No. 1—The Necessity of a Revelation
It is late in the history of the world to be going into the question of the origin of a Book, which began to be written about four thousand years ago, and the writing of which extended over half that time; but late or early, the question seems with some people to be still undecided, and open to debate; and certainly the antiquity of the dispute does not in the least lessen its importance, neither does it tend to diminish the ardour of the combatants, nor the interest of the onlookers.
It is a question which no thoughtful person will ever relegate to a secondary place in man’s pursuit of knowledge, for the tremendous claim made by the Book itself causes the question of its title to that claim to take the precedence of all others. Nor are men really able to treat the question with indifference. The sang-froid which characterises some who profess to have settled the matter in favour of thick darkness, as opposed to a revelation from God, bears the stamp of being only skin-deep, and not the outcome of honest conviction.
It scarcely needs to be asserted that the leaders of the world bear the Book no goodwill, but rather the opposite, and therefore has it been subjected to ceaseless hostility, and to a criticism more fierce than that which has fallen to the lot of any other writings. It has been, and is, more fervently loved, and more intensely hated, than all the rest of the world’s books put together; and the strange thing about its history is, that the house of its supposed friends is the place where it has been most sorely wounded. Those who have been foremost in their protestations of zeal in the service of its Author have shown themselves to be its worst enemies, and in their custody it had to remain for ages “a prisoner in bonds.” How it survived the persecutions to which it was exposed, is almost as great a miracle as is the way in which it was given to man.
Thank God, the days of its incarceration are over, and it is free to tread its pathway of blessing throughout the wide world. In the days of Luther a moral resurrection took place through the grace of God. The German monk who eventually shook the throne of the proud bishop of Rome, saw in the dim cloister, through its sacred page, a light above the brightness of the sun; and when his voice arose heralding in the ears of men, the life-giving words of the dusty roll, the wheel of the papal chariot became scotched for ever, the powers of darkness were alarmed, and hell stood aghast before the boldness of this daring man. The power of God made itself felt, and the tiara trembled on the brow of him who trafficked in the souls of men, as he saw the hope of his gains vanishing from before his eyes. Men began to speak their minds more openly, the priestly bondage under which they had groaned was no longer discussed in whispers, and even kings began to breathe more freely, for the epistle of the apostle to the Romans now clung at the throat of the Italian prelate. Such is the power of this most wonderful Book.
It declares itself to be of heavenly origin: the very words of the living God, breathed into the hearts and minds of His servants, and penned by them as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. No other communications on earth make such claim to universal homage. The writers dive away back into the past eternity, before sun, planet, or attendant satellite gleamed forth upon the brow of heaven; and bring to light the secret counsels of the eternal Father. It shows us those counsels worked out in time by the eternal Son, in the power of the eternal Spirit; until the final result of all the activities of the triune God, bursts upon our vision in a new heaven and a new earth, crowned with the glory of the tabernacle of God, in the midst of redeemed creation, in which righteousness shall dwell for ever.
It tells us of the beginning of all things, of the fall of the devil, of the fall of man, of God’s gracious dealings with the latter when fallen, of the love of God, of the death of Christ, of His resurrection, of His session at the right hand of God, of His coming again, and of the subjugation of everything to Himself.
It leads the heart and mind into things unseen, and regales the soul with unutterable delights in the sanctuary of eternal love. It opens up before our vision the blackness of darkness, the God-forsaken region of despair, where ceaselessly rage the tempests of almighty wrath. It brings to light the corrupt God-hating heart of fallen man, and the infinite and holy love of a Saviour-God. It guides us to the fountain of all good; and shows us, but brings us not nigh, the source of evil. It describes the ceaseless conflict between these two opposing forces adown the black history of a fallen world, until the day in which the battle is brought to a conclusion by the triumph of good; and the heavens and the earth are purified from the presence of evil, which finds its place, with the Devil who brought it into existence, in the lake of fire, the eternal abode of that “liar” and “murderer.”
It declares that God is love. Creation presents Him as infinite in wisdom and power, but we see evil rampant around us, and man beneath its merciless hoof. There are traces of His goodness everywhere; and in the midst of its unutterable woes, gladness of heart visits the most unfortunate. But the fact that the griefs of the human race are so freely interspersed with innumerable joys, only makes the puzzle of man’s existence all the more intricate and difficult of solution. If it were all evil one would be in measure justified in attributing the creation to the caprice of a demon, and were it all good the aspersion of the true character of God would be unpardonable, but to find these two principles everywhere, and mixed together in a struggling and hopeless mêlée, with evil ever apparently triumphant, is bewildering to the finite mind.
The woes of the human race are beyond the possibility of exaggeration, and seem to rise up at every turn as a witness against the notion of infinite goodness, for if God be all powerful, how is it that for so many millenniums His creature has been left in this corner of His creation to welter unpitied in his wretchedness? Can the Creator be indifferent to the woes of His creature! Who can tell us? Is there no voice from Him?
I am certain if there is no revelation from God, there is no God. But the whole universe around me bears witness to the reality of a Creator, and although the visible things do not contain the secret of the nature of Him who brought them into existence, there is enough of evidence borne by them, to convince every intelligent being that He, without whom a sparrow cannot fall to the ground, could not leave His poor creature without some ray of light as to how he stands with respect to His holy and righteous will.
The idea of a universe such as surrounds us, without a Creator, is to me unthinkable, and that man should be brought forth to fall a prey to his wretched lusts, and to grope his weary and painful way to the grave in suffocating gloom, squabbling with his fellows about questions upon which none can boast of having one ray of light, and which never can be solved, is just as unthinkable. I find myself so formed that I am unable to get away from the idea of a Creator, and One with whom I have to do; I am also impressed with the fact that my Maker is beneficent, for of this I see abundant traces on every hand; and I am sure of this also that He has not left man in any clime without witness as to His beneficence. I have tried to get away from the thought of a Being with whom I had to do, and I have not been able; I have done my best to get out of my mind the conviction that He has spoken, and in this I have been likewise unsuccessful. Where, and how, He has spoken, is another matter, but spoken He has, of this I am convinced.
Man must have some light, and God will give it to him, even though he is certain to be unfaithful to it. Without testimony I am sure God will never leave him. I am not at present saying from whence such thoughts came to me; I am only speaking of the way I seem to be impressed as I look around me, and meditate upon that which I see taking place on the earth. We would be worse off than the beasts had we no light from God, for they are not burdened with the terror of having to do with Him, and we are. The question is not, Has God spoken? but, How?
I shall be told at once that it is not by the Bible. But I must ask, Why not by the Bible? Shall I be met with the stereotyped objection that it is full of contradictions, and is altogether wrong as to the plan of the universe; that it makes it geocentric, and has spoken of the earth as a plain. It has done nothing of the kind. It is so carefully written, that its statements never jar upon the mind of the most advanced scientist, nor do they cause the most illiterate to move in the direction of astronomical discovery. But may I ask, what impression does the universe convey to the mind of the ordinary mortal, as he looks abroad into the starry night from his cottage door? Will he not conceive of the earth as a flat plain, and the dome of heaven as a hemisphere, resting upon the rim of the earth? Could He who is infinite in wisdom have made the visible things no other way? The truth is that the heavens and the earth are so ordered that moral impressions are conveyed to the mind. Everything away from earth is upward and above man, and man is made to look upward to God who has His dwelling-place in the heavens. The Bible has a way of its own, by which it leaves these impressions undisturbed. If it gave other impressions, and taught the Newtonian theory, we might with some show of reason conclude that the God of creation is not the God of the Bible. I am not attempting to prove by this, that the Bible owes its origin to the Creator, I am only showing that if the Bible leaves undisturbed the impression that creation itself gives to the naked eye of the ordinary observer, that is no proof against the divine origin of the Scriptures.
There are many other objections advanced by the infidel mind of man, but they are all equally worthless, and have been disposed of again and again. Man naturally hates the light, and this is why the Bible is ever the great object of attack. But though man may, and does, hate the light, it has come into this dark world for the salvation of his immortal soul. What other light has he which shows him God fully declared? He is of few days and full of sorrow, and in the end has to submit to death, and where it will land him he knows not it is a foe fronted with terror, blind to the sight of misery, deaf to all entreaties, and dumb with regard to where it conducts its victim. It has been in the world for nigh six thousand years, and men know as little about it today as they did at the beginning. Men hope it will lead to something better than the present life, but what proof have we that the region into which it leads is not more replete with horrors than is the one out of which it conducts us? Were it an angel of light sent to escort us into a scene of joy and endless tranquillity, would its aspect be so full of terrors, or its weapon so dreaded? Surely not! We need some light from God, for death gives us no reason to suppose that, however bad it may be here, it is any better beyond. A beneficent Creator will not leave His creature without testimony. A revelation is a necessity both for His glory and our blessing, and this revelation we gratefully recognise in the Scriptures.
No. 2.—The Fall
No other book has ever received a similar amount of attention at the hand of friend and foe. The contentions concerning its sayings have been continuous, cruel, and sanguinary. Hell has stormed at it, earth has hallooed after it, and fires have been kindled with the parchments upon which it was written; but its lovers have succoured it, sheltered it, cherished it, studied its pages, imbibed its life-giving utterances, and with the precious volume clasped within their trembling hands, and its heavenly truths engraven upon their hearts, they have passed away from earth into the presence of Him of whom it speaks. It has been loved with all the love of the human heart under the influence of heaven, and it has been hated with all the hatred of the soul under the influence of the abyss of evil. On its account men have ever been ready to kill, or to be killed. The world will not have it, and yet it remains in it. The more it has been persecuted, the more it has multiplied and grown.
In defence of its sayings the hearts’ blood of thousands has been freely poured forth. Its followers have been counted the offscourings of the earth, and have been murdered without mercy. They have been reckoned by the world as sheep for the slaughter, cast out among the unclean, the lawless and the transgressors, hunted among mountains, dens, and caves of the earth, and slaughtered wherever they were found. But when the world was finished with them, God came out and wrote their epitaph, and it reads thus, “Of whom the world was not worthy.”
Like Him of whom it testifies it finds itself in a world hostile to its teachings, and therefore is it despised and rejected of men but like Him it passes onward in its unostentatious pathway of mercy, ‘Doing good, and healing all oppressed of the devil, for God is with it.’ Into an evil world it has come, but were the world not evil it would have no mission here. Had man remained as God made him such a revelation would have been unnecessary, for when he was made he had all the light needful to maintain him in the relationship in which he was placed with his Maker. But fallen man must have light beyond what was required for an innocent creation, if e’er he is to be recovered for God.
But the wiselings of today will not believe that man is fallen. If he is not fallen he must be as God made him, and if he is as God made him I fail to see how he can be improved. Yet those who contend against the truth of the fall, are the people who are loudest in their demands for such legislation as will enable them to set about improving the race. Could I be led to believe that God made man as he is, I would have to discard the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, and substitute in His place an evil being. It is impossible to entertain the idea of a Creator, and have any other thought than that everything created by Him has been created for His pleasure. And indeed this is just what Scripture teaches “For Thy pleasure they are, and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Therefore if there has been no fall, and men are as He made them, and consequently just in the condition in which He takes delight, and if He takes delight in them as I see them, what kind of a Being is He? Men make things in which they can take delight, and by which they may be served and no man will intentionally and premeditatedly make anything that will be a grief to his heart. And I am sure the Creator will not. Therefore He must be understood by the state, the moral state, in which His creature is created.
Now the heavens are said in Scripture to declare the glory of God (Ps. 19), but the earth never. Looking upward at the heavens with our natural eyes everything appears to us in the most perfect order. There is no confusion here, no conflict between the heavenly bodies, everything moves in the most perfect harmony together, there is no trespass committed by one inhabitant of the blue expanse against its neighbour, there is no noise of contending forces; one spirit seems to permeate the vast heavenly host, and all is peace. But when we turn to earth it is hell let loose. A pandemonium of discord jars upon the ear. Violence and corruption are seen everywhere. Scenes of horror fill the vision, and groans of despair grate upon the ear. Hatred, falsehood, outrage, murder, and suicide, stalk naked through the land. Pestilence, famine, hunger, nakedness, and death, cause the shriek of anguish to drown the revelry of gladsome day, and rend the bosom of the black-browed night. And I am told, man is not fallen!
We are told that man is just as he should be at the present moment of his history, but that he will not ever be thus. He is struggling upward, and the goal is within measurable distance. Is it? From my observation of the progress things are making I should say he is struggling downward, and making very rapid progress in his descent! That men are better educated than they were a century ago is not in question. Possibly the poor eat better, and are better clothed also, but that men are more moral, that they love one another better, that they are more law-abiding, that they are less selfish, that they are more faithful in their relations of life, and that they are more to be trusted than they were a century ago, I do not believe. Take away the steam engine and the dynamo-electric machine; dispense with railway, telegraph, and telephone, and with all the trappings of the present century civilisation, and have a good look at society, and you will find little to boast in above the savage.
We are told that nobody believes the Genesis account of the fall. One often wonders what kind of company these Bible critics keep. I think I might safely undertake to find some thousands of people who have never questioned it, and these are not men who readily take things for granted. It is asserted that the offence committed by Adam in the garden of Eden was of too trivial a nature to entail such consequences, but this seems to me to be a very superficial and foolish kind of reasoning. I fail to see that it could have made any real difference what test it might have pleased God to apply to man. The gravity of man’s offence is not to be estimated by the intrinsic value of the article purloined; there was nothing in that at all. He might have eaten of that tree as well as of any other had it not been forbidden The interdiction against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ought not have been difficult for Adam to observe: it was not a heavy rent to pay for such a large estate. He was the vice-regent of God upon earth, made so by his indulgent Creator, and the tree which was forbidden to him was the witness that the earth and the fullness thereof were the Lord’s, and that Adam was not sole proprietor. The tree became a test of his loyalty to his Creator. The tribute demanded from him was a mere bagatelle, but this very fact made his transgression all the more inexcusable.
