The fact that death lies upon all that are born into this world, and that sooner or later every individual must by that means pass from here, is enough to prove that the Creator does not intend to go on for ever with things as they at present are upon earth. From the moment of birth until the last breath has been drawn, men wage a grim battle with the king of terrors, but the issue of the conflict is not difficult to forecast. It may be as an infant of days, or it may be as a centenarian, but the end has to come; to that monarch all must bow.
And from that home no traveller returns. Once the frontier has been crossed there is no way of retreat. Whatever may lie in that land has to be encountered; let it be darkness or light, let it be sorrow or joy, let it be weal or woe. When the step has been taken, return is for ever out of the question: “As the tree falls, so it lies.”
Nor is there any voice from those impenetrable shadows, to warn or to encourage these who feel themselves forced by an invisible power ever nearer to that mysterious and uncertain land. Every man must cross the boundary alone. None of those who have gone before are permitted to come to this side, and to be a guide to his tottering footsteps across the frontier, and to introduce him to his new and unknown circumstances. That journey must be taken without a single companion.
And it has its terrors. No one desires to take the journey. The wrinkled brow, the white and hoary hairs, and the decay of bodily vigour, which mark the approach toward the confines of that invisible land, bring no joy to the pilgrim’s soul. Death does not appear to him to be a mark of the Creator’s approval of his life. It comes to him rather as an indication of his Maker’s displeasure regarding the way in which he has spent his time down here. He may have been told that it is only the debt of nature, but he would prefer that such a debt did not exist, or that nature would not exact payment in his case. It seems to be forced upon him that the earth is naturally his abiding place, and that it is on account of his misdeeds he has to leave it.
And he cannot hope to be any better beyond; for conscience, if he has any left, will tell him that death is only the first instalment of the judgment that lies upon him on account of his sins He has not answered the purpose for which he was made, and he must now meet the consequences of his unprofitableness. He cannot hide from himself the fact that anyone who makes an instrument or vessel makes it to answer some purpose, and if it does not do this it is useless, and is cast away from the presence of its maker. Nor can he quite keep himself from feeling that this is what has been true between himself and his Maker. If God makes a creature, or if He makes anything, He makes that creature or thing to serve His purpose, and if it does not do so it must come to an end in its relationship with Him. But if that creature be set in intelligent relationship with Him, responsible to do His will, and if it has done nothing but its own will, it must come under the righteous judgment.
What Men Know
Every man knows very well he has done nothing but his own will, and that he never has had any intention to do else than his own will. He does not like to come under the control of his fellow man, not to speak of subjection to God. He hates to be ordered about by anyone, but he would be delighted to have the power of ordering everyone else about. He would like to rule the world, and to subject everyone to himself, without his being subject to anyone. We have an illustration of this spirit in the person most prominent in this present sorrowful and murderous war. A man desires to dominate Europe. But does anyone imagine that if he got the desire of his heart he would be content with dominating Europe? He would next desire to rule the world. And if he were successful in this would he be content, even outwardly, to acknowledge God? He certainly would not, and everybody knows he would not; and if he would take time to think, he would know himself that he would not. Man fell through an attempt to grasp equality with God, and that idea is at the bottom of the heart of every man on earth. And if a man does not know it, he does not know himself.
In saying all this I am making no reference to Scripture. I am speaking only of that which everyone knows who observes the state of men’s minds in this world. And I have been speaking of that which men are by nature. I have been making no reference to the effect produced by the operations of the grace of God in the hearts of the subjects of it. I have only referred to that which men should know, and which they do know, who have never heard the gospel of the grace of God in their lives. They know that man is naturally a selfish, cruel, ambitious being; that his lust of power is infinite; that to gain his own ends he would make a stepping-stone of the crushed and writhing hearts of his fellows; that death is his portion here; that it is not an evidence of God’s approval of the way he has conducted himself; that he is afraid of it; that it will one day have the victory over him; and that after that is the judgment, when he must give an account to God. And in addition to this, if he would only consider the state of this world with reference to the God to whom he must give account, he would learn that it also must be brought to a conclusion. To arrive at such an understanding, Scripture should not be really necessary.
The Testimony of Scripture
But it is just what Scripture says. God will shake everything, and everything that can be shaken will be removed. He says, “Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things that cannot be shaken may remain.” His voice shook the earth at Sinai, when the law was given; and this might have warned the people that there was no stability in that dispensation, for by the law blessing could not be inherited. Nor, indeed, could they listen to the word of God’s demand upon them. They said to Moses, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Ex. 20:19). Not only were they not able to fulfil their obligations, but they could not listen to the terms of their obligations. This should have convinced them that to attempt to get blessing by the fulfilment of their obligations would be futile. But when was ever impaired the confidence man has in himself?
The Object of Past Dispensations
One great object that God had in view in the various dispensations was to bring to light man’s utterly lost condition. There was no expectation on the part of God that men in their natural condition would be inclined to avail themselves of the blessings attached to the dispensation, for He knew what was in man, and required no evidence for Himself, which might be furnished by his history as a sinner, that under every dispensation he would be a God-hating rebel.
