before the law, though only fulfilled after law has done its work; to meet the second, we have the law which condemns, and proves that man is not as God, but a fallen, ruined creature. By the one, God's life is quickened in man; by the other, through present or future judgment, the hellish and earthly life is slain and overcome. Does not God love? The gospel is the answer. Is man as God? The law settles this. Christ's cross is the seal of both, revealing that God is love, for He gives His Son for rebels; and that man is not as God, but a sinner under death and judgment.
But while the law condemns us and shews what man is, this "ministry of condemnation," needful in its place, is not and cannot be God's end. The gospel, the "ministration of righteousness and life," is God's proper work, and, therefore, as St. Paul says, "remaineth;" (2 Cor. iii. 11.) but the law, the "ministration of death and condemnation," God's "strange work," (Isa. xxviii. 21.) is only a means to the end, and therefore, "to be abolished" and "done away." (2 Cor. iii. 11, 13.) St. Paul 's teaching on this point is most express, though spite of his teaching, and spite of the gospel, not a few even of the Israel of God cannot yet steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished. No less clear also is his witness as to God's promise to Abraham's seed, that it is not and cannot be altered or disannuled by the law, or by that curse and wrath and judgment which the law worketh. (Rom. iv. 15; v. 20; vii. 9, 11; Gal. iii. 10, 19.) So in his Epistle to the Galatians, having first shewn that God's promise to Abraham included all nations, and that the law necessarily could only bring judgment, he proceeds to argue that "this covenant of promise which was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect; for if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise." (Gal. iii. 8, 15, 17, 18) The law, which is and must be judgment to men, is needed to slay and overthrow them in their own eyes.
But this killing is to make alive. The judgment or condemnation cannot in any case disannul the previous covenant. "Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto." Judgment therefore must issue in blessing, not blessing in judgment. But for most the veil is yet on Moses' face, so that in looking at the "ministry of condemnation" men cannot see "the end of the Lord," and that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy. (2 Cor. iii. 13; James v. 11.)
I have dwelt the more on this, because so few now seem to see why for us the way of life is and must be through death; and because, if this be seen, God's end and purpose and the reason of His judgments will be more evident. God our Father judges to save. He only saves by judging what is evil. The evil must be overthrown; and through death God destroys him that has the power of death. A new creation, which is only brought in through death, is God's remedy for that which through a fall is held in death and bondage. Therefore both the "earth and heavens" must "perish and be changed." (Heb. i. 10-12.) Therefore God Himself "turns us to destruction" that we may "return" as little children. (Psa. xc. 3.) And God's elect accept this judgment here, that their carnal mind may die, and the old man be slain with all his enmity. The world rejects God's judgment here, and therefore have to meet it in a more awful form in the resurrection of judgment in the coming world. For while here, through the burdens and infirmities of "this vile body," (Phil. iii. 21.) our fallen spirit is more easily broken, and we die to sin more quickly; though even here we need both fires and waters, to make us die to that self-willed life which is our misery. Who can tell how much harder this death may be to those, who, having gone hence, have not the burden of "this vile body" to humble the pride of that fallen spirit, which, while unbroken, is hell, and which must die in us if we would reach God's rest.
Such is the reason for salvation by the cross, that is through death; but the great illustration here as elsewhere is to be found in the law, that appointed "shadow of good things," (Heb. x. 1.) which in all its varied forms of sacrifice asserts the same great truth, that only by the fire of God and through death can the earthly creature be changed, and so ascend to God. The offerings were indeed of different kinds, some of a sweet savour, which were offered on the altar in the tabernacle; (Lev. i. ii. iii.) while others not of a sweet savour were burnt on the earth, in some place outside the camp of Israel; (Lev. iv. v. vi.) figuring the varied relations in which men's works and persons might stand to God, and the varying place and manner of their acceptance to Him. But in either case, whether offered in obedience voluntarily, or required penally for trespass and disobedience, the offering was made by fire, and so perished in its first form to rise in another as pillars of smoke before God. If then all this was "the pattern of things in the heavens," (Exod. xxv. 40; Heb. ix. 23.) we have another witness that a transformation wrought by fire is yet being carried on in the true heavens, that is the spiritual world. For no Divine change can be wrought even on God's elect, save by "passing through the waters and through the fires" which are appointed for us, waters and fires as real, though not of this world, as those which burnt on the altar of old, or moved in the laver of the tabernacle. Our Lord can no more spare our nature than the animal was spared of old by the priest who offered it.