Had the toll demanded from the creature been a heavy tax upon his resources, compassion for the rebel would have been more pardonable, but the trivial tax upon such enormous wealth brought to light the hidden secret of the rebel’s heart, and the creature is manifested in his attempt to grasp Divinity itself. This was the bait which the arch deceiver of mankind dangled before the eyes of his victim, and which tempted him to transgress the commandment. Why should he have desired to be on equality with God? He should have had confidence enough in the goodness of his Creator to have enabled him to refuse such a bait.
But I need not waste words in bringing the gravity of the offence of Adam into light; the reader knows his own natural heart well enough to be conscious of the fact that if he were able to bring its desires about, no one would occupy the throne of the universe but himself. In this world every man seeks to get all the power into his own hands, and had he the throne of the world it would not satisfy him, he would want the throne of the universe also. This suggestion instilled into the heart of Adam by the devil will reach its culmination in the “man of sin,” who will allow no one to worship any god but himself. He will take the place of God upon earth, and will put to death all who resist his blasphemous pretentions (2 Thess. 2 and Rev. 13)
But in spite of man’s denial that he is in a fallen condition, and in spite of his claim to be something, he is really ashamed to come out in the truth of his condition. We shelter ourselves from the inquisitiveness of our neighbours, and resent every attempt made by them to scrutinize our affairs. It may be nothing but idle curiosity prompts them to get near to us, but it is not because we know this that we so strongly resent their advances, and determine to hold them at arm’s length. Were we certain they could not find anything discreditable about us, we should not be so upset by their unmannered curiosity. Were everything that could be known about us creditable to us, we would be glad to be manifested before the assembled universe. But we shrink from exposure because we are unfit to be seen as we really are. This is very strange, especially as we know that others are no better than ourselves. They shrink from our penetrating gaze as timidly as we do from theirs.
But the knowledge of this does not help us, or make us bolder, for each of us has got his own secrets, of which he is rightly ashamed. Like Ham we are ready to sneer at the nakedness of our neighbour, but we are all very careful, when in our senses, not to babble into the ear of the world the secrets of our own guilty lives. My neighbour does not know me as I know myself, and I am determined that he shall remain in his ignorance. We keep our respective distances. I do not pry into the thoughts of his heart, and I expect the same consideration from him. This is all “fig leaves.” We are very pleased to find that people do not walk about in their naked hideousness; and should one of us expose himself in his moral degradation, we feel it to be an offence against all that is becoming, and insulting to society. Each person is at liberty to think whatever he pleases, and he may do what he pleases, as long as it does not injure his neighbour, but he must be careful that it does not get abroad. He must wear the “fig leaves,” or become ostracised from society.
Some of these haters of the Bible cannot understand any intelligent person continuing to believe in the fall of man as it is taught in Genesis. We are told that the legend was in existence as oral tradition long before Genesis was written. How it could be otherwise I am at a loss to know, and were it otherwise the fact would go far to prove it mere fiction. That the human race could be ignorant of the fall until Moses wrote the account of it is inconceivable. It was bound to travel with the posterity of Adam down the centuries. No doubt it would lose nothing by the telling in its travels, and therefore is it found in distorted forms in various countries, but in Genesis we have it in its simple naked truth.
We are told by some that it is scarcely alluded to in the Old Testament writings. Why should it be? Where was the need for constant repetition? It is referred to however, but had I found it very frequently referred to by the prophets, it would greatly have depended upon the setting in which I found it, whether my suspicion as to the writers faith in it would not have been aroused. Indeed it is seldom referred to in the New Testament, and when it is referred to, it is not hard to see the writer takes it for granted that those to whom he writes do not question the fact. It has no need to be proven in a world like this.
The difficulty with the philosophers of the world seems to lie in the fact that, whether man be fallen or not, his moral state is far from being satisfactory. As a general thing God is either altogether left out, as regards the theories of these men, or everything is God, whether it be man, bird, beast, reptile, or sponge. A God who is objective to His creation, neither of them confess. The evolutionists have got the whole creation upon a ladder whose top and bottom are both alike enveloped in impenetrable gloom. What he came from and what he is to arrive at are wrapt in obscurity. They think man is advancing toward a perfect state, but what that state is to be they know not. Some of us are quite certain that man is retrograding. That those who call themselves Christians are on the down-grade, no one will question who reads the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles; and believes it to be a true account of the state of things in the Church at the beginning.
That men in these Islands are better governed than they were in the middle ages goes without saying, but if the crowd were let loose today, who would not tremble for the consequences? The deeds of the French revolution, if not worse, would be repeated. I fail therefore to see how men are better morally. I may be told that the fact that good laws exist is in itself a proof of a better moral state. I cannot accept it, for men do not make laws for themselves but for their fellows. Those who make them are often found guilty of breaking them. The lustre of the world is artificial, what is natural is corrupt. Under an apparently well ordered community smoulders a veritable hell of horrible rebellion, and this the powers that be will learn one of these days.
Those who think they see God in everything, are, in their own imagination, themselves God, and the fall is the incarnation of God in nature, so they tell us. This mysterious Power, which is themselves and the sponge, and all that lies between in the way of life, is finding expression in the universe, and they tell us that it is only as we read Him in the universe that we can know anything about Him. God, we are told, can only know His own capabilities as He is confronted by opposing forces, therefore He creates the forces that He may become known to Himself. If I could so degrade myself as to accept such a horrible idea, I would be very much interested to know what He thinks of Himself, when He sees Himself in the universe! Is this great mysterious Power contemplating Himself in the battle field, where men, who know not why they are pitted against one another, maim and murder until their feet slip in the hot red heart-blood of friend and foe? I wonder what the “god” of these men’s imagination thinks of himself as he looks at the violence and corruption which fill the earth, and at nature foaming at the mouth and “red in tooth and claw with ravin”!
How strange it is that man will have anything as a god, rather than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The reason, surely, is that if I confess Him, I must myself go down in the dust in His presence, and confess myself to be a poor, fallen, unworthy sinner, dependent upon His mercy and grace for my salvation. Pride has no place in the presence of the true God, and therefore must the proud heart of man be ever in deadly hostility to Him. Blessed be His name, He can so work in His grace in our hearts that we are made to acknowledge the truth of the Book which discovers us to ourselves, and, turning to Him in the judgment of ourselves; to leave the decision of our eternal welfare in His own hands.
No. 3.—Man Accountable to God
Conscience came in by the fall. Then God said, “The man is become as one of us, to know good and evil” (Gen. 3). This the Scriptures declare; and we know that man does possess a conscience, whatever may have been the circumstance under which he came to possess it. It is the intrinsic power by which he is able to judge of good and evil when they come before him.
It has been contended that what men call conscience is simply the result of education; but when we hear the Creator say that the ability to know good and evil made man “like one of us,” it is clear that, in the Scriptural sense of the word, education has nothing to do with the creation of such a faculty. It is not beyond being affected by education; it may be blinded, where the soul is schooled in error; benumbed also, where it has been ill-treated; but it is not the effect of education, or the result of coming under an imposed rule of life. The judgment which God passes upon actions is His own judgment, having nothing whatever to do with law, or environment, or anything external to Himself.
Man came into possession of this faculty by his disobedience. It is fallen man who has this conscience. He knows good and evil, but knows the evil as something which has power over him, and good as a thing to the possession of which he can no longer lay claim. Yet he does not like to confess this. He will say a great deal in favour of himself, a great deal in favour of man in the abstract; but he has the inward consciousness of his own imperfections. He knows that, to an extent, evil has the mastery over him; and his fellow men he regards with distrust. To get along through the world at all, he finds it necessary to place a certain amount of confidence in his fellows, but just as little of that as will serve the end he has in view; and when that confidence is abused, although he may become very angry, he is not greatly disappointed, for it was with a certain amount of hesitation he trusted him at all. He knows a little about himself, and from what he finds in himself he judges his neighbour; and in this he does not greatly err, for all men are alike evil.
It is not the Bible alone that tells men they are not what they ought to be (which is equivalent to saying that they are not what God made them, for if they are what God made them, they have no business to seek to be anything else), though he is there described from the tip of the leaf to the very roots of his moral being; but he has the witness in his conscience that there is a great difference between him and a perfect being. Each man is ashamed of the wicked thoughts which inhabit his own breast, though he knows very well that they are not morally worse than the thoughts of the man at his elbow. In a world of sinners he is ashamed of being a sinner, and, therefore, he makes efforts to hide the nakedness of his lamentable condition from the scrutiny of his neighbour, whose condition he knows to be no better than his own.
However unpleasant it may be, man cannot get out of his mind the thought that there must come a time for the settling of accounts, a day in which he must give account for the deeds done in the body. He is unable to shake himself free from this suspicion, for he knows that he holds his fellows accountable for their actions, as far as they affect his interests. They may plead, in extenuation of their offence, that they are just as they were made, and their actions were only the manifestations of the nature with which they were born, but he would not accept this as sufficient excuse for their transgression. He would tell them they should be different, or at least they should act differently with regard to him. Their paltry excuses would fall upon deaf ears.
But if this be so amongst men, it must be admitted that God has rights, which must be respected as well as those belonging to men. He cannot be the only one who has got no rights of any kind. I have responsibilities with regard to the throne of the kingdom of which I am a subject. Has God a throne? Are men His subjects in any sense? Does He hold them accountable? or has He thrown the reins upon the neck of humanity? If I am accountable to Him, and if He has got rights over me which I ignore, what will happen? Do I go free? Is He to receive no compensation? If so, God has practically no rights, for He is either indifferent to my trespass, or He is unable to safeguard His rights I trespass upon them with impunity; offence exists only in name, and there is no righteousness.
Do not tell me that men are punished for their offences in the present life, and that there can be nothing after death in the way of stripes for sin, for suffering in the present life is not always the effect of sin committed by the one who suffers. Men are born cripples, blind, deaf, idiotic; how have these transgressed? The transgressor often goes through life without the least mishap. When, and in what way, does the punishment of such take place? How is the man to be punished who has wronged, hated, cursed, insulted, and robbed his neighbour? and how is he to be punished who has given all this back with interest?
The self-respect of a man will often keep him from loose company, but he will not allow that his Creator has any partiality for the pure in heart, more than for the abominable. Man hates the good and loves the evil, and in spite of his self-respect, his actions prove his preference for the latter; but he has a conscience which approves the good that he hates, and condemns the evil that he loves; and yet if both are alike to God, what right have I, who am His creature, to make any distinction? Good is evil, and evil good; right is wrong, and wrong right; filthiness is purity, and purity filthiness; this must be so if everything is alike to God.
The principle of accountability is found all the world over, however men may seek to shirk it. If I trespass upon my neighbour, he will very quickly let me know that I cannot do this with impunity. I may have a desire to trespass upon his property, to appropriate for my own use that which he claims as his. He does not excuse in me the covetous spirit which possesses me. He will tell me that I have no right to that which he has inherited, or purchased with the sweat of his brow, or bought with his money; and though the selfish spirit in others might not much object to see him defrauded, they must, in order to safeguard themselves, acknowledge the righteousness of his claim.
How is it that the intelligent creation has been placed upon these moral foundations? Are we to be taught nothing regarding God by all this? How and why is it, that such a principle is found in the minds of men? Why have we been set in relationship with one another, so that such obligations exist? The thought of righteousness, truth, love and peace is found in the hearts of men, and they are the principles upon which relationships with one another are established. Why is this? Could not another order of things have been established, where such principles would have been unknown?
That these principles have been founded is enough for me. I know no relationship which does not carry with it responsibilities. Has man no relationship with God? If not, he is nothing but a beast. He may be the cleverest beast there is, but he is nothing more if he has no link with God. That which elevates man above the brute creation is his link with God. Put aside the idea of accountability to God, and you have degraded him to the level of the brute creation. His cleverness does not give him any moral pre-eminence. He may be the most clever and inventive of all the brute creation, and when you have said that, you have said all that can be said if he has no responsibility to God. This is how man dishonours himself when he casts off God. This is where he brings himself by his infidelity. And yet, were he injured by a beast, you would not find him saying it had no right so to act. He does not after all connect the thought of responsibility with the other beasts which are less clever than he is.
In this world men, who have themselves no honourable distinction, boast of their connection with those who have. Like certain planets, their glory is derived from the orb to which they are attached, having no glory of their own, they attract no attention once they are robbed of their connection with their brilliant centre. It is so with man, whose dignity consists in his having to say to God. It is because of this he has been formed to walk erect, and lift up his head to heaven, in contrast with the beast who looks downward into the earth, from whence he sprang and into which he sinks again. Man became a living soul by the inbreathing of God, and this returns to God who gave it, not so the beast, which was made a living soul by the fiat of God, and whose spirit, as well as his body, goes back to the earth again (Eccl. 3:21)
The Scriptures tell us it was this abandonment of God on the part of man that brought all the evil into the world at the beginning. That he has proved himself to be very clever and inventive is unquestionable, but he has used his cleverness to set himself up in independence of God. He has built up and embellished a world for his own glory and the gratification of corrupt fallen nature, and the door of which he has carefully bolted against the knowledge of God. Moralists are not wanting either, for people have consciences and wants, and fears for the future which require to be set somehow at rest. We are told that all will come right in the end; good will be the final goal for all, man is at present building his own heaven, or scooping out his own hell by his works; and after all, misery is not eternal, for the sinner must be given chance after chance, either in the present life or in some other undefined existence, until in the end he reaches perfection.
