The Lord from Heaven - 11 - THE REVELATION OF GRACE

CHAPTER 11 - THE REVELATION OF GRACE, AND THE LIFE TO COME

"THE Son of God is come!" The Eden promise of the woman's seed was like the little rivulet far up a mountain side, to which men point as, the beginning of a mighty river. Down through the centuries type was added to type, and prophecy to prophecy, enlarging its scope and unfolding its meaning, until the completed Hebrew Scriptures became a deep, broad stream of hope and promise. And when the fulness of the time had come, "God sent His only begotten Son into the world," and promise and hope became merged in glorious fact. The primeval revelation was enshrined in the traditions of the human race, and took shape in many fantastic forms in the mythologies of the ancient world. But nothing in the wildest fancies of pagan religions or of classic poetry is so utterly incredible to the natural mind as is the truth of Christ. "The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men," was a cry that excited but little either of scepticism or of wonder; for, having regard to the character of their gods, such a descent was natural and easy. But that God, who is spirit, has been "manifested in flesh"; that God, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, has revealed Himself on earth, and revealed Himself "in the likeness of men"; that the Man of Nazareth, "the son of the carpenter," the crucified Jew, was the Word who was in the beginning with God, and was Himself God, the Creator of all things that exist, and apart from whom nothing that exists came into being - this seems to be outside the limits, not only of what is possible in fact, but of what is conceivable in human imagination. Hence the deep meaning of the words with which the Lord received the Apostle Peter's confession of His Deity: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah; for flesh and blood bath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven." Can we wonder at His declaring that "no one knoweth the Son save the Father"!
We think of the Nazarene as He taught by the Lake of Galilee, or in the Temple courts, surrounded by peasants and fishermen, but shunned by all people of culture or repute not only in the social, but in the religious sphere; and we remember that the last the world ever saw of Him was hanging on a gibbet between two common criminals. And as we ponder these things we begin to appreciate the meaning of the challenge, "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God!" Jesus, "the despised and rejected of men," the outcast heretic, the crucified blasphemer - that HE is the Son of God! The faith that thus takes sides with God against the world is a faith that overcomes the world, "For whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." Hence it is that God is "the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus"; for "as many as received Him, to them gave He the right to become children of God."
With the mass of men who profess the Christian creed, what passes for faith is but a surface current on the smooth and shallow stream of their religious impressions. Most of us "believe" that the earth is a sphere, and that it is twirling on its axis and spinning round the sun. This venerable hypothesis is scientifically useful, and, moreover, it is probably true. But if "science" should discover to-morrow that it is false, the discovery would not spoil our appetite for a single meal, or rob us of our sleep for a single night. And there are multitudes of professing Christians who in recent years have bartered their conventional faith in Christ for the coarse profanity of the "New Theology," or the pleasing and plausible fallacies and false-hoods of "Christian Science"; and the change has served only to increase their self-esteem and their enjoyment of existence. A mere creed orthodoxy has but little in common with true faith in Christ. And yet the many organised phases of latter-day apostasy could not work such havoc among professing Christians, were it not that orthodoxy is paralysed by the crusade of recent years against the divine authority of Scripture.
In the physical sphere, when life loses its aggressive power, and can no longer overcome the forces that produce decay, vital energy soon fails; and so is it here. Evangeicalism, attacked on one side by superstition and on the other by rationalism, has been content to stand upon the defensive, and to sacrifice truth for the sake of peace and so-called unity. The enthusiasm of faith has been killed by the spirit of compromise.
Plain speaking is needed in times like these. "To him that overcometh" is the prevailing note in the Lord's last messages of warning and cheer to His people upon earth. For when churches fail, He counts upon individual faithfulness. And in these days of ours organised Christianity has failed, and the defence of the truth has become "a soldier's battle." In too many of our pulpits, indeed, the commonly received "doctrines of the Christian religion" - man's sin and ruin, redemption by blood, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment - are openly assailed or implicitly denied. And from most of our pulpits the distinctive truths of Christianity are never heard. For doctrines such as those above enumerated are not distinctively Christian at all. As the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, they are a part of the divine revelation of Judaism. They are "the first principles of the oracles of God," or, in other words, the elements of revealed religion. But the Christian revelation is a revelation about Christ. Not that "a man of the name of Jesus Christ once stood in our midst," that He worked great miracles, taught great truths, lived a holy life, and died a shameful death - all this a wayfaring man, though a fool, can discover for himself by human testimony; but that the man who thus lived and died on earth was the Son of God (and we have seen what that title signifies -" the Lord of Glory," "our great God and Saviour"); and that He is now sitting on the throne of God, in all the glory of God, and with all power in heaven and on earth. In view of all this-seemingly so incredible, and yet so divinely true - we can understand His words, "When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find the faith upon the earth?"