And as He in His own body, made under the law, did not shrink from, but fulfilled, the types of suffering, so will He fulfill the same in the bodies of those who are His members, that "being made conformable unto His death, they may attain unto the resurrection from among the dead." (Phil. iii. 10, 11.)
In any case the way for all is through the fires, for fire is the great uniter and reconciler of all things; and things which without fire can never be united, in and through the fire are changed and become one. Therefore every coming of Christ, even in grace, is a day of judgment. Therefore there are fires even for the elect both now, (1 S. Pet. i. 7, and iv. 12.) and in the coming day; (1 Cor. iii. 13, 15.) for "our God is a consuming fire;" (Heb. xii. 29.) and to dwell in Him we must have a life, which, because it is of the fire, for fire burns not fire, can stand unhurt in it. Therefore our Lord "came to cast fire into the earth," and desired nothing more than "that it should be already kindled;" (S. Luke xii. 49.) therefore He says, "Everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt." (S. Mark ix. 49.) For this is the very "baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire," (S. Matt. iii. 11.) that "spirit of judgment and burning," promised by the prophet, "with which the Lord shall purge away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and cleanse the blood of Jerusalem; after which He will create on every dwelling place of Mount Zion, and on all her assemblies, a cloud of smoke by day, and the brightness of flame of fire by night; and upon all, the glory shall be a defence; (Isa. iv. 4, 5.) for "He is like a refiner's fire, and like a fuller's soap; and He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He shall purify the sons of Levi as gold and silver are purged, that they may offer to the Lord an offering of righteousness." (Mal. iii. 3). And as by the hidden fire of this present life, shut up in these bodies of corruption, we are able by the wondrous chemistry of nature through corruption to change the fruits and flesh of the earth into our blood, and from blood again into our flesh and bone and sinew; so by the fire of God can we be changed, and made partakers of Christ's flesh and blood. In and through Christ we have received this transmutation; ( Rom. v. 11.) and through His Spirit, which is fire, is this same change accomplished in us.
(NOTE: It is surely a significant fact, that the two words used in Hebrew to express destruction, signify also, and are used to express, perfection; and that the word for a sacrifice by fire in Hebrew is the same as that for a bride or wife; e.g. Numbers xxviii. 6. By this double sense a veil covers the letter, veiling yet revealing God's purpose; for His purpose to the creature is through destruction to perfect it, and by fire to make it a bride unto the Lord. For a kindred reason some of the angels are called Seraphim, that is burning ones; for like the Lord, whose throne is flames of fire, (Dan. vii. 9,10.) they also are as fire; as it is written, "He makes His angels spirits, His messengers a flame of fire." (Heb. i. 7, and Psalm civ. 4.)
And as with the first-fruits, so with the harvest. The world to be saved must some day know the same baptism. For "the Lord will come with fire," and "by fire and by His sword will He plead with all flesh, and the slain of the Lord shall be many." (Isa. lxvi. 15, 16.) The promised baptism or outpouring of the Spirit must be judgment, for the Spirit cannot be poured on man without consuming this flesh to quicken a better life; (compare Isa. xl. 7 and Rev. viii. 6, 7, which describes the effect produced by the breath or spirit of the Lord sounding through the trumpets of the heavenly sanctuary) and "His sword, which cometh out of His mouth," (Rev. xix. 13, 15.) is that Word, which kills to make alive again.
God is indeed "a man of war;" (Exod. xv. 3.) but His warfare and wrath, unlike the "wrath of man, which worketh not the righteousness of God," (S. James i. 20.) works both righteousness and life, and is set forth in that "warfare of the service of the tabernacle," (See Numbers iv. 23, 30, and viii. 24, 25; margin: and compare 1 Tim. i. 18.) by which that which was of the earth was made to ascend to God through fire a sweet sacrifice.
The view therefore which has been accepted by some believers, as more in accordance with Scripture than the popular notion of never-ending torments, that those who abuse their day of grace will, after suffering more or fewer stripes, according to the measure of their transgressions, be utterly annihilated by the "second death," though a great step in advance of the doctrine of endless woe, is not a perfect witness of the mind of God, nor the true solution of the great mystery. God has not made man to let him fall almost as soon as made, and then, in a large proportion of his seed, to sin yet more, and suffer, and be annihilated; but rather out of and through the fall to raise him even to higher and more secure blessedness; "As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive;" (1 Cor. xv. 22.) Not all at once, but through successive ages, and according to an appointed order, in which the last even as the first shall be restored by the elect; for Christ is not only the "First," but also "with the last," (Isa. xli. 4.) and will surely in the salvation of "the last" bring into view some of His glories, not inferior to those which are manifested in the salvation of "the first-born," who are His Body." (Eph. i. 23.)