This is the human mind gone stark mad. It is against all reason and experience, leaving Scripture out of the question. It is the downgrade with most people in the present life. A child is more free from guile, hypocrisy, deceit, envy, and every kind of wickedness, than a grown person. All experience goes to prove that there will always be the downward tendency unless some powerful intervention outside man himself comes in to stay it. The child, as I have said, is more innocent of evil than the adult. I do not say the tree is different in old age from what it was in its youth, for trees do not change their nature. The nature of man is the same in an infant as it is in a centenarian, but the development of that nature means an evil life. There is no upward tendency, it is all downward. Give a man another chance, and will he do any better? His past experience will not help him, for every man knows that the way of transgressors is hard, and that satisfaction is not found in the fulfilment of the lusts of the flesh; but the lusts of the flesh they will fulfil, even at the risk of eternal damnation. No danger is a sufficient deterrent in the pathway of lust. I do not mean lust in any unclean sense, but the desires of the carnal appetite.
And is there no one, and nothing, with ability to throw light upon all this confusion and unspeakable tangle of discordant ideas? Is there nothing which can put everything in its proper place, so that we may come to know the whole truth of the matter? What is there under the sun which can solve for us the problem of life? What about death—its gloom, horror, silence? Will the dead come forth again? Must we give account to God? What is the disposition of Him to whom I am responsible? What is His nature? Is He hard, unkind, cruel, envious, and careless as to my happiness or misery? Is He like men, as I know men? Who can answer these questions to the satisfaction of my heart? The Bible, and the Bible alone, comes to my rescue in the midst of the surrounding gloom, and sets sin, death, judgment, God and man, heaven and hell, paradise and perdition, before me in their true light, and my darkness is dispelled, and worship fills my soul.
No. 4—The Heathen
The question of the heathen, who have ne’er been favoured with the message of the grace of God, will naturally arise in the mind of the reader. That they will never have to give account to God for the way in which they have treated a Gospel which they have never heard goes without saying. It is a principle of Scripture that where little has been given, little shall be required, but to whom much has been given, from him much shall be demanded (Luke 12:48). The heathen can only have to give account for the way in which they have treated whatever light they may have had given them of God. The difficulty which arises in the minds of men in connection with their accountability to God has its origin in the fact that in the heart of each lurks the latent desire to at all costs justify himself. It is natural to him as a sinner, and is a great proof of his fallen condition.
Surely the Creator has a right to do as He pleases in and with His own creation. If man has not answered the purpose for which he was created, God must please Himself as to how He shall deal with him. He may condemn him without giving him any opportunity of salvation, as He has done with fallen angels, or He may act toward him in the way of grace, as He does to men generally, or He may save him by His sovereign mercy, as He does the elect; and who can call His ways in question? He made man, to begin with, and His rights over him are supreme. He can kill and make alive, and He does so without consulting His creature. The whole universe is completely in His power, and it must be so, for it is the work of His hands. The fallen sinner may rebel against His decrees, and attempt to grasp the authority which can be His only, but whether as an object of mercy or of wrath he must learn that the fear of the Lord is the thing for him to cultivate, for this is true wisdom.
It is important to get right ideas of God. I do not mean only in His grace, which must be learned in the Gospel, but as a Creator. “Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashions it, What makest Thou? or Thy work, He has no hands?” (Isa. 45:9). I have not yet come to consider what God makes, or what He does with what He makes; I am only seeking to show, that if you allow the idea of a Creator at all (and a man must be mad who does not), you must allow that He has a right to do just as He pleases; to make what He pleases, and to do that which He pleases with the thing that He has made. No one ever yet gave God this His rightful place but Christ, who, having taken the place of man, maintained that place consistently, to the glory of God, from the manger to the cross He held Himself here at the disposal of God, and though He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, yet He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. That it was the will of God was a sufficient explanation of every circumstance in which He found Himself.
I have dwelt long upon this principle, because of its importance in our consideration of God’s ways with men in His dealings with the world That no man has been, or could be, clothed with unlimited authority, and be so free from outside influences that he could carry out the desires of his heart I suppose no one will question. Many considerations conspire together to prevent the greatest despot from working out the conceptions of his evil mind. There is the fear of degrading himself in the eyes of others, or of how the thing may recoil upon his own head. There are always outside influences at work which prevent men having their own way completely. Were it not so, a man with unlimited power would destroy the whole human race, and end all by the destruction of himself.
But God cannot be brought under any influence whatever. And yet man’s thought of God does not rise higher than himself: “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself” (Ps. 1:21). Naturally we think of God as an evil being, and fear to have to do with Him. Being evil ourselves we cannot take in the thought of a Being supremely good: we think of Him as niggardly in the dispensing of His benefits, and vindictive in the execution of His judgment. The god of man’s conception is a demon, an evil and cruel being, endowed with the same kind of passions as himself, and influenced, in all his ways with men, by selfish considerations. To come to know Him in Jesus is to be brought out of darkness into marvellous light.
Another thing I would say before referring to the light Scripture gives us as to the heathen. Nothing can be perfectly known by the creature. This is so self-evident that I need do no more than mention the fact. The creation itself is beyond us. I know that it exists. I see it, feel it, am part of it. I see the relation which certain things bear to others. The sun, moon, and stars appeal to my senses as the handiwork of an all-wise, almighty, and supreme Being, and from them I drop down to the consideration of a globule of water or a grain of sand. But what do I know of these things? What are they made of? I may be told water is a compound of hydrogen and oxygen. But what are these gases? I may know a great deal about created things, how they will behave under certain conditions, the uses I may be able to put them to; but what they are in themselves I know not. The Creator does, but the creature cannot know what the creature is. We know all that is necessary for us to know, or perhaps I should rather say, we are capable of knowing all that God deems good for us to know. May we be content with this.
Had man remained in innocence he would not have needed a revelation from God. It was when he sinned this became necessary, and he gets it at once. He has never yet left any of His creatures without witness regarding Himself. Man being like a planet out of his orbit, nothing remains for him but destruction, unless he can be recovered and brought into right relationship with his Centre. When man wheeled wilfully out of his appointed course, His Creator at once intervened, and pointed the way back to righteousness, peace, and salvation. Abel took that way, and found it paved with the favour of Jehovah; Cain refused it, and became a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth. Cain had all the light that Abel had, but he was unfaithful to it; and the whole antediluvian world was not less favoured, though with few exceptions the testimony of God was scorned.
There does not seem to have been any practice of idolatry until after the deluge. It may have been the tradition of the fallen angels which Satan took up, by which to ensnare men, and entice them into demon-worship. Anyhow, almost immediately after the flood mankind fell into idolatry, and idolatry is demon-worship (1 Cor. 10:20). The idol itself is nothing, but what is behind the idol, and which fills the heart and mind of the worshipper, is a demon. The gods of the heathen are evil beings, and the worship of demons became universal after the flood.
It was not any lack of testimony on the part of God, which brought about this state of things, but the hatred of God natural to the human heart. We have the downward career of the sons of Noah into the moral quagmire of corruption brought graphically before the vision of our souls in the first chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They sinned against the light which they had from God, and they were, the Apostle says, “without excuse.” They had all the light possessed by Abel, Enoch, and others, and these had found it sufficient to guide their footsteps back to the Source of life and happiness; and indeed they were still more favoured, for they had seen by the intervention of God in the deluge how well He was able to deliver the godly, and judge the rebellious. Added to this they had the testimony of creation, the visible things bearing testimony to the invisible. The eternal power and divinity of the Creator comes to light in the works of His hands, leaving those who bow down to the idol without excuse.
This is just as true today as it was then. The heathen have the heavens declaring the glory of God, and the firmament showing His handiwork: day uttering speech unto day, and night unto night teaching knowledge. There is neither speech nor words, yet is their voice heard through all the earth, right to the extremity of the world (Ps. 19).
There are also evidences of His goodness in the fact that He gives sunshine, rain, and fruitful seasons, “filling our hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14). The object of it all is that men might feel after Him and find Him, for He is not far from any one of us (Acts 17). Man has gone far from God, and his great desire is always to increase the distance, but God has not gone far from man. The distance lies in alienation of heart and mind, and therefore man being a God-hating sinner, the distance to which he has gone is immeasurable; but God pursues him in the grace and love of His heart, ready to fall on his neck and cover him with kisses (Luke 15) the moment he, in the sorrow of his soul, turns round and begins to feel after his Creator, whom he has so heartlessly abandoned.
We are told by Paul (Acts 17) that the times of this ignorance God winked at (overlooked, or dealt with in no special way), but left man to the testimony of the visible things, against which he sinned grossly and provocatively, while wallowing in every abominable pollution that suggested itself to his corrupt and devil-deceived heart. He had sufficient testimony given him by God to light his way back to Him from whom he was gradually drifting farther and farther away; but to this he paid no regard, for the service of Satan was connected with a license for the flesh, which the idea of a holy and righteous God forbade. Because of this, the service of their fell destroyer was considered easy, his bondage was delightful, God was forgotten, and darkness reigned supreme.
It has been thus from the beginning. The testimony of God by Noah was despised, the law was trampled under foot, the prophets were stoned, and those who foretold the coming of the Messiah were murdered. And has it been any better under the Gospel dispensation? The Jews despised it, it went out to the heathen and there few believed it, and in Christendom, which is supposed to be the result of the preaching, comparatively few believe it with their hearts. Men seem more concerned about what is to be the fate of the heathen than they are about their own souls, or about the multitude around them, who, with the Gospel ringing in their ears, go heedlessly down to a lost eternity.
The state of the heathen is brought forward by many to discredit the Scriptures. They foolishly imagine that because they have had no testimony of the grace of God presented to them, they cannot be held amenable to the judgment of God. But this conjecture arises from the erroneous idea that men shall be judged for the rejection of the Gospel only. That men shall be judged for the rejection of the Gospel is true regarding those to whom it has been preached, but all men are amenable to the judgment of God, whether they have heard the Gospel or not.
We are told in 1 Thessalonians that the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with the angels of His might, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. This will take place at His appearing, and is spoken of as the judgment of the living. It is “When He shall come.” Here we have two classes of people upon whom the judgment falls, namely, them that know not God, and them that obey not the Gospel.
But in Romans 2:12-16 we have a very plain statement made by the Apostle referring to this very question. He says, “As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law. . . . in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.” The Gentiles sinned “without law,” the law was never given to them. They shall be judged by the light given by creation, natural conscience, and the goodness of God manifested in His providence. They shall perish: they have been altogether unfaithful to the light vouchsafed to them. The Jews to whom the law was given shall be judged by it. Christians are not supposed to come into judgment. If they were truly that which they are by profession they would not come into judgment, for in Christ the believer is already justified from all things. Still because of the unfaithfulness of those favoured with such abundant light, the time has already come when judgment must begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).
Judgment will be according to privileges enjoyed. Therefore the soul who has heard the Gospel and rejected it shall have the heaviest sentence; the Jew comes next in responsibility, as having the law, priding himself in the possession of it, and dishonouring the Lawgiver by the breaking of it. Last and least in responsibility come the heathen, who have had neither law nor Gospel. He who knew his Master’s will, and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he who knew not, and yet did commit things worthy of punishment, shall be beaten with few stripes (Luke 12:47-48). The judgment of God will be according to truth against such as do evil: “To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality (or incorruptibility), eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that does evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile” (Rom. 2:7-10).
That the Judge of all the earth will do right there ought to be no question in any mind; but whatever He does the wisdom of the creature is to submit himself to it. The creature cannot be the judge of his Creator. In the way in which the Creator has been pleased to declare Himself, in that way both reader and writer must come to know Him. I take the perfect account which He has given of Himself in the Word of truth; I contemplate Him in His love, grace, righteousness, holiness, power, wisdom, majesty and might, and my heart is filled with thanksgiving that I have found Him to be such as the Gospel reveals Him, and such as my natural heart never for a moment thought Him to be.
I think of Him in His mercy on the one hand, and in His judgment and wrath on the other, and I am not terrified before Him, for I see nothing even in the lake of fire inconsistent with His holy love. He has come to light in Jesus: there His heart is revealed, but from those lips from which rivers of grace flowed forth, there came the testimony of a judgment which in its severity turns the most terrible utterances that ever burned upon prophetic lip into tides of mercy. His enemies had to say “Never man spake like this Man,” and surely no one ever did, for no one knew what He knew. When He spoke, the breathings of the heart of God were heard, but mingled with it all the tempests of eternal wrath broke upon the ear. He brought everything to light. The heart of God, the heart of man, the heart of heaven, and the heart of hell. All is in the light now, and men everywhere are seen to be without excuse, and all will find Him justified when He speaks, and clear when He judges (Ps. 51:4).
No. 5—The Responsible Man
Two lines of truth run throughout Scripture and are so sharply defined that one is surprised to find even the most superficial reader unacquainted with them. I refer to the line of responsibility, and the line of Divine counsel. On the line of responsibility are the first Adam and all His race, and on the second line are the last Adam and all His race.
I have already attempted to prove that all men admit the idea of accountability. It cannot be questioned that we are on that footing with one another, whether it is admitted with regard to our relationship with God or not. Adam was placed upon this ground, but failed to fulfil his obligations. He was not content with the place which the goodness of his Creator had given him, but grasped at Divinity itself the moment the tempter dangled the bait before his eyes. Thus failure is connected with the first and responsible man from the outset of his history. I do not suppose he stood one day in innocence, he certainly fell at the first assault of the enemy. And it has been so the whole way down the history of the world, and in all the dealings of God and His fallen creature, for this order of man was kept on probation for the first four thousand years.
Failure has marked the man after the flesh in every position of trust in which he has been placed by God. Cain was a murderer, and the flood brought his guilty descendents to an end. Government was laid upon the shoulder of Noah after the deluge. A sword (Gen. 9:5-6) was put into his hand, but it is immediately necessary to record his drunkenness, which demonstrated his inability to govern himself. The law was given to the nation which God had redeemed out of slavery, and it was broken by them before the two tables of stone upon which it was written came into the camp. Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, presented strange fire before the Lord the first day after their consecration, and were consumed for their wickedness (Lev. 10). The carcases of all those who came out of Egypt, with two exceptions, fell in the wilderness because of their unbelief (Num. 14). Those who were allowed to enter the promised land defiled it with their idolatry, persecuted the prophets, slew them who testified of the coming of Christ, and when He came, murdered Him.