But every dispensation had the earth in view. None of them promised heaven as the reward of righteousness. Moses told the people, when the law was given, that the man who did the things demanded would live (Lev. 18:5). He does not say that such would get to heaven, but that they would be able to keep earth. But this dispensation was to the people a ministration of death and condemnation. And it is this people that He reminds that when the law was given earth was shaken, but tells them that He would also shake heaven (Hag. 2:6). And this, we are told, means the removal of both earth and heaven.
I need scarcely say that “heaven” here refers to the heaven which is set in direct relation to this earth. It has no connection with Paradise, or the third heaven (2 Cor. 12). It is where Satan has his seat (Eph. 6:10, 20; Rev. 12:7, 9). This is no doubt what is referred to as yet to be shaken. The earth has already been shaken, the heaven shall be; for both have been defiled by sin. Peter tells us that “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). “All these things,” he tells us, “shall be dissolved.” Then again, we are told, as to the heavens and the earth, they “shall perish” (Ps. 102:20). It is not only that man is passing away, and the world, as a great system, is passing away (1 John 2:17), but the earth and heaven shall pass away.
The Result of the Coming of the Son of God
I wish to notice two things regarding the coming of the Son of God into the world. One is that it was used of God to bring to light the incorrigible God-hatingness of the human heart; and the other, the bringing of another world into the view of faith. There was power enough in the Son of God to reinstate man in the world, and bring in an eternal condition of things pleasing to God. In this way He was presented to the responsibility of men, but they refused to have Him. God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing unto men their trespasses, but the rejection of Christ was the proof that man would not have God in anyway in which He might present Himself.
This gave occasion to God to retire upon the eternal counsel of His own heart. And the blessing and glory of these counsels shone through the ministry of the Lord, and as His rejection by the nation became more pronounced, the light and love of God came more into evidence. Not only were the promises made to the fathers fulfilled by His advent into the world, but glories that lay altogether outside that order of things were spoken of. In Him the Father came to light, and of this there was no promise made to the fathers that I am aware of. Eternal life in its heavenly character was brought to light for men, and not merely immunity from death in the place where death had reigned. The Father’s house in heaven, and a place for the redeemed there, and the kingdom of heaven in mystery, which is its present form, all these were revealed, yet none of them had been included in the promises made to the fathers.
But having accomplished the work of redemption, or as we have it here (Heb. 1:3), having made purification of sins, He set Himself down on the right hand of the greatness on high. On this work of redemption are built things that are unshakable, and to these things He calls men by His gospel. Those who embrace the glad tidings are said in chapter 3 to be “partakers of the heavenly calling.” The question of earth is closed. We have our place either where Christ is, or the lake of fire will be our everlasting portion. And this is why we have the statement made in Romans 3 that all “come short of the glory of God.” This never was the standard until Christ went there, but when He went there everything was measured by the requirements of that glory.
The Unshakable Things
The gospel which is preached to every creature is the voice of Him who speaks from heaven, and who calls all who believe to the place from which He speaks. Whoever may be the preacher, the voice is the voice of the Son of God. The gospel first began to be spoken by Him, and it has been confirmed unto us by them that heard Him, God bearing witness with them to this gospel, by signs and wonders and miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God brought all things that Jesus said to the remembrance of the disciples, as well as adding to their testimony that which took place in heaven, when Jesus was received up out of their sight at Bethlehem.
The gospel is God speaking in the person of the Son and in the power of the Spirit. Wherever it goes in all the world it directs the attention of men to Christ, in whom God has established all blessing. Righteousness is in Him for the sinner, who has no righteousness of his own; salvation is in Him for the lost, who have no power to help themselves; life is in Him for those who feel that death lies upon them as the just judgment of God. And all these blessings are the possession of the believer. But more than that, his place is where Jesus is. He is our Forerunner. He has secured the place for us, and He calls us to inherit it along with Himself, and this will we do at His coming again.
We are not come to the mount that might be touched. The things we are come to are invisible. But they are none the less real. They are presented to us in testimony, and we see them by faith’s clear eye. Not like the saints of past dispensations, who saw the things relating to the kingdom afar off. We see them near at hand: “For He that shall come, will come, and will not tarry” (Heb. 10:37). And when He comes we shall enter into the possession of these things.
We are come to Mount Zion, the hill of pure grace; the heavenly Jerusalem, radiant with the glory of God; to myriads of angels, not one angel with a fiery law; to the church of the first-born ones, who are written in heaven; to God, the judge of all; to the spirits of just men made perfect; to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant; and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. These set forth the great principles of blessing in the world to come, and they are utterly unshakable. How blessed it will be, and how blessed it is, to have part in these things! And what a contrast there is between these things and the shifting, changing, uncertain, unstable things of earth.
Where are your hearts, dear friends? and on what are they centred? Do you still cleave to this world which you cannot retain? It is certain to vanish from your grasp one day. It has no moral foundations, and therefore it cannot continue. It must come to a conclusion in the fire. In that day where will your feet be set? Certainly not on a stable foundation if you have turned away from Him who speaks from heaven. Be wise in time. The prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself, while the foolish pass on, and are punished.
It is the voice of Jesus, the pleadings of the Man of Sorrows, the testimony of the Son of God. “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with diverse miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will?” The answer of the Spirit of God to the question is, “Much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from heaven.”
“Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”