He is the "First," both out of life and out of death, (Col. i. 15, 18.) and as such He manifests a peculiar glory in His elect first-born. But He is also the "Last," (Isa. xliv. 7; Rev. i. 11, 17.) and "with the last," and as such He will display yet other treasures hid in Him, for "in Him are hid all treasures," (Col. ii. 3.) and "riches unsearchable," (Eph. iii. 8.) which He will bring to light in due season. Their own conversion ought to give believers hopes of this. But indeed the whole mystery of regeneration and conversion, and the absolute needs-be for the cross, in its true ground and deep reason, is so little seen even by converted souls,--so ignorant are they, that, as first-fruits, they are called, not only to be "fellow-workers with God," (1 Cor. iii. 9; 2 Cor. vi. 1.) but to be a pledge and pattern of the world's salvation,-- that they misunderstand the plainest words which are spoken as to God's dealings in judgment with those who miss the glory of the first-born. For what is conversion but a passage, first through waters, then through fires; (Isa. xliii. 2; S. Matt. iii. 11.) a change involving a "death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness;" the death not annihilating the fallen spirit, but rather being the appointed means for bringing forth and perfecting the new life.
And though the harvest may, and does, need a greater heat than the first-fruits,--the one being gathered in autumn, in the seventh, (Lev. xxiii. 39.)--the other in spring, in the first and third months, (Lev. xxiii. 6, 10, 12, 16, 17.)--there is but one way to bring forth seed out of the earth, and but one means of ripening that which is brought forth. Nothing is done without the waters and the fires. Conversion is only wrought through condemnation. The law condemns and slays us, (Rom. vii. 9-11.) not to annihilate, but to bring forth a better life. And those souls, who do not know this condemnation, never fully know the "justification of life" ( Rom. v. 18) in resurrection. Why then should the judgment of the "second death," which is the working of the same ministry of condemnation on the non-elect, be annihilation? Will not the judgment, because God changes not, in them, as in the elect, be the means of their deliverance?
To me all Scripture gives but one answer; that there is but one way; "one baptism for the remission of sins;" that "baptism wherewith we have been baptized," and of which we may say with our Head, "How am I straightened until it be accomplished;" (S. Luke xii. 50.) that "burning in us, which," St. Peter teaches, "is made to prove us," and at which we should "rejoice, inasmuch as we are thus partakers of Christ's sufferings;" (1 S. Pet. iv. 12.) that "therefore we are buried by baptism into death;" (Rom. vi. 4.) and therefore we look to be "baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire;" not surely to annihilate, but rather through judgment to perfect us; and that, therefore, and to the same end, those not so baptized here must know the last judgment, and "the lake of fire, which is the second death." (Rev. xxi. 8.) And indeed if one thinks of the language of the true elect, and of all the "fiery trial" which they are called to pass through,--when we hear them say, or say ourselves, "Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps; thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and Thou hast afflicted me with all thy waves," (Psa. lxxxviii. 6, 7.)--we shall not so easily misunderstand what is said of that judgment, which is required to melt the greater hardness and impenitence of the reprobate. (See Appendix, Note A.)
It is therefore simply because God is what He is, that He is, though love, and because He is love, the curse and destruction of the impenitent. But as even in this fallen world He is able, not only to turn our blessings into a curse, (Mal. ii. 2.) but curses into blessings;--as we see strength, and health, and wealth, and talents, which are blessings, all turned to curses through disobedience; and pain, and want, and sorrow, and death, which are curses, turned to real blessings;--so in other words, because God changes not, curses by Him may yet be turned to blessings; and they who now are turning blessings into a curse may, and, I believe, will, find that God can make even curses blessings. Paul's words should help us here. He who could say, "To me to live is Christ," (Phil. i. 21.) and whose ways were therefore a true expression of God's mind, bids the Church "to deliver some to Satan, for the destruction of the flesh and saving of their spirit," (1 Cor. v. 5.) and further tells us that he himself has done this, and "delivered" certain brethren "to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme." (1 Tim. i. 20.) Oh wondrous ways of God! Souls are taught not to blaspheme, by being delivered to Satan; and the spirits of Christian brethren are saved, and their flesh destroyed, by being put into the hands of God's adversary. What does this not teach us as to God's purpose towards those whom He also delivers to Satan, and disciplines by evil, since they will not learn by good. "Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord." (Psa. cvii. 43.)