However man may exercise his mind he cannot really bottom any of the works of God. He may make a good many discoveries as to the powers which lie concealed in certain elements, and he may be able in a very remarkable degree to use the resources of nature, but to say that he understands anything thoroughly is to say that which everyone knows to be untrue. This is so as to divine and spiritual things. We may not be able to understand how it is that a creature can have responsibility to his Creator, but this is because we are creatures, and therefore limited in our knowledge of everything.
A man may make a machine, but be it good or bad, it is just what he made it, it has no responsibility. If it break down under the test applied to it, it cannot be held accountable. If it exploded into a thousand fragments, and every fragment killed a human being, not it, but its maker, if any one, can be held accountable. Man cannot make anything possessed of independent thought and action, so that it can be held responsible for what it does. God can make such a being, and He has made him, and that being is man. And we all admit this for we hold one another accountable for what we do; and the conscience of man where it has not become benumbed by ill-usage, takes account of God, and confesses itself responsible to Him. People blasphemously say that if man fell under the power of evil when assailed by it, there is no justice in God’s condemnation of him, for He should have made him able to withstand the temptation This is a vain attempt to get rid of the idea of accountability. I say it is yam, for those who use the argument are inconsistent with it in their dealings with one another.
That God knew man would fall I need hardly affirm. That He secretly connived at it is a wicked aspersion upon His infinite goodness. He knew well what the effect of the attack of the fell fiend upon man would be. No creature can maintain himself in blessing by his own obedience. Every, creature set in blessing with God must be maintained there by the power of God, and all have fallen who have stood upon the footing of responsibility. There are fallen angels as well as fallen men, and there are elect angels as well as elect men. It is impossible to imagine a creature as self-supporting. Hence what was in the counsel of God was a universe of blessing in which all intelligent beings would be upheld by the power of God. The fall of man gave occasion for God to bring out the secret thought of His heart, and in all His ways He will in the end be justified even in the eyes of those who shall come under His eternal displeasure.
The self-will of those who rebel against the revelation which He has given of Himself may stoutly affirm that they will never submit to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, but it is foolish for people to be boasting about what they will or will not do. Today they are groping in darkness and distance from God and what they will do when His power is manifested and His light shines about them they know not. In that day there will be no fault found with the ways of Him who will be manifested as their Creator, their would-be Redeemer, but, alas, their Judge.
I do not concern myself much with the pretentious reasonings and boastings of men. The most learned philosopher has no more the knowledge of God than has the most illiterate numskull in the land. Men may reason about the things which come before them in nature, but the knowledge of God, as He has come to light in Christ, is as hidden from the reasonings of the most learned as it from the insubject mind of the most illiterate. As to all that can be said apart from the Bible, concerning the relationships of men with God, and as to what God, is and is not, and what man is and is not, they are only theories evolved from the mind of man, which utterly distrust, for I believe that behind all the thoughts of the natural mind in these things there is a power of evil bent upon driving the soul to destruction.
The Scriptures set before us all the various ways in which it has pleased God to address Himself to men, and in them we have a record of all His thoughts, counsels, words, and works, as far as He has thought necessary to make them known to us. I see one mind pervading the whole volume, both Old Testament and New, and the writers take the ground of having all their communications given to them from the living God. If this is not true, if they did not receive that which they have put on record, so that there could be no more mistake about it than there could have been had He been pleased to speak the words in the ears of the whole world by audible voice from heaven, then these writers are nothing but a set of wicked impostors; and the man who thinks him to be an honest person who says “Thus says the Lord,” and “The Lord said,” when the Lord said nothing of the sort, must have strange ideas of morality. According to the law of this land the man who, when under oath, knowingly and wilfully utters an untruth, becomes liable to imprisonment, and he certainly would not be likely to be trusted again; and I fail to see how the writers of the Scriptures have any right to different and better treatment, if their offence is found to be the same.
The Old Testament sets before us the first Adam and all his fallen race under probation, and failing in every test which was applied to him. The race is what the head was. Adam became head of a race when in his fallen condition, and God has been pleased for His own wise reasons to put that race under cultivation to demonstrate there was no good in it, before bringing in the Man of His counsels who would fulfil all His will. This trial was largely confined to one people Israel. It was not necessary to apply the test to the whole world, for all were alike, either bad or good. The test was to bring all to light. A farmer might test the quality of a field of grain by subjecting a mere handful from it to the test, and he would be justified in his judgment of all by that one handful.
God singled out Israel from the nations of the earth, and gathered them around Himself, telling them exactly and in few words all that He expected of them. They were simply to fulfil their responsibilities. They were encouraged to obedience by the brightest promises, and they were warned against disobedience by threats of the most terrible nature; but all was seen to be in vain. The flesh would not have God one way or another. The mind of the flesh was seen to be enmity against God, it was not subject to His law, nor could it be brought into subjection (Rom. 8:7). It was a case of “like father like son.” The tree whose seed is in itself brings forth its own kind. Every creature upon earth reproduces itself in its offspring, and man is no exception The first human sinner has filled the world with sinners, and that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and in the flesh good does not dwell (Rom. 7:18). Violence and corruption characterised it before the flood (Gen. 6:11); the worship of demons marked the descendants of Noah (Josh. 24:2; 1 Cor. 10:20); transgression was stamped on the sons of Israel from Sinai (Dan. 9; Acts 7:53), and irreconcilable hatred of the Father and the Son came out in their treatment of Christ (John 15:24).
There is scarcely any other doctrine of Scripture more clearly proven to us in our dealings with men than is the doctrine of man’s total depravity; and yet we are most slow to believe it. We are continually getting disappointed in these in whom we have placed confidence, and yet there is the tendency to once again confide in that which has failed us, and the reluctance to give up looking for good in the fallen creature.
That man is without any sound moral foundation the history of the world proves beyond question. It is not that men are absolutely without natural affection, were this so the world could not exist, for children at least are dependent upon parents, and all men are largely dependent upon one another. But this does not prove that there is any good in the flesh, for natural affection is found in the heart of the most savage beast. Indeed it is found more strongly marked in the beasts than it is in men. Animals of the same species do not often devour one another, while men seldom do anything else. Men seek to make a stepping-stone, not of their dead selves, but of their living, helpless, writhing neighbour, in order to arrive at what they consider a more exalted and honourable position. Few, if any, despots have not been tyrannical and cruel to a degree, and it is well known that it is almost impossible for an absolute monarch to be a good man. The reason of this is because he has facilities for carrying out the corrupt desires of his evil heart with an impunity not accorded to other men. A certain historian speaks of one of the sovereigns of England as a good king, but a bad man. And a great poet speaks of man dressed in a little brief authority playing such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make angels weep. When man has an opportunity of exhibiting himself the exhibition is, as a rule, fearfully appalling.
Some men, of course, are amiable and some ill-natured, just as dogs are, but viewed in his relationships with God there is no good in him. Man is a great ruin, and as one may see in a castle, fast crumbling into dust, traces of its former greatness and grandeur, so may the primitive splendour of him who was made in the image and likeness of God be still seen in fallen humanity; but just as nothing can be done to repair the ancient fortress, rotten from the foundation to the crown of its roofless waits, so is there not a sound stone in the foundation of fallen humanity on which anything for God can be built.
In some those traces of primitive greatness are more apparent than in others. Saul of Tarsus was a wonderful example of this preservation of outward original grandeur, yet every stone in his moral structure was weather-bitten and friable to the core. No one had more to boast of in the flesh than himself, yet he was the chief of sinners. It was so with the young ruler of whom it is recorded in the Gospels that the Lord loved him. The handiwork of God was visible in him beyond many others, but tested by Christ, his utter worthlessness comes to light: he preferred his worldly substance to the Son of God and treasure in heaven.
Man was tested by law in the past dispensation, and proved to be a lawbreaker. The result of that test proved the incorrigible rebelliousness of the flesh. In Psalm 14 the Lord is said to look down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any who did understand and seek God. What He found was that all had gone aside, and that all had become corrupt, and that there was none that did good, no not one. Man who should have been a servant of God was a servant of sin, and he served it with every member of his body. What the law says to them that are under the law is cited for us in Romans 3. We read there: “Their throat is an open sepulchre: with their tongues they have used deceit: the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is what was true of the Jew, while the nations wallowed in idolatry and fleshly corruption. This is Adam, the responsible man, reproduced in his race, with the power of the Devil behind all, driving the sinner onward in his career of rebellion against God, and in the downward course of his own degradation. How terrible is all this!
No. 6—The Man of God’s Counsels
It is impossible to connect the idea of chance with any of the ways of God. Not even a sane man will commence a work without having in his mind the image of that upon which the labour of his hands is to be employed. A man may not be able to perfect his idea; he may find, as his work proceeds, that it will not answer the purpose for which he intended it, and therefore he may have with reluctance to abandon it; he may even learn something in the midst of his toil which may cause him to make considerable alterations, so that the thing when finished is very different from his original conception. This comes from being unable to grasp at the outset every detail connected with the subject in hand, and everything that will be necessary to do, in order to arrive at perfection.
But this can never be the case as regards the activities of God. It is impossible to think of Him as limited in wisdom, skill, or understanding. He must be infinite in every one of His attributes. The man who thinks otherwise, if any such man exist, can have no true thought of the Creator in his soul. Man is only a finite being, and, as I have suggested, while he proceeds with his work, new ideas strike his mind, for though perfection be his ideal, he can never arrive at it. He does not know the power and value of the elements with which he has to work, neither does he perfectly know their relation to one another, nor always the result of certain combinations; hence he is ever astonishing himself with his new discoveries, and bringing out new inventions.
Not so God. The Creator can learn nothing from His creation. The universe is the conception of His infinite mind, and it is impossible that He could receive any instruction from it. “The Lord by wisdom has founded the earth; by understanding has He established the heavens. By His knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew” (Prov. 3:19-20). “Who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been His counsellor? or who has first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever” (Rom. 11:34-36). He has not, as some suppose, been from the outset doing the best He can, contending with the inroads of evil, meeting the adverse power, to the best of His ability, and ever, through the growth of intelligence, improving upon the past. “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself” (Ps. 50:21), is the charge He makes against the wicked, and it is a charge of which all are guilty who have not learned Him in Jesus.
It is impossible for me to imagine the Creator forming a universe like the one of which I form a part, without having distinctly before Him its whole history, and the ultimate result of all His activities in connection with it. His plans must all have been formed before He began His work; and when we come to Scripture this is just what we find. The Book of those counsels is alluded to more than once (Ex. 32:32; Ps. 40:7; Ps. 139:16). We have counsel, promise, choice, and purpose referred to again and again; and the central object in all those counsels is the Man who was predestined to give effect to them. As Adam was the man set upon the footing of responsibility, and who, failing to fulfil that responsibility, fell under the power of evil; so Christ is the Man of divine counsel, who upholds everything by the power of God. It was ever the thought of God to set up all things in His own power. Nothing can stand but that which is upheld by the might of God.
If this be kept in mind, it is easy to see that the Man of God’s counsels must be a divine person. No creature is capable of maintaining himself in blessing on the principle of obedience, and none but a divine person could carry out the thoughts of the Godhead. Christ is not a development of the race of Adam. He is not the best man of that race that ever lived, or the most perfect that ever walked the earth. He is not of the old Order at all. He is the “last Adam,” and the last Adam is not a mere improvement upon the first. The first man was of the earth, made of dust, “the second Man is out of heaven.” The first Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam is a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor. 15). The first had his origin from earth; the second had His origin from heaven. The first man was made to bask in the goodness of God; the second had His place in the bosom of the Father. There are mysteries in connection with the Son which no creature can fathom: “No man knows the Son but the Father;” but that, on the divine side, He was equal with the Father is fully revealed in Scripture; and that, on our side, He was Man is just as strongly insisted. He is spoken of as “The Man that is My fellow, says the Lord of Hosts” (Zech. 13:7).
A recent writer, who for a little while made a great stir in the religious world, tells us that the truth about the person of Jesus is to be the great question for religion in the near future. The truth is, it has been the great question since the hour in which He took His place in public testimony for God. The Baptist bore testimony to Him as the Son of God, the thong of whose sandals he was unworthy to loose (John 1). The Father also bore witness to Him, opening heaven upon Him, and saluting Him as His beloved Son, in whom He had found His delight (Luke 3:22). The Old Testament bears witness to the greatness of this wondrous Personage. Isaiah speaks of Him as the One whose rebuke dries up the sea, and makes the rivers a wilderness; who clothes the heavens with blackness, and makes sack-cloth their covering; and yet One to whom Jehovah had given the tongue of a disciple, whose ear He had opened to hear as the instructed, who gave His back to the smiters and His cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, and who hid not His face from shame and spitting (Isa. 50). He is the object of the worship of angels (Ps. 97, c.f. Heb. 1:6), saluted as God upon the throne (Ps. 45), addressed as the everlasting Creator of the heavens and the earth (Ps. 102), and yet called up from the depths of death to sit upon the right hand of God, until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet (Ps. 110)
Now it is true that “No man knows the Son but the Father” (Matt. 11), yet there is a way in which He is to be known by His people. It is life eternal to know the Father, and Jesus Christ His sent One (John 17:3), and believers are all to come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 4:13). There are mysteries about this Person that no creature mind can grasp, and it is exceedingly dangerous to allow the human reason a loose rein in the contemplation of such a sacred and profound subject. When we think of the “fullness of the Godhead” inhabiting a human body, a divine Person for thirty three years confining Himself to the limits of a man, yet never less than the omnipotent Creator, we become convinced that in such a contemplation the imagination of man can have no place, and that to move a single step one way or another without divine support would be to court disaster, land us in the depths of error, and expose us to the attack of the enemy of our souls. We are only safe when we keep close to the revelation we have of Him in the Scriptures of truth. That He was, and remains, a Man, these Scriptures affirm; that He is the Creator is also affirmed, and that He was always fully conscious of who He was is also maintained.