Though in the natural sphere we can put pressure on the sane and the intelligent to acknowledge facts and to yield to reason, we cannot compel belief in Christ, for spiritual truth is spiritually discerned. And yet we may be able to clear away mists of ignorance and barriers of error, that prejudice and blind the minds of men. The Christian revelation is apparently falsified by facts. If the Christ of the Ministry be indeed Almighty God, wielding all power on earth, what explanation can be offered of this world's evil and hateful history throughout the Christian era? "The times of the restoration of all things," or, in other words, the times when everything should be put right on earth, were the burden of Hebrew prophecy. But the hope was to be realised at the advent of Messiah; and yet, after nineteen centuries, it seemingly remains but a dream of poets and mystics.
Platitudes about the goodness and wisdom of an inscrutable Providence will neither silence the infidel nor satisfy His suffering people. But the Lord's words last quoted were spoken in connection with other words which point to the solution of the mystery. God will indeed avenge His own elect, though He is longsuffering respecting them. Or, as the Apostle Peter wrote, recalling, doubtless, these very words, "the Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some count slackness, but is longsuffering." The great truth of grace was lost between the days of the Apostles and the age of the Patristic theologians. As the sun breaks forth on a typical April day, and then again becomes veiled in clouds, this truth flashed out in the teaching of the Reformation, and then disappeared again. Though Luther was its foremost champion, the Church which bears his name systematically denies it; and it is practically ignored by the great theological schools of Calvin and Arminius. And yet it is the truth which alone will teach us to "justify the ways of God with men."
He to whom all judgment is committed, and who wields all power, is exalted to be a Saviour, and His reign is a reign of GRACE. When in the synagogue of Nazareth He stood up to read the appointed lesson from the prophets, He closed the book at the middle of its opening sentence. "To preach the acceptable year of the Lord" were the last words He uttered. And as all eyes were fastened on Him - well might they stare in wonder -" He began to say unto them, This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears." "And the day of vengeance of our God" were the words before Him on the page, but He left these words unread.
And by reason of the longsuffering of God the dawning of that awful day is still deferred. It is not that the moral government of the world is in abeyance, but that divine judicial action is postponed until the day of grace shall have run its course. And this of necessity. For if all judgment is committed to the Lord Jesus Christ - all judicial and punitive action respecting sin - the day of grace must run its course before the judgment can begin. The great amnesty has been proclaimed - forgiveness and peace for sinful men; and while this ministry of reconciliation lasts, judgment there cannot be. The functions of Saviour and Judge are incompatible. He must relinquish the throne of grace before He takes His place on the throne of judgment.
"All power is of God," but the power of rule on earth is now delegated to men, and men are incompetent and corrupt. But the day is coming when "the mystery of God shall be finished," and the rule of this world shall become our Lord's and His Christ's. Then shall be heard the anthem, "We give Thee thanks, 0 Lord God Almighty, because Thou hast taken to Thee Thy great power and hast reigned, and Thy wrath has come." And then shall He give rewards to His people and "destroy them who destroy the earth." A pandemonium ended by a bonfire might epigrammatically describe the divine government of the world, as travestied by our popular theology.
But in the light of Scripture all is clear and plain. True it is that this earth that has been the scene of the pandemonium, shall yet be given up to fire, but not till every word of Hebrew prophecy has been fulfilled; for no word can fail that God has ever uttered. "We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth," but this belongs to an eternity to come. It is in time as measured upon human calendars, and here on this earth of ours, now blighted by human sin, that divine goodness and power shall yet be displayed in righteous rule. Of the fulfilment of this hope "God hath spoken by all His holy prophets since the world began," and "the mystery of God" is that its fulfilment is delayed. And yet by the mass of those who profess to believe the Scriptures it is treated as a dream of visionaries, and not a few there are who scoff at it. Though they pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth," they refuse to tolerate the thought that the Lord will fulfil the prayer which He Himself has given us. In the religious sphere, indeed, it would seem that men will believe anything except the truth of God, and thousands of our pulpits promote the delusion that the work of the churches will yet result in the conversion of the world. Were the subject not so solemn, ridicule would be our fittest weapon against a figment so grotesque.