I cannot even attempt here to trace the stages or processes of the future judgment of those who are raised up to condemnation; for it "the righteousness of God is like the great mountains, His judgments are deep;" (Psa. xxxvi. 6.) but what has here been gathered from the Word of God, as to the course and method of His salvation, throws great light on that "resurrection of judgment," (S. John v. 29.) which our Lord speaks of. Of the details of this resurrection, of the nature and state of the bodies of the judged,--if indeed bodies in which there is any image of a man, and therefore of God, (for man's form bears God's image, (1 Cor. xi. 7.) then are given to them,--and of the scene of the judgment,--very little is said in Scripture; but the peculiar awfulness of the little that is said shews that there must be something very fearful in it. And indeed, when one thinks of the eternal law, "To every seed its own body," (1 Cor. xv. 38.) one can understand how terrible must be the judgment on all that grows in a future world from the seed which has been nourished here of self-love and unbelief; a judgment in comparison with which any present pain is light affliction!
It is thus described:--"And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was not place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the Lake of Fire . This is the second death." (Rev. xx. 11-14.)
And yet, awful as it is, who can doubt the end and purpose of this judgment, for "God, the judge of all," (Heb. xii. 23.) "changes not," (Mal. iii. 6.) and "Jesus Christ" is still "the same, yesterday, to-day, and for the ages." (Heb. xiii. 8.) And the very context of the passage, which describes the casting of the wicked into the lake of fire, seems to shew that this resurrection of judgment and the second death are both parts of the same redeeming plan, which necessarily involves judgment on those who will not judge themselves, and have not accepted the loving judgments and sufferings, which in this life prepare the first-born for the first resurrection. So we read,--"And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And He said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And He said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him who is athirst of the fountain of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death." (Rev. xxi. 5-8.)
What does He say here but that "all things shall be made new," though in the way to this the fearful and unbelieving must pass the lake of fire. And does not the fact that the threatened judgment comes under, and is part of, the promise, "I make all things new," shew that the second death is not outside of or unconnected with it, but is rather the appointed means to bring it about in some cases. Those who overcome inherit all: they are God's sons and heirs. Like Abraham, they are "heirs of the world;" (Rom. iv. 13.) "the world is theirs," (1 Cor. iii. 22.) to bless it. But the judgment of the wicked, even the second death, is only the conclusion of the same promise, which, under threatened wrath, as in the curse of old upon the serpent, involves the pledge of true blessing.
(NOTE: Gen. iii. 14-19. "How mysterious are God's ways...Neither to Adam nor to Eve was there one word of comfort spoken. The only hint of such a thing was given in the act of cursing the serpent. The curse involved the blessing"-- The Eternal Purpose of God , by A.L. Newton, p.10.)
What but this could make Paul, who so yearned over his brethren that he "wished himself accursed for them," "have hope," not fear, "that there should be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust." (Compare Rom. ix. 3, and Acts xxiv. 15.)
The "second death" (Rev. xx. 14.) therefore, so far from being, as some think, the hopeless shutting up of man for ever in the curse of disobedience, will, if I err not, be God's way to free those who in no other way than by such a death can be delivered out of the dark world, whose life they live in. The saints have died with Christ, not only "to the elements of this world," (Col. ii. 20.) but also "to sin," (Rom. vi. 10.) that is, the dark spirit-world. By the first they are freed from the bondage of sense; by the second, from the bondage of sin, in all its forms of wrath, pride, envy, and selfishness.
The ungodly have not so died to sin. At the death of the body therefore, and still more when they are raised to judgment, because their spirit yet lives, they are still within the limits of that dark and fiery world, the life of which has been and is the life of their spirit. To get out of this world there is but one way, death; not the first, for that has passed, but the second death. Even if we have not the light to see this, ought not the present to teach us something as to God's future ways; for is He not the same yesterday, today, and for ever? We know that, in inflicting present death, His purpose is through death to destroy him that has the power of death, that is the devil. How can we conclude from this, that, in inflicting the second death, the unchanging God will act on a principle entirely different from that which now actuates Him? And why should it be thought a thing incredible that God should raise the dead, who for their sin suffer the penalty of the second death? Does this death exceed the power of Christ to overcome it? Or shall the greater foe still triumph, while the less, the first death, is surely overcome? Who has taught us thus to limit the meaning of the words, "Death is swallowed up in victory"? Is God's "will to save all men" (1 Tim. ii. 4.) limited to fourscore years, or changed by that event which we call death, but which we are distinctly told is His appointed means for our deliverance? All analogy based on God's past ways leads but to one answer. But when in addition to this we have the most distinct promise, that "as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive,"--that "death shall be destroyed,"--that "there shall be no more curse," but "all things made new," and "the restitution of all things;"--when we are further told that "Jesus Christ is the same," that is a Saviour, "yesterday, today, and for the ages;"--the veil must be thick indeed upon man's heart, if spite of such statements "the end of the Lord" is yet hidden from us.