The truth about His person may be the question in the near future, but as I have already said, it is as old as His advent into the world. Jesus put the question to the Scribes “What think ye of Christ? whose Son is He?” and discovered them to be without any true light on the point. They had no higher idea concerning Him than that He was the Son of David; but the fact that David had in Spirit called Him Lord was more than they could understand. This was the question of the day for the Jews, and it was because He bore witness to this truth that they condemned Him to the death of the cross (John 19:7). It is also the question of today, and it will be the question until the day of His manifestation in glory. Believers can say: “We know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This (Person) is the TRUE GOD, and ETERNAL LIFE” (1 John 5:20).
During the time in which the first man was under probation, and while, by every trial to which he was subjected, it was being clearly demonstrated that he was utterly untrustworthy and unprofitable, the positions of trust in which he placed—which tested his ability to hold the position for God—shadowed forth the offices which would be taken up by the second Man, and fulfilled to the glory and praise of God. Hence for two reasons the trial was never repeated. When God committed to man a position of trust and he failed to hold it faithfully, he had no second opportunity. In the first place, the trial was perfect, and the circumstances under which the trial took place were always most favourable to the probationer. To have given a second occasion would have been to admit that something had been overlooked in the first, which should have been kept in mind, and that because of this, the evidence was not quite conclusive. In the second place, in all those prominent men in the past dispensation, to whom positions of trust were committed, Christ was being shadowed forth; and this being so, no more was required than that the picture should be drawn, and the position indicated; when this was done its purpose was served, and it disappeared.
This explains things which often seem inexplicable to the superficial reader of Scripture. Men are sometimes installed in a position of dignity and trust with as much ceremony as though they were to abide in it for ever, and in connection with this position an order of things is established with as much care, exactitude, grandeur, and glory as though it were never to be shaken, and the next thing we are called to witness is the complete collapse and ruin of everything, and the announcement of something fresh seals its complete and final rejection. It was but a picture drawn by the Spirit of God to illustrate a position which the Man of God’s counsels would one day take up and maintain to the honour of God. Hence Christ is the One set forth in such men as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David, Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, and many others, for in every one of these men was set forth some position, office, or headship, which would be filled by the One whom God had in reserve, and who was to come to light when the worthlessness of the first man would be perfectly demonstrated. In the dispensation of the fullness of times (Eph. 1) all these men will be seen to have been figures, as Adam was, of Him that was to come (Rom. 5:14). He will hold for God everything in which these men failed.
Fallen Adam was head of the old fallen race; Christ is head of the new righteous race. Adam brought in sin and death; Christ brought in righteousness and life—Adam through his disobedience; Christ through His obedience. Adam’s act of disobedience had its bearing toward all men in the way of condemnation; so the obedience of Christ, proved in His death, has its bearing toward all in the sense of justification. Sin and death came in by Adam, and have their bearing toward all men; and righteousness and life came in by Christ and have reference to all. If all are lost in Adam, God has raised up a righteous Head for men, so that all may be saved in Him. He gave Himself a ransom for all, for God would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2). Therefore the Gospel is preached world-wide that men may turn to God through Christ and find salvation Christ is to be everything to every man—wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).
But then it should be understood by all, that if Christ was to take up the position of life-giving Head toward all men, the question of righteousness cannot be ignored. There was the question of sin between man and God, and who could touch it? Christ will not ignore all the rights which God has over His creature. Even between men satisfaction must be offered to the offended party before right relations can be established. It may be the offended party is magnanimous enough to forgive everything, but relations thus established are never of the happiest or most lasting nature. There must be a basis of righteousness if confidence and quietude of soul are to exist undisturbed for ever. If this be so with regard to the relations of men with one another, how much more is it true with respect to our relations with God, seeing that the slightest friction between us and Him would make every thought of God a terror to us, and our very existence one of utter misery.
In the Book of divine counsel, to which I have already referred, we get brought to light, not only the One who was to accomplish those counsels, but also the fact that a body was to be prepared for Him. The sacrifices and offerings belonging to the law were valueless to take away sins, therefore if the will of God is to be done a sacrifice of infinite value was necessary. This was furnished by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:10). In the Psalm (40) which speaks of this Book, and of the Accomplisher of the will of God, we have this wondrous Person crying out of the horrible pit and the miry clay, and heard in resurrection, when His feet are placed upon a rock, and a new song put into His mouth. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews gives us to understand that one reason for His taking a body was, that through death He might destroy the Devil, who had the might of death, and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage (Heb. 2:14-15).
Another reason given was, that we might be set apart to God in the value of that offering (chap 10:10), our consciences perfected and our hearts won, so that we might be at home in the presence of God. His death is the basis of all blessing, and is the foundation upon which will be built up the whole fabric of the new heavens and the new earth, a universe secure from the invasion of evil.
As regards ourselves, who are by nature Gentiles, the whole fabric of Scripture authority rests upon the basis of the greatness of the person of Jesus. The answer of my faith to the question: “What think ye of Christ? whose son is He?” must regulate my thoughts regarding this all-important subject. And as a matter of fact, I find that the way in which people do answer this question makes all the difference as to their ideas of inspiration. I never knew a man sound upon the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, who harboured the least doubt in his mind regarding the divinity of Jesus; neither have I ever known any one who looked upon Jesus as the Creator incarnate, and who relegated the Bible to a lower place than the Word of God. I am sure it will be found that these two convictions are inseparably connected, and that where any one of them is not welcome, the other will refuse to enter.
One who has recently apostatised from the faith of Christianity questions if we ever would have heard of the Old Testament had it not been for Jesus; and though it may be very difficult to say what might, or might not have been, had the light of the gospel of Christ never reached us, we certainly would not have had any real faith in it apart from the Son of God. We have received the Holy Scriptures solely through faith in Him. He has authenticated to us the writings of Moses and the Prophets; and the writers of the New Testament declare their epistles to be the commandments of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37); and that not only the thoughts, but the words in which those thoughts were conveyed to us, were words chosen by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:13).
If these statements of theirs, which lay claim to such authority, are falsehoods, then they are the most wicked falsehoods ever told to men, for they are lies against the living God; and as they concern the most important matters with which the human race has to do, they are the inventions of soul-murderers. These statements of the avowed followers and servants of Jesus are accompanied, on the one hand, with the promise of eternal and unspeakable blessedness for the believer; and, on the other hand, the most terrible consequences of unbelief are announced as hanging over the head of the impenitent rebel; and all these things are placed before the reader in language which is absolutely simple, natural, unstrained, and bearing no resemblance to that which rises from the frenzied imagination of crack-brained zealots. If what they affirm of their words and writings be not true, they were a parcel of wicked and bad men, and they can be believed in nothing. And yet we owe to those men all that we have ever heard of Jesus; and my knowledge of men gives me the most perfect assurance that such a person as He of whom they testified could not be created in the mind of a child of Adam.
His story touches the most tender chords of the human heart, and His moral excellency so mightily appeals to the soul of the faithful disciple, that his most blissful moment is when he is at the feet of this adorable Person as a worshipper. So great is Jesus, so morally different from every other human being, so completely free from all the unworthy motives which govern others, so gracious, guileless, gentle, meek, lowly, compassionate, merciful, self-sacrificing, righteous, holy, harmless, good, so completely unique in all His characteristics, and so unlike man, as we know man, in every solitary way, that some have questioned if such a person ever really existed.
But if His disciples invented Him, they must have travelled for their conception outside the sphere in which the thoughts of men revolve; and if they ever took such a journey, we have to ask ourselves what power it was which carried them into those hitherto unexplored and unknown regions of purest thought, and imprinted upon their imaginations the moral glories with which they decked Him of whom they spoke as the SON OF GOD.
No man can conceive anything beyond himself in a moral way. We all know what children of Adam are, for this is what we are ourselves; we know also the lower creation, for man was made to have dominion over everything beneath him; but who among men knows anything about angels or spirits? With these he is not set in relation, nor has he anything to do with them. In the wisdom of God a boundary has been placed between man and the spirit-world, which it would be well for him to observe. His lawless and inquisitive mind would urge him to find out inventions which would nullify that boundary, and on the other side there are turbulent and wicked spirits who are as anxious to hold converse with him as he is with them; but woe to that soul which intrudes into those invisible and unknown regions.
The partial success with which his efforts seem to be crowned may be an encouragement to him, and embolden him to make still greater efforts to find his way in those regions of darkness, but he is in the hands of creatures in whom there is neither truth nor mercy, and unless God intervene, his damnation is a certainty. “Rapping” may be made on this side of the wall, and this may be answered from the other side; and on certain occasions a venturesome spirit may find means of breaking through altogether, until expelled by a force greater than his own; but these are the works of darkness, and in them poor, foolish, fallen, wilful man is the plaything of the devil. He thinks that these creatures are much what he is himself, except that, from the reports which they give of their condition, he imagines them in a state of happiness. He knows nothing of them, nor of the spirit-world which they inhabit, for he cannot go beyond himself.
That man is very wicked is indisputable, none of us knows how very wicked he is; but he is not wickedness itself. From a divine standpoint there is no good in the flesh, but he still bears remarkable traces of the handiwork of God about him. He is like a great ruin in which there is not a sound stone from the foundation to the top, but which bears through all its decay, traces of its former greatness and grandeur. It was this which met the eye of Jesus in the young ruler, whom He is said to have looked upon and loved. Yet, though those traces of primitive grandeur were more noticeable in him than in many others, he preferred his wealth to the Christ of God and treasure in heaven. But those spirits with whom men foolishly seek to have to do, are unmixed wickedness, and they rejoice in the destruction of the creation of God; therefore there is no escape for those who place themselves under their power. But this is rather in the nature of a digression, though I trust it may not be found unprofitable to the reader. I gladly return to the subject on hand.
If Jesus were an invention of those who called themselves His disciples, then His disciples were not ordinary men, for they have certainly gone beyond all that can be understood by men of the world. Leaving this world, after having revealed the Father, Jesus has to say, “O righteous Father, the world has not known Thee” (John 17:25); and again, “They have not known the Father, nor Me” (16:3). The Father cannot be known by a mere child of Adam, nor can the second Man be known by the first. There is no analogy between the Father and the world, nor between the man made of dust and the Man out of heaven; both Father and Son are beyond the ken of the men of this world.
The gods of the heathen are by the makers of them indued with passions such as men have; they are morally like men, but with greater strength. And if I take the heroes of the novelist, pride and self-reliance are the prominent features, for these are the characteristics in which men delight, but not one of them is like Jesus. There is nothing in common between men, as I know many, and the Son of God. It is only in the Bible I can find Him. How is this? If those fishermen of Galilee invented Him, how is it that no one has been able to invent another who can be compared with Him? And how is it that, now that He has been invented Him, He is so little understood that the greatest minds on earth, even when well-intentioned, cannot reproduce Him? Their frequent attempts have been at best but miserable caricatures. Apart from the holy anointing, the indwelling Spirit of God, no one can know the Father and the Son.
Read the best written life of Jesus ever produced by the uninspired pen of an unregenerate man, and then turn to the four Gospels, and see if it is not an emergence out of thick darkness and the domain of death, into marvellous light, and the radiant sphere of everlasting life. As you read the nine beatitudes which introduce the sermon on the mount, you are made to feel as though a door were opened in heaven, and the whole atmosphere about you at once becomes redolent with the perfume wafted from the paradise of God; then pass on until you hear the bells of heaven pealing forth the welcome of a returning scape-gallows, who in broken utterances sobs out his repentance into the gracious ear of a Saviour-God, and you must feel that all this is outside the sphere in which the thoughts of men revolve, and that you are made to listen to the pulsations of immortal love.
When you have finished with this, if you ever can finish with it, turn to John 13 and behold the grace of that lowly Son of God, doing the most menial service for His disciples which it is possible for one man to perform for another; and listen to those counsels of grace, wisdom, and holy love which fall from His blessed lips upon the ears of His humble followers; and follow Him until He is done speaking to them, and turns His eyes up to heaven, and pours into the ears of His Father His desires for them, and for all who will believe on Him through their word; and hear Him demand on their behalf, as One who has a righteous claim upon the wealth of power, and grace, and love, which in the Father dwell. Then follow Him to the judgment hall of the Roman governor, and hearken to the leaders of His earthly people howling for His heart’s blood; and follow the crowd to dark Golgotha, and behold Him who made the worlds led as a lamb to the slaughter, nailed to a gibbet as a malefactor, and that between two robbers; and watch to the close, until He is taken down dead, while darkness enfolds the land, and under your feet you feel the earth reel beneath the weight of the corpse of Him who was its Creator, while the rocks are rent and the graves are opened; and if, after witnessing these things, you can flatter yourself that Jesus was a man like other men, or that such a Person either was, or could be, the invention of His disciples, you have a way of judging and arriving at conclusions unknown to me. From the benighted heart of the pagan centurion who had charge of the crucifixion was wrung the confession: “Truly this Man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:3). May the reader’s heart be at least as impressionable.
This is the glorious Person who has authenticated to us the Old Testament, of which He is the Subject, as He is also of the New. As to Israel, the law was given to them by Moses, and accompanied by such visible manifestations of majesty and terror on the part of God, that its divine origin could not by them be called in question; and as to the prophets, their word was proven to be of God by the sanctity of their lives, by its harmony with that which was given through Moses, and by the signs and wonders with which God was sometimes pleased to send it forth; tough generally speaking, the prophets who after Moses were used of God to build up the canon of Scripture, do not to have been miracle workers. Men like Elijah and Elisha, who were characterised by miraculous manifestations, have not been used to put anything on record, though their words and works and manner of life have been recorded by others. The Jewish Scriptures were well authenticated to the people.