In the days of the Ministry the "professing church" on earth had been so thoroughly absorbed by the world that it was itself "the world" against which the Lord so strenuously warned His disciples. And in our day "the church" is not converting the world, but becoming assimilated to the world. Man is God's creature, and therefore by nature a religious being. But he is a fallen creature, and therefore his religion always tends downwards. And the god of this world caters for the idiosyncrasies of his dupes. For one the lure is the elevation of humanity, for another, it is to bring the Deity down to his own level: rationalism and superstition - the cult of the Eden lie, and the cult of the golden calf - these are now the evangels of the Churches of the Reformation; and the men who keep to the old gospel are a dwindling minority.
But the last note struck in these concluding pages shall not be controversy, but appeal and hope. "0 fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken," was the Lord's rebuke to His disciples because their faith had given way under a strain such as none had ever known before, and none could ever know again. He whom they had worshipped as Messiah had been crucified. in shame; and was not His corpse lying in the tomb. Yet fools they were to doubt, even in face of facts so stern and so terrible, that the words of the prophets were divine, or to think that God could fail to fulfil them to the last jot and tittle. And we may well give heed to that rebuke, and take it to ourselves - we whose faith breaks down because, forsooth, in the longsuffering of God, with whom a thousand years are as one day, the fulifiment of the promise is delayed ! When toward the close of His ministry the Lord warned His people of times of trouble, which may now perhaps be near at hand, He spoke words well fitted to create feelings of despair. But His purpose was far different, for immediately He added, "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh."
"Look up," for our hope is in His coming. "The second advent" of our theology belongs to a future too remote to influence our lives; and, moreover, it is associated only with the thought of judgment. But His coming was the hope of His people in a bygone age, and it is the true hope of His people still. Upon His coming, indeed, depends their full redemption; for we have bodies as well as souls, and our bodies are still subject to that hideous outrage, death. For death is none the less an enemy because He has triumphed over it, and has given the victory to us. And beyond the hope of His believing people - that true church which He Himself is building - there lies the hope of Israel, yet to be restored to favour when the "professing church" of this "Christian" age of ours shall have received its doom. And beyond the hope of Israel there lies the hope of this sin-blighted world, for the sovereignty of the world is to become His; and "even the creation itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption." And as our faith dwells upon this glorious vista of prophecy and promise yet to be fulfilled, let us remember that all is for the glory of Him whom we know as our Lord and Saviour, and (it cannot be repeated too often) that all awaits His coming.
This is the age of His absence, but the coming age shall be characterised by His presence. Not an isolated event, albeit Scripture tells us that a series of manifestations of Christ will mark its course, but a new attitude toward men - immediate divine action both in blessing and in judgment. For while the covert atheism of these days of ours scoffs at the thought that the prayer which He Himself has put into our lips could ever be fulfilled, His believing people know that His kingdom is certainly coming, and that His will shall be done on earth.
These pages are a humble effort to unfold some of the many glories of our Lord Jesus Christ. To all the redeemed He is Saviour and Lord; but He is also the Messiah, and King of Israel. More than this, and higher, He is the Son of Man, "King of kings and Lord of lords," "the Heir of all things," "the Firstborn of all creation." And above and beyond all this is His supreme glory as the Son of God, the glory which He had with the Father before the world was.
And there is but ONE Lord Jesus Christ. The Christ of Nazareth and Calvary is He who will consume the lawless one by the breath of His mouth, and destroy him by the manifestation of His presence. And that same awful glory it was that overwhelmed the beloved disciple in the Patmos vision; for His eyes are as a flame of fire, and His countenance is as the sun shineth in its strength. Not even the holiest of mortal men can stand in presence of the glory of God; but so perfect is our redemption that we are called to rejoice in hope of it. And the time is coming when "this mortal shall have put on immortality"; and then shall be fulfilled the prayer of the betrayal night, for when thus "changed" it will be our privilege and joy to behold the glory of our glorious Lord and Saviour.