To me too the precepts which God has given are in their way as strong a witness as His direct promises.
Hear the law respecting, bondmen, (Deut. xv. 12-15.) and strangers, (Exod. xxii. 21; Lev. xix. 33,34.) and debtors, (Deut. xv. 1,2,9.) and widows and orphans, (Exod. xxii. 22; Deut. xxiv. 17.) and the punishment of the wicked, which may not exceed forty stripes, "lest if it exceed, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee;" (Deut. xxv. 2,3.) yea even the law respecting "asses fallen into a pit:" (Exod. xxi. 33,34; and xxiii 4, 5.).
Hear the prophets exhorting to "break every yoke," to "let the oppressed go free," and to "undo the heavy burdens:" (Isa. lviii. 6.).
Hear the still clearer witness of the gospel, "not to let the sun go down upon our wrath," (Eph. iv. 26.) to "forgive not until seven times, but until seventy times seven," (S. Matt. xviii. 22.) "not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good:" (Rom. xii. 21.) to "walk in love as Christ has loved us," and to "be imitators of God as dear children:" (Eph. v. 1,2.).
See the judgment of those who neglect the poor, and the naked, and the hungry, and the stranger, and the prisoner; (S. Matt. xxv. 41-43)--and then say, Shall God do that which He abhors?
Shall He command that bondmen and debtors be freed, and yet Himself keep those who are in worse bondage and under a greater debt in endless imprisonment? Shall He bid us care for widows and orphans, and Himself forget this widowed nature, which has lost its Head and Lord, and those poor orphan souls which cannot cry, Abba, Father? Shall He limit punishment to forty strips, "lest thy brother seem vile," and Himself inflict more upon those who though fallen still are His children?
Is not Christ the faithful Israelite, who fulfills the law; and shall He break it in any one of these particulars? Shall He say, "Forgive till seventy times seven," and Himself not forgive except in this short life? Shall He command us to "overcome evil with good," and Himself, the Almighty, be overcome of evil? Shall He judge those who leave the captives unvisited, and Himself leave captives in a worse prison for ever unvisited? Does He not again and again appeal to our own natural feelings of mercy, as witnessing "how much more" we may expect a larger mercy from our "Father which is in heaven"? (St. Matt. vii. 6-11.)
If it were otherwise, might not the adversary reproach, and say, Thou that teachest and judgest another, teachest Thou not thyself? Not thus will God be justified. But, blessed be His Name, He shall in all be justified. And when in His day He opens "the treasures of the hail," and shews what sweet waters He can bring out of hard hailstones; when He unlocks "the place where light now dwells" shut up, and reveals what light is hid in darkness and hardness, as we see in coal and flint, those silent witnesses of the dark hard hearts, which God can turn to floods of light; when we have "taken darkness to the bound thereof," (Job. xxxviii. 19,20.) and have seen not only how "the earth is full of God's riches," but how He has laid up the depths in storehouses; (Psa. civ. 24; and xxxiii. 7.) in that day when "the mystery of God is finished," and He has destroyed them which corrupt the earth," (Rev. xi. 18.)--then shall it be seen how truly God's judgments are love, and that "in very faithfulness He hath afflicted us." (Psa. cxix. 75.)
(NOTE: Job xxxviii. 22. The two questions of the book of Job are, How can man, and How can God, be justified? Job's complainings in substance, amount to this,--How can God be justified in treating me as He does? His three friends, who cannot answer this, urge him rather to ask, How can man be justified? Elihu answers this latter question; and God then answers Job's question by asking him if he knows what God can bring out of things which at present are dark and crooked. Job's question is not the sinner's question, but that of the "perfect man;" (ch. i. 8.) a question not unacceptable to God, who declares of Job's three friends, that "they have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job." ch. xiii. 8.)
NEXT--Part 3--Popular Objections to this Doctrine