But we Gentiles were outside all those special dealings of God. We were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We have come into this rich inheritance through having to do with God revealed in Jesus. He came to His earthly people in fulfilment of the promises made to the fathers, but they rejected Him, and slew Him with the sword of the Romans. God raised Him from the dead, and in answer to the prayer of Jesus from the cross on their behalf (Luke 23:34), offered to send Him back to them if they would repent (Acts 3:20). The stoning of Stephen was their answer to this, and closed the door of hope to the nation; therefore devout men made great lamentation over his death, for in his grave every hope of Israel after the flesh was buried.
Then the Gentiles come up for blessing before God, and the persecutor of the Church is converted and sent to them. The perfect revelation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God in whom the Jews boasted, came in the Word made flesh, so that believers from among the Gentiles find themselves linked up in the worship of the true God with Abel and all the faithful from his day until the coming of Christ. In this way we have a title to the Old Testament as well as to the New, and to us the two volumes become one Book, both equally inspired of God; the authority of the old established for us in the submission of Christ to every jot and tittle, though a better thing has been brought in by Him, for the Old was but the demand; whereas the New is the supply.
The subtle way in which men who call themselves Christians put before the public theories which are in direct antagonism to the plain statements of Scripture, is a plain proof of their determination to undermine in the thoughts of men whatever bit of confidence they may still possess in the Bible as the Word of God. If they would tell us plainly that they had abandoned Christianity as a useless encumbrance in the pursuit of knowledge, one might be grieved and sorry for them; but they would not be sailing under a false flag, neither would their ways fill one with the same measure of disgust and loathing.
I may be told that these men think there is much in the Scriptures that is really valuable, and therefore they do not feel justified in casting them aside as altogether useless. But if the Bible be not the word of God, and if Jesus be not a divine Person, and if we have no revelation from God, and if the apostles were a set of deceivers and knaves—But here I am interrupted at once, and reminded that the writers are considered to have been good and true men. Are they? Did Jehovah say to the prophets the things which they spoke to men as His word? Was the burning bush a fact in the life of Moses? Jesus said it was, but was it? Is the Exodic account of the deliverance of Israel from the power of Pharaoh true? What about the passage through the sea? the desert? the manna? the water out of the rock? Whose Son was He who said: “Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness”? (John 6:49).
Did Jesus work the wonders which are recorded of Him? They are recorded by the Evangelist, that we should believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing we might have life through His name (John 20:31). Is the greatness of this Person built upon a foundation of falsehood, and is it upon a raft of lies against the living God we are to float into the harbour of eternal life? Did these good and true men who wrote the Gospels and Epistles concoct the baseless wonders with which they accredit Jesus, and leave them on record encased in a framework of piety as hypocritical as false? This is not what I should expect from men who are good and true.
And yet they do commend themselves to the conscience of all men as both good and true. No one can question that they believed the things which they have put on record. And how could they have been deceived? They were not men easily convinced, and the deeds were not done in a corner. They were neither credulous nor easily imposed upon, and though their persistent unbelief was failure, and had to come under the rebuke of their Lord, it gives additional weight to their testimony, which they gladly bore for His honour and for our eternal blessing, when the last cloud of unbelief at length yielded to the gracious influence of that eternal day, which broke upon their souls as they stood beside the empty grave of Him who could not be holden of death.
No. 7—The Resurrection
As the authority of Scripture hangs upon the truth of the Person of Jesus, so does the truth of His Person hang upon the fact of the resurrection. It was by the resurrection from the dead He was declared Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness (Rom. 1:4). The power by which He passed through this evil world, untainted by its defiling influences, was the power by which He offered Himself without spot to God, and by which He proved Himself victorious over death and the grave. One who has to do with death must attest his power over it, or it will attest its power over him. He must annul its might, and come back scathless from its gloom, or it will hold him prisoner in its strongholds of corruption, and thus declare its superior prowess.
From the entrance of sin into the world all who descended into those impenetrable and mysterious regions of fear had to remain there. In a few isolated cases the might of God was exhibited in bringing back again to life upon earth those who had fallen into the clutches of the fell destroyer, but such were never placed beyond the reach of the terrific foe. They were bearers of what might be likened to a “ticket of leave,” the time limit of which having expired they were once more compelled to enter the land of shades. We read of two men who escaped altogether the fate common to the sons of Adam By the intervention of God on their behalf they were translated to heaven that they might not see death, and thus became witnesses of the hidden resources of God, which He could put forth for the complete deliverance of the people of His choice. With these two exceptions all in Adam died, and in death they remain.
Death is to man the most appalling evil that can come upon him; it is the most heartless and horrible mischief which one man can inflict upon another; and it is the most severe sentence which the law of the land can inflict upon a criminal. Satan has said that a man will give all he possesses for his life; and he is very well acquainted with the way in which men regard things which refer personally to themselves. Those who enjoy a fair share of the mercies of the present life, and to whom death seems far distant, may be found discussing the dissolution of the earthly tabernacle with a certain amount of calmness; but let the dread shadow of the grim monarch fall across their threshold, and you will find their tranquillity brought to an abrupt and speedy termination,
We seem never to become accustomed to its ravages. Familiarity with its silent footfall has not enabled us to hold its presence in contempt. It is today the same hideous, hateful, horrible invader of hearts and homes as it was at the outset of its reign on earth. He who guides it upon the track of his neighbour is branded as most wicked, and he who invites it to his own embrace is held to be insane. To the appeal for mercy it is deaf; to the question as to whence it comes it returns no answer; as to why it strikes it is dumb, as to whither it conducts the vital principle of its victim it has no information to convey to the unhappy and broken-hearted mourner. It strikes out from impenetrable darkness; and is only known by the certainty of its aim, and by the violence of the blow which needs not to be repeated. It has no more respect for the autocrat upon his throne than it has for the peasant in his humble cot, and it is equally dreaded by both. Its heart is harder than the flinty rock, and the only music it has ever heard is the lamentations which arise from the souls of those who feel the burden of its iron sceptre. It is swifter than those who flee from it, and stronger than those who stand up to contend against it. It is the monarch of all evils, and is either the executioner of a righteous governor, or the pitiless slave of a being who revels in murder.
But after all, is it indeed a foe which has never known defeat? Has it proved itself victorious in every engagement? Has no one risen up on behalf of man with might enough to grapple with this terrific monster and lay in ruins his apparently impregnable fortress? Has no one been able to track him to his lair, and heap destruction upon the head of the destroyer? Is there no one to deliver us from this ruthless enemy of mankind? If not, our lot is indeed deplorable.
That it is a terrible evil none but a dreamer will deny, and when it is denied no one will believe in the sincerity of the person who attempts to minimise its horrors. It has been designated by every name that the ingenuity of man can invent, from “a bend in the road” to “annihilation,” all to relieve it of its hideous and repulsive appearance; but bitter death, call it what you will, is still the “King of terrors.” It is the just conclusion of a life of rebellion against God. And this is the very thing that makes it so terrible. Why should human life be so beset with sorrow? And why should the way out of it be so fenced with terror? Without the Gospel of the grace of God the present life is an enigma incapable of solution.
Here the Scriptures come to our relief, and set before us the Son of God as our almighty Deliverer. In grace He goes down into death to break its power. That He might be able to die He took flesh and blood: “Forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15). Again we are told: “For since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:21). It is possible that such a person as the Son of God could be held by the cords of death. We should not require to be told that death must give way before such a glorious Personage. That Jesus came into death is a matter of profane history, that He came out of it is not. If He was compelled to remain there He was no stronger than any other of the human race.
There is nothing so persistently kept before our minds as resurrection—I may say death and resurrection. We have it every twenty-four hours set figuratively before our souls. The day declines, and noiseless night advances and wraps an unconscious world in her inky mantle. The morning breaks, night vanishes, the song of birds is heard, and man arises from his sleep refreshed, the toils of yesterday forever gone. The seasons run their course, the winter comes, the flowers are dead, the leaves fallen, the trees are bare, snows mantle the earth, and desolation broods over a lifeless world. The spring appears, the winter frosts and snows are gone, nature awakes, the daisies deck the field, the budding woods are full of life, and everything beneath the azure dome of heaven with bounding pulse, and bright brow, and gladsome heart, instinct with life, gives witness to the God of resurrection.
But when we come to the Scriptures, we find that from the entrance of sin into the world, resurrection is the hope of fallen man. Adam and Eve are no sooner brought under the power of death than they are made to hear of a Deliverer, One who was destined to bruise the head of their fell destroyer. Still they have to take their sorrowful journey down to the dust out of which they were taken. Where then would their deliverance come in? Of what value was a Deliverer to those who were compelled to submit to the penalty of their offence? How could they be made to profit by this Deliverer? As far as we know they knew nothing of a state of bliss for their spirits apart from the body. And even if they did, how could they be in the favour of their Creator, and in the enjoyment of that favour, while their bodies lay under the judgment pronounced by God on account of their transgression? There was only one way by which their deliverance could be effected, and that one way was by resurrection.
I may be told that I am taking the early chapters of Genesis for granted, and that this is begging the question. I am taking nothing for granted. I am simply putting before the reader the things of which Scripture testifies, and the setting in which the things borne witness to are placed. A Deliverer is announced to those who are told they must return to dust, and I see no way in which they could hope to benefit by that Deliverer except on the principle of resurrection. If the whole matter recorded in the early chapters of Genesis be but the imagination of the writer, then the idea of resurrection must have had such hold upon his soul that it never occurred to him there might be a doubt as to it in the mind of the reader.
Enoch the seventh from Adam is translated, not passing through the article of death; another proof that resurrection is the way of deliverance for man: man is to have his body in his perfectly delivered state. Enoch has his body, and shall have it for ever; for I suppose no one imagines that death stills lies before him, and if he is to have his body it is unreasonable to suppose other men can be blest without theirs. If we are not to have our bodies in our eternal condition, what confusion must arise from translation. I may be told Enoch never was translated. I have not affirmed that he was; I am speaking from Scripture. But I do affirm this, resurrection was in the mind of the writer of the book of Genesis.
Abraham and Sarah are childless until nature becomes withered and dead, and then God tells him that his seed shall be as the stars of heaven or the sand upon the sea shore for number, and Abraham read in this promise the character of the God who had appeared to him, the God of resurrection. This faith of the patriarch had a severe test applied to it when he was told to offer up this child of promise as a burnt-offering upon Mount Moriah; but his faith rose up strong in answer to the demand which was made upon it, and he bound his son upon the altar confident that God would raise him from the dead. It is the same God of resurrection who is preached in the Gospel today, but brought to light in raising up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
It is brought before us typically in the dividing of the Red Sea, through which Israel passed out of Egypt into the wilderness; and in the parting of the waters of the Jordan, through which the same people came into the promised land. The Red Sea was not the usual way out of Egypt, neither was it necessary for them to cross the Jordan to come into Canaan. But just as death and resurrection were in the mind of him who wrote Genesis, so also was the mind of the writer of Exodus filled with the same idea. Then we have the budding of the rod of priesthood; the dry, dead staff which was laid up before the Lord, buds, blossoms, bears fruit, and thus witnesses that priesthood must be established upon the basis of resurrection.
At the cleansing of the leper the live bird let loose into the open heaven, bearing upon its wing the red stain of its identification with the one killed over running water in the earthen vessel, also Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, set forth the same principle of divine operation. The fact is, if in reading the Old Testament the idea of resurrection is expunged from the mind the Bible is a book of unrivalled contradictions. That great principle pervades every sentence uttered by prophetic lip from the entrance of sin into the world.
Could anything be plainer than that resurrection was that which was the hope of the One who speaks in Psalm 16? “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (sheol), neither wilt Thou suffer Thy holy One to see corruption.” Here is One who goes down into death in the utmost confidence that the power of God will not allow His soul to abide in sheol, nor His flesh to see corruption. The apostles of the Lord tell us that this Psalm refers to the Christ of God. He could not be held by that dread power. By going into it He broke its might. Does not the whole heart and soul of the reader rise up in praise and thanksgiving to God for the victory which He has gained, gained at such infinite cost, but nevertheless gained on behalf of poor things like ourselves that we might no longer be in bondage to Satan on account of the fear of it.
As I have already indicated, resurrection is, according to Scripture, a great witness to the glory and greatness of the person of Jesus. During His earthly career, instead of being as every other man under the power of death, He is seen to have power over it, for at His word it was compelled to deliver up its prey. But above all, His own resurrection furnishes the most complete evidence of His dignity as Son of God. When Moses smote the waters of the Red Sea they became parted hither and thither; their power was broken, and when Jesus smote the waters of death in His own death upon the cross their power was broken; His resurrection is the witness to this stupendous fact.
“He hell in hell laid low,
Made sin He sin o’ethrew,
Bowed to the grate, destroyed it so,
And death by dying slew.”
The witnesses to this mighty victory are overwhelming, and I do not therefore marvel at men who wish to get rid of the fact, and yet do not feel that they can safely impute deceitful practices to the disciples, suggesting all sorts of theories which they consider sufficient to account for their belief in the event without it being really true. But I would like to ask these men a very old question, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you that God should raise the dead”? Had fallen man been the one declared to have gained such a victory, it would have been very reasonable to doubt it, but as it is declared to have been brought about by the power of God I see no reason to question it. No doubt the enemy would desire to treat the report as a fable. He is not likely to foster the notion in men’s minds that his stronghold has fallen before the assault of the Son of God, but the witnesses are so many and of such unquestionable integrity that not to believe the fact is a terrible evidence of sheer self-will.
Paul tells us that Jesus was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: after that He was seen of above five hundred brethren at once. After that He was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all He was seen of Paul himself. Luke tells us in his Gospel that He appeared to two of them on their way home from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and was made known to them in the breaking of bread, the symbol of His death, that He ate and drank with His disciples, and that when they thought it was a spirit they were looking upon, He invited them to handle Him and see, telling them that a spirit had not flesh and bones, as they saw He had. Next, he tells us that He led a company out as far as Bethany, and that while, with uplifted hands, He blessed them, He was parted from them and carried up into heaven (Luke 24). And in what a pure and guileless atmosphere of holy affections this short history of the victory of God is enshrined. Never in the universe has appeared the liar who could set the baseless inventions of his corrupt imagination in such a framework of tender grace and evident piety. Had I no other testimony than that which is furnished by the writer of the third Gospel I dare not question the glad tidings of the overthrow of the king of terrors.
And Paul tells us he saw Him on his way to Damascus, when he thought to wipe out the blessed name of Jesus from under heaven. That this remarkable convert was neither a deceiver nor a liar is evident from the whole spirit of his writings. Whatever else was true of him he was conscientious, and was certain that he had seen the Just One and heard His voice. Was he mistaken? Was it the effect of sunstroke? Was it hallucination, or some insane wandering of his excited mind? That he was a man with determined will is not to be questioned, but that he was nervous, hysterical, mentally deranged, and subject to hallucinatory attacks, no one who studies his profound, pure, and wholesome disquisitions will be willing to admit. What insight into the mysteries of God he possessed, things which eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor which ever entered into the heart of man—things which God has prepared for those who love Him. What an immense grasp of his infinite subject, what profound reasoning, what ability for anticipating the cavillings of the corrupt human mind what terrible earnestness, what self-abnegation, what deep piety, and what boundless affection for the souls of those to whom he writes. And all this resulted from that visitation which he encountered on has way to Damascus.
And yet some of the leaders in Christendom tell us Paul never saw the risen Jesus at all, and neither did His disciples, for such a thing as the resurrection never took place. And how do they know? They do not know. They are servants of his who desires to keep poor man in the dark as to his own defeat. And yet they call themselves Christians, at least some of them do, while they deny the foundation upon which the whole truth as to Christianity rests! And they tell us that Christianity is not a bad thing, though if we believe them it as founded upon the blackest bundle of lies that ever was told under the sun. Some of them in their madness go so far as to suppose that the power of the spirit-world was put forth to deceive the poor disciples, so that they might believe in a thing that had no existence, and thus be strengthened in the notion that nothing good could ever really perish (New Theology, page 219), and the spirit of Jesus is supposed to have lent a helping hand in this trickery. Strange morality this! It as evident that very soon in Christendom the devil will have no reason to disguise himself, they will be quite open to receive him as he is.
It was not in this way the apostles of our Lord instructed their converts. They gave them to understand that a lie was a lie, and that a lie against God was the greatest of all lies (1 Cor. 15). They tell us: “If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is Christ not raised: and if Christ be not raised your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.”
This is wholesome doctrine compared with the corrupt ethics which the leaders of the people, today, seek to foist upon us. How can the truth be respected in secular things when the religion in which they attempt to instruct the people is founded on a falsehood, which is by them justified, and declared to have been concocted or connived at by the Saviour of the world? If I could not believe in the resurrection I should abandon the profession of Christianity as a system of unparalleled deceit, hypocrisy, and soul-destroying error.
I have said that, as regards ourselves who are by nature Gentiles, the whole fabric of Scripture authority hangs upon the truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If He is not risen we are in our sins, and all that have placed any hope in Him in past dispensations have perished (1 Cor. 15). But if the resurrection of the Lord Jesus witnesses to the truth and greatness of His person, it also bears witness to the perfection of the sacrifice which He offered to God.
The Death of the Believer
We know but little of all that the death of the body involves, and it becomes those who feel that they are justly liable to it, to speak of it with that reverence with which it should be treated as the judgment of a holy and righteous God. Short of the coming of Christ it is the most blessed thing that could happen to a believer, for it is “to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8); but this does not alter the fact that it was brought into the world by sin, and that it is sin’s wages, and the just conclusion of a life which is in its nature enmity against God. Thank God we have a life in Christ which is beyond its power. Were it not for this it would be an unparalleled calamity. Through the mercy of God it is gain to the saint (Phil. 1:21).
As to the second death, the mighty witness to that is Golgotha. Had there been nothing there but the cruel death of crucifixion, most thoroughly would it have been proven how little that holy Sufferer was in the power of His own exhortation to His disciples, when He told them, “Be not afraid of them that kill the body” (Luke 12), or when He said that he who did not hate his own life could not be His disciple (chap. 14). In a book published not so long ago it is said, “Many a British soldier has died as brave a death as Jesus.” If it were only a question of being undaunted in the presence of death, why not say, “Many a murderer”? There was not anything, nor could there be anything of the nature of bravery or heroism in the death of Jesus. That creature who can talk about bravery when meeting God about the question of sin must be filled with insane conceit. And Jesus, though the Creator and upholder of everything, had taken the place of a creature, a servant to the Godhead, that the counsels of the Father should be fulfilled, and this involved the meeting of God about the question of sin.
Hence the “strong crying and tears” in the garden of Gethsemane. No heroism comes to light in that lonely hour, when beyond the torrent of Cedron. He encountered the powers of darkness, and entered into conflict with him who had the might of death. All that He was to meet in the three hours of darkness on the summit of Golgotha was anticipated in spirit, when the sorrow of His soul told itself out in a sweat of blood, which in great drops sprinkled the ground upon which He knelt in supplication to the Father. Where it is a matter of mere animal ferocity, a desire to be distinguished for deeds of daring, or even a test of natural affection, I can understand heroism to any extent; but to meet the displeasure of God against sin does not allow the idea of bravery, heroism, or any other man-admired quality. Victory on the human side is entirely out of the question. Fear only becomes the creature.
The State of Men and the World
I have already pointed out a fact which is patent to everybody, and that is, that man is an evil being. This requires no proving; the state of the world proves it to the hilt. And the strange thing about it is, that the life of each man is largely taken up with laying the blame of the state of things at his neighbour’s door. The rich blame the slothfulness and improvidence of the poor, and the poor blame the avariciousness and niggardliness of the rich; and the verdict of every human being is, that the world is hard, selfish, and cruel, and to be cast upon its mercy is a fate too terrible to be expressed in words.
And in this world, and by man the creature of God, God is unknown, rebelled against, dishonoured, and universally hated. And the creature is under death, and amenable to His judgment, and all the philosophy of the leaders of the world is unable completely to eradicate this feeling from the conscience of the sinner. Men may go on with their inventions, which are supposed to decorate the system of things down here, and ameliorate the condition of the human race; but death goes on with his work, and hearts go on breaking, and people go on murmuring against one another, and violence, oppression, falsehood, and corruption characterise everything—and after that the judgment.
Has God done anything to meet this state of things? Some tell us men are working out their own salvation; others, that the creation is a kind of mirror in which God (which is the Universal Life) is contemplating Himself; others, that He is doing the best He can, experimenting as a potter with the clay, making vessels, scrapping them, and always improving; but the theories advanced to quiet the consciences of men, and lead them to destruction, are almost innumerable.
What do the Scriptures Say?
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This is the life spoken of in the Gospel; a life in relationship with God known in the love of His heart; a life untainted by sin, selfishness, lust or pride; a righteous, holy, spotless, divine life. What a burst of sunshine, comforting, health-giving, life-giving! How powerful to rejoice, and gladden the heart! How priceless and how peace-imparting, compared with those pretentious sparks struck from the atheistical brain of men grovelling in their native gloom; those wretched ignes-fatui which allure the unwary multitude to destruction!
But before this life could be communicated to man there was the question of sin to be gone into; for it lay between God and the blessing of the fallen creature. This is the way things are presented in Scripture. The judgment of sin, which lay upon the sinner, the righteous Judge could not ignore. He could not treat it as of no account: it must be atoned for; the judgment which was its due must be borne, if the creature be made to bear it he is lost for ever; he could never come out of it; God would lose his creature, and the devil would gain a victory.
This cannot be. But from whence is the relief to come? Man is under sin, the slave of the devil and of his own lusts, without strength, wandering in darkness and error, and in his nature enmity against God. Can God do anything on his behalf? Can He intervene as deliverer, and at the same time maintain His righteousness, holiness, truth, and majesty? That He will not act arbitrarily in moral questions, so as to upset and overthrow all the trust that His elect, holy, and intelligent creation have in Himself, can well be believed of a Creator who is supremely good. If these questions, which affect the very foundations, as well as the structure of the moral universe, have been raised, they must be settled in a way that will bring a sense of security into the heart of every created intelligence who desires to be faithful to his Creator.
And these questions have been raised—sin has raised them. And though it would have been easy enough for God to have cast man from His face, and left him to the consequences of his rebellion, there was that which never would have been brought to light, which the blessed God intended should be the supreme joy of every heart, and the subject of worship and of song through eternal ages; and that was His unspeakable love. The fall of man furnished the occasion of bringing this to light, and in the way in which God has taken to redeem His creature—the only possible way—every moral question has been gone into and settled to the glory of God, and to the peace and assured confidence of every faithful heart. And that way has been by the cross of His Son, who gave Himself a ransom for all, that a way of salvation should be opened up for all; and thus have the kindness and love of God to man been expressed. But let us see if this is a new idea, belonging only to that which has been called the Gospel age, or whether it has been testified beforehand in prophetic writings.
God’s Way Announced
No sooner did the fall of man take place than a Deliverer is announced; but He was to be a suffering Deliverer; Satan was to bruise His heel. He was to break the power of the fell destroyer, but in doing this He was to feel the might of the adversary. The next thing we find is, that it is God who provides clothing for the nakedness of the sinner. He clothed Adam and his wife with coats of skins. The one who dies for man becomes his covering under the eye of God. Man does not now clothe himself with skins, nor was he doing so in the day in which Genesis was written. Neither was God confined to this means of covering for His creatures. He could very well have provided any other material, but it was this way He took; and “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (Rom. 15:4).
When we come to Abel we have the approach of man to God; and here we see that there must be on the part of man the acknowledgment of the righteousness of the judgment which lies upon him, and he must approach in the strength and excellency of the victim which dies in his stead. Abel comes in this way, and is accepted; while Cain’s altar was the denial of all this; neither to him nor to his offering had God respect. The offerer is identified with his offering. The acceptance or rejection of the offering means the acceptance or rejection of the offerer. How important therefore it is to have a perfect sacrifice!
The Meaning of Atonement
The word atonement, which is the word found in the Old Testament, as propitiation is found in the New, means simply to cover, it is first used in Genesis 6:14; Noah was told to pitch (cover) the ark within and without with pitch. It is used again in chapter 32:20; Jacob said he would appease Esau with a present; his fault would be covered by the present. We have it in Ezekiel 16:63; God there speaks of a time when He would be pacified toward the children of Israel for all that they had done. When Israel had sinned in making the golden calf, Moses said he would go up to the Lord to try and make atonement for their sin (Ex. 32:30). It is not difficult to gather from these scriptures the meaning the word has in the Old Testament. The offence is put out of sight by the offering. An equivalent is rendered to the aggrieved party which covers the cause of aggravation. The utter nonsense which is bandied about in Christendom concerning this word is past belief.
The Blood in Egypt
The deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt preaches to us the same Gospel. God was about to execute His righteous judgment upon the Egyptians, and took the firstborn as representatives of all the people. But the Israelites whom He had set Himself to deliver were equally subject to the judgment which He was about to inflict upon their enemies. How was He to pass over the one, and destroy the other? Anyone would tell us, He could easily do that, as He is omniscient and could make no mistake that would imperil His people. But He was about to leave upon record something for our instruction, and we must, in reading the account, keep this in mind. He instructs His people to take a lamb, and to kill it, and to strike its blood upon the lintel and door-post of their houses; and He says, “When I see the blood I will pass over you.” The blood of the lamb met the eye of the destroying angel, and was the witness to him that the judgment which he was executing had preceded him; the firstborn had died in the death of his substitute. Paul says, “Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us.”
Why did God take this way of delivering His people? Wherefore this crimson stain upon lintel and door-post? When He sent the plague upon the cattle He required no mark by which to distinguish those belonging to His people from those which belonged to the servants of Pharaoh. It was the same during the plague of thick darkness: no sign directed the cloud where to settle. Why all this to-do in connection with the last act of this terrible drama? Let my reader hear what those have to say who know what it is to be sheltered by blood, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1); “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood” (chap. 5:9); “Redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). This is the foundation of all blessing, the key-note of every song that shall thrill with its glorious melody the glad heart of redeemed creation, and that throughout all eternity.
The Great Day of Atonement
The great day of atonement, which was held in the seventh month, is full of instruction. We see that almost all things were by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood was no remission (Heb. 9:22). At the same time we are given to understand that the sacrifices had in themselves no intrinsic value, therefore they were of yearly occurrence. Thus, while typifying the sacrifice of Christ, they were in great contrast with it; for by one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified (chap. 10:14). It was impossible that the blood of beasts could take away sins; a better sacrifice was needed for that. Therefore there was a remembrance of sins every year; and the conscience of the worshipper, instead of being taken up with the grace of God, was altogether occupied with the sins he had committed. Such a state of things was not pleasing to God, whose desire was to have man in His holy presence without a shadow of fear in his heart, and therefore He found fault with that order of things (Heb. 8:8).
The Death of Christ
In the tabernacle God was shut up within the veil: on His part there was no coming out, and on the part of man there was no going in. Now the veil represented the flesh of Jesus (Heb. 10:20), therefore when on earth He spoke of His body as the temple (John 2:21) God was within the veil in the body of Jesus. On the cross this veil was rent. The death of Christ was the rending of the veil. And this came to light in the type; for the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom (Matt. 27:51). In the execution of the judgment of sin upon the cross, all that God was came to light. His righteousness was there declared, but His love also was brought to light. God has come out to man in perfect love, and now man can go in to God by that way which has been dedicated through the veil. And by that precious blood we have boldness for entering, for it is not only the witness to us that our sins are gone, but it is also the great witness of the perfect love of God to us; so that, not only are our consciences purged, but our hearts are won, and God’s presence, which we so much dreaded, has become our eternal home, and nowhere in the universe are we so welcome.
Moreover, the work of the cross has glorified God, and that in a way in which He never could have been glorified had that work not been done. His righteousness, holiness, truth, majesty, authority, and above all, the love of His heart to us has come to light; and every attribute has been vindicated, and maintained by the obedience of His beloved Son to the death of the cross. No one could have done such a work but a divine person; neither could anyone have taken such a work in hand but the One who gave Himself for us. Who could suffer the abandonment of God, and glorify God when abandoned by Him? To be forsaken of God for a single moment would be the eternal ruin of any created being. But Jesus could stand when absolutely alone, and when from no quarter was sympathy or support forthcoming. And therefore God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly, earthly, and infernal things; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2).
I may be asked what justice I see in making a righteous person suffer for the unrighteous. I would only reply that this is not a question of righteousness, but of grace and love. What righteousness is there in one person paying another’s debts? None; it is all a matter of pure grace on the part of the one who does it. But there is no making about it; it was a matter of divine counsel. The Triune God is One in all that is done. Counsels belong to the Father, the Son is the One who accomplishes the Father’s will, and the Spirit is the One by whose power everything is accomplished. The Son was as delighted to come as the Father was to send Him; and the Holy Spirit has His delight in working the pleasure of God in the hearts of believers.
This is the way things are presented in Scripture, and one mind pervades the Book. Christ is the subject from beginning to end; but we have His sufferings foretold, from the very first intimation of deliverance by Him. And the Holy Spirit who moved holy men to write the prophetic word never loses sight of the sacrifice of Jesus. On the one hand, His resurrection is the witness to us of the greatness of His person; on the other hand it is the witness to us of the perfection of the sacrifice which He offered for our sins. God has accepted the sacrifice, and the soul who comes by that sacrifice is accepted in all the value of it.
No.9—The Testimony of the Apostles
All that we know about Jesus has come to us through the testimony of the apostles. Profane history tells us nothing, except that such a person lived and died. His body was taken down from the cross by those who loved Him, and the world set a watch over His sepulchre; but never has He been seen again by any soul of man, save by those who were His disciples. We possess no autobiography of His words and works, for He left none behind Him, except that which He inscribed upon the fleshy tables of the hearts and minds of those who followed Him; but there much was indelibly engraven, to be afterwards declared as glad tidings to the world, and to be entrusted to those who would believe the gospel: at least so we read.
Foolish and superficial minds have made a distinction between the words of Jesus and the teaching of His ministers, forgetting that we are altogether dependent upon those ministers for all we know about Him or His teaching. They must either have been inspired of God to present Him as they have done, or they must have invented Him. But as a worshipper of this Invention may my soul be as long as I am in this world; and as long as I have being, wherever I may be. This Invention (Forgive, O Lord, the word!) became the daily, hourly study of that profound thinker, Saul of Tarsus, from the moment he turned Christian until the moment when he offered himself to die, as a witness for the truth of all that he had preached and taught.
If we follow these men beyond the boundary of our own observation, we cannot rightly pick and choose among the facts which they bring before us; we must accept all, or reject all. If we can verify certain of their statements, well and good—there is an end of faith: for faith ceases when the report becomes verified. Faith is only in operation when we have no means of verifying the report. It is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Therefore both faith and hope will come to an end (1 Cor. 13). If I can prove the apostles to be wrong in any part of their testimony, my confidence becomes so shaken in them that I am unable to believe them in anything. If they were capable of deceiving me in one item of their report, they were capable of inventing the whole thing. If it be said they did not mean to deceive, but were mistaken, I can only say they do not allow me to suppose they were mistaken: what they say must be believed under pain of everlasting displeasure. Where I have no means of verifying their testimony I must believe everything or nothing. Some things may seem more worthy of credence than others, but this is far from being safe ground for my faith. It is not because things seem likely to have occurred that I believe them, nor is it because they seem incredible that I reject them. In an account of the works of God I should be prepared to be confronted with the most unlikely things.
People talk about the fallibility and infallibility of Scripture, but it has been pointed out that such terms have, strictly speaking, no application to report: a report is either true or false the moment it goes abroad. It cannot be true today and false tomorrow. I say the coronation of Edward the Seventh took place in 1902. This is either true or false when it is said, and it abides true or false to eternity. I say the sun will rise tomorrow morning. If the sun rises tomorrow, it was true when I said it; if it does not rise, it was false. It is no question of the fallibility, or of the infallibility of my word; it is a simple question of its truth or falsehood. In Scripture it is written, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1). Now He either did, or He did not. How could the writer know? Do you say he might have guessed it? He might indeed; and it would have been strange if he had guessed anything else. But he does not tell us he guessed it: he says it was so. The Psalmist says, The heavens were made by the word of God, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth; and that He spake and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast (Ps. 33). This cannot be a question of fallibility; it is either a revelation given by God, or it is a downright impudent falsehood. A man who professes to give an account of an event of which he knows nothing, and which is pregnant with eternal consequences to the hearer, is a deceiver; and not only a deceiver but a soul-murderer; and he who gives heed to such an one will have no excuse to make if ever called to give account to his Creator. Upon questions which involve such tremendous issues would it not be better for people to be silent until they know that what they have to say on the subject is the truth? If the gospel is the truth an eternity of woe awaits the unbeliever; therefore, before unsettling the minds of men with regard to it, would it not be well to have that which is the truth ready to replace it?
But not only do the writers of the Scriptures inform us that the worlds were framed by the word of God, but the writer of Genesis, after telling us that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, says that the earth was waste and empty, and darkness lay upon the face of the deep. How did he know these things? and who told Isaiah that the earth was not created in that condition? The prophet says, “He created it not in vain” (Isa. 45:18). The word here translated “in vain” is the same word which in Genesis 1:2 is translated “without form.” These men speak about these things as though they had been present to see for themselves. Who could tell from reading the first two verses of Genesis that the earth was not brought into existence, waste, empty, and draped in gloom of night? One who knows God is not likely to think otherwise than that what He does will be perfect; still, one might easily read the first and second verses together as an unbroken account of the creation; indeed, the first chapter has often been taken as an account of the creation, not seeing that the first verse speaks of the creation of the heavens and of the earth, the second verse of the latter’s subsequent ruin, and from verse three until the end we have an account of the making of the earth and everything we find upon it. Now it is with that which transpired between the first and second verse that the mind of the geologist is occupied.
Any one can easily see that the writer of the book of Genesis was not romancing. What pseudo-historian would have been content to have condensed the first chapter of earth’s history into two short sentences? I know men well enough to refuse the notion that such an account is the product of the human mind. Would not the imagination have delighted to revel in a mythical narrative concerning its pristine glories, its wonderful inhabitants, their revolt against divine authority, their wars, overthrow, and destruction, not only theirs, but the planet’s also, which had been the battlefield of their impious rebellion?
It is impossible to believe that any man, uncontrolled by a power greater than himself, would have penned in such simple and sober language the wonder-waking events which come before us in the opening chapters of Genesis. Who does not look backward in the vision of his mind, and endeavour to picture to himself that moment when the Creator of the universe sent forth His omnipotent decree, which brought into existence suns, planets, constellations, comets, and systems, and sent them wheeling upon their various courses, swift, noiseless, and obedient—when He spoke, and it was done; when He commanded, and it stood fast; and when “The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7)? Who does not desire to learn something of its history during those possible millions of years before it reached the chaotic condition described by the prophet, when the inky deep swathed it as in a mantle of mourning? From its granite ribs the secret has been torn, that living creatures, huge and of great variety, roamed its plains, or swam in its watery wastes; but this, instead of satisfying the curiosity, only whets its appetite for more details regarding the history of the planet’s youth. But upon these ages the Holy Spirit of God has dropped the curtain, and we have to learn that all that has been placed upon record is for our faith, and not for our curiosity. The tendency of the human mind is to occupy itself with questions which form no part of the education God intends us to receive, and which have no direct bearing upon the reason, or the remedy, of our woes. The reason why the Bible is found to be the most disappointing and bewildering book to the human mind that ever was written, is because it keeps persistently to the relationships of man with his Creator, and slams the door in the face of that curiosity which prompts him to penetrate into mysteries which do not concern those relationships.
But if any one thinks that in order to be a Christian he has to begin by taking the Bible, as a whole, on trust, and afterwards find out what it says and act accordingly. I can only say he has yet to learn everything relating to the subject. The apostles did not go about as hawkers of books which the people among whom they came were to accept as a revelation of God on pain of His eternal displeasure. They preached Christ Jesus as Lord, and called upon men everywhere to submit to His authority (Acts 2:36, 2 Cor. 4:5). They spoke of the sinful condition of man, of the intervention of God on his behalf, of the death of Christ for our sins, of His burial, of His resurrection from the dead, of propitiation by His blood, of His session at the right hand of God, of His coming again to judge the world, and in view of this the responsibility of men to repent and believe the gospel. They declared forgiveness of sins in His name, and the justification of all who believed. Those who believed were received into Christian fellowship by the outward means of baptism, but vitally by the gift of the Holy Spirit; and to these the various epistles were written. The Scriptures have ever been written to the people of God, and are for their use; they are not destined to make sinners His people, though they contain that word which in mercy is used to that end. But these epistles have authenticated the Old Testament writings to the Gentiles.
I could understand a child growing up in a Christian household, where the Bible was believed, loved, read, and its principles practised, looking from his earliest recollections upon that Book with the greatest reverence, and never for one instant allowing himself to question a single sentence in the Volume. But this would not be the blind acceptance of a book, while knowing nothing of its contents. Rather would it be a Book well known, because of its teachings having been livingly set forth in the lives of those who bowed their knees in the presence of its Divine Author.
God has His own way of working in the human soul, and even a godly upbringing does not always take immediate effect, though He can be trusted to bless it in the end: for He has said that them that honour Him, He will honour. This was my own case. In spite of a godly tuition I grew up absolutely irreligious. From my earliest recollections I was sceptical. I wanted, still want, everything proven. It is plain enough that a mind like that can only be caught through a sense of need. It betrays a hardened condition of soul, as well as a haughty spirit. It is not that I was at any time indifferent to the great question of a future state. The very opposite was the case. The question was ever uppermost in my thoughts. Indeed, I never could well understand how any one was able to shelve such a momentous consideration. I ate my food without raising questions about how it could be converted into blood, bone, and muscle; but to the Bread of Life I was able to raise more objections than any one who took an interest in my soul was able to meet. For this reason I have said that such a person can only be caught by his need. To my daily bread I had no objection, but the Bread of Life was not palatable: I had no appetite for it. I should have been thankful could I have been assured either of the favour of God, or of annihilation as the alternative; but no one could assure me of either.
The kind of gospel to which I was accustomed was of a very legal type, and though Christ was spoken of as the alone Saviour of sinners, peculiarly enough and to my mind unreasonably, I was given to understand that I had my part to do. This part was never clearly defined; and bewildered by this mixture of Judaism and Christianity, I drifted into the region of practical infidelity. I had no light, and judged every one else to be in the same darkness as myself. But an aching void was in my heart which all the pleasures of the world were unable to satisfy.
But there came a moment when a measure of pure gospel broke upon mine ear. It met every need of my soul. It was just the thing which suited my sinful state. It was not “The Divine within me answering to the truth of God,” as some have put it but it was the need of a poor sinner’s conscience met by the blood of Jesus, and the need of the heart met by the love of God. What rest it gave! To me it was like sight to the blind, like bread to the hungry, like water to the thirsty, like clothes to the naked. It needed no proving. I would not have crossed the narrowest street in the city to have had the Scriptures proven to be the Word of God. What soul in the warmth and light of the noonday sun would waste his time listening to a debate as to whether or no there is such a thing as the sight of the eyes. As far as I was concerned I felt I was in contact with the living Christ, and that God was love. What marvellous light! You tell me I was deceived? Blessed deception! And to be thus deceived to all eternity is surely enough to make one a worshipper of the deceiver.
The Bible belongs to believers. It is not thrust upon men for their acceptance. It is not that which is preached as a Saviour for sinners. It is the property of Christians. That which is preached in the gospel is the grace of God declared to men in the gift of His Son. Repentance and remission of sins are heralded world-wide; and men are called to repent, and to turn to God, and to do works meet for repentance. Those who saw Him, tell us of His words, works, and ways with men; they tell of His death for sinners, and of His victory over that dreaded foe, and of the great salvation that is in Him risen from the dead. They assure us that righteousness, life, and salvation, are in Him for every soul of Adam’s race; and that these blessings are ours by faith, and that the believer has them.
The confidence of the dying robber who turned to Jesus in his extremity was not founded upon the harmony of all the prophetic writings, nor upon the agreement of Genesis with geological or astronomical discovery, but upon the moral excellency, grace, truth, and greatness of Him, whom the world had branded as a malefactor. He could have given no sceptical mind any just reason for giving a verdict for that holy Sufferer, in opposition to that given by the whole world, “This Man has done nothing amiss” (Luke 23); but it was not by his reason he was saved, but by his faith. He knew but very little of all that Jesus had done; but he knew this, that in all that He had done there was nothing amiss. I also, thank God, am bold to say the same; for I know that such an One could do nothing amiss. But more than that, “He has done all things well.” To His name be everlasting praise.