Lecture 1 of 11 on The Hopes of the Church of God.

2 Peter 1.

Introduction

J. N. Darby.

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{"The Hopes of the Church of God in connection with the destiny of the Jews and the nations as revealed in prophecy." Eleven lectures delivered in Geneva, 1840.}

It should be the endeavour of the Christian, not only to be assured of his salvation in Christ, but also of all the results of thus salvation. He should not only know that he is in his Father's house, but enjoy the privileges of his happy position "God has called us by glory and by virtue," 2 Peter 1:3.

In the glory of Christ and of the church, God has given us a futurity full of His own designs, the present study of which fills our hearts full of associations with Him; and this assuredly is one of His objects in dispensing prophecy to us; He reveals it to us as His friends (John 15:15; Eph. 1:9), making us participators of the thoughts which occupy Himself. He could not give us a more tender pledge of His love and confidence (Gen. 18:17), nor anything having a holier tendency as regards ourselves. In fact, if men are to be known by the ends they are pursuing, our conduct in the present life will have the impress and bearing of that futurity which we are expecting; our life here will be coloured by the foretaste of things there. Those whose ambition is dignity and power those who dream only of riches, those who have no other aim than the pleasures of this world, act according to that which is in their heart; their habits bear the mark of what they are longing for. So it is in the church. If the faithful understood their calling, which is no less than participation in a coming heavenly glory, what would be the consequence? Nothing less than to live here as strangers and pilgrims. In distinguishing the prophecies which relate to this earth, they would better understand the nature of the earthly promises made to the Jews, and would learn to separate them from those which refer to us Gentiles; they would judge the spirit of the age, and would preserve their hearts from being engrossed by human objects, and from many a care and distraction hurtful to the life of a Christian: they would exercise a happy dependence upon Him who has ordered all things, and who "knows the end from the beginning," and would yield themselves entirely to that hope which has been given them, and to the discharge of those duties which flow from it.

279 It has been said, that the real use to be made of the prophecies is, to shew the divinity of the Bible by those which have already been accomplished. This is certainly a use which may be made of them, but this is not the special object for which they have been given. They belong not to the world, but to the church or remnant, to communicate the intentions of God to that church or remnant, and to be its guide and torch before the arrival of those events which they predict, or during their accomplishment. Shall we use the revelations of God merely as the means of convincing us afterwards that He has told the truth? It is as if someone were treating me as his intimate friend, heaping benefits upon me, communicating his thoughts to me, telling me all that he knew would shortly happen; and I should use all his confidence for no other purpose than to convince myself, when everything had come to pass, that he was a truth-telling person.* Alas! alas! where are we? Have we so far lost the feeling of our privileges, and of the goodness of our God? Is there, then, nothing for the church in all these holy revelations? for certainly it is not the church's place to be discussing whether God, its divine Friend, has told-the truth. Dear friends, we wrong the goodness and friendship of God in acting thus towards Him. As Christians, we have no need to be witnesses of an event, in order to believe what God says to be true - that His word is true. You believe already that prophecy is the word of God.

{*As Satan is watchful to take advantage of every part of Scripture not used to a right end, he has not been unmindful of the above argument: he has therefore led many to suppose a partial fulfilment of many of the prophecies to be their complete accomplishment. An undue prominency has been given by many commentators to little events, owing to the scope of prophecy not being understood in its utility to the present wants of the soul, or ultimately to those who in the midst of Israel wait for redemption in Zion.}

But more than this. The greater part of the prophecies, and, in a certain sense, we may say, all the prophecies, will have their accomplishment at the expiration of the dispensation in which we are. Now, at that epoch it will be too late to be convinced of their truth, or to employ them for the conviction of others; the terrible judgment which will come upon those who disbelieve them, will be sufficient demonstration of their truth. No; they are given to us to direct us in our present walk in the ways of the Lord, and to be our comfort in enabling us to see that it is God who disposes of all events, and not man. They are as a light shining in a dark place. Thus, the passions, instead of being let loose in the world of politics, are quieted. I observe what God has said - I read in Daniel that all is ordered from the beginning, and I am tranquil. Altogether separated from these worldly things, I can study beforehand the profound and perfect wisdom of God, I get enlightened, and cleave to Him instead of following my own understanding. I see in the events which take place around me the unfolding of the purpose of the most High, and not a field abandoned to the struggle of human passions. Thus, and specially in the events which come to pass at the end, it is, that prophecy opens out to us the character of God - all that God would have us know of Himself - His faithfulness, His justice, His power, His longsuffering, but at the same time the judgment which He will certainly execute on proud iniquity, the public and fearful vengeance which He will take on those who corrupt the earth - in order that His government may be established in peace and blessing for all.

280 Where was the use of the Lord forewarning the disciples that they were to flee under such and such circumstances, if they did not understand what He was speaking about, and did not believe beforehand in the truth of His word? It was precisely this knowledge and this faith that distinguished them from all their unbelieving countrymen. It is just so with the church.

The judgment of God is to come upon the nations; the church is informed of this; and, thanks to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, understands it, believes it, and escapes the things which are coming.

But, says another objector, these prophetic studies are merely speculative. Oh! what a device of Satan is this! If looking beyond the present, beyond the feeling of my own wants, if passing beyond the domain of material being, I launch into futurity - everything will be vague and uninfluential, unless I fill it - with my own thoughts; now these are real speculations; or with the thoughts of God; what are these? It is prophecy which reveals and develops them; for prophecy is the revelation of the thoughts and counsels of God as to things to come. Where is the man bearing the name of Christian, who does not rejoice in the prospect that "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea"? This is a prophecy. If it be asked, How is this to be accomplished? it is not from man's mouth that the answer is to come: the word of the same prophecy will tell us, and thus silence the imaginations and the vainglory of our proud hearts.

281 In truth, although communion with God comforts and sanctifies us, and this communion, which is to be eternal, is already given to us, yet He wishes to act upon our hearts by positive hopes. Necessarily then He must communicate the subject of them to us, in order that they may have an efficacious influence, and so prevent these hopes being either vague, or the result of ingeniously contrived fables. Thanks be to the God of all grace and goodness, our futurity is neither the one nor the other. The fulness of the details of the coming glory are still the subject of prophecy. "For," says the apostle, when he wants to call forth the exercise of piety, virtue, brotherly love, and charity in the souls of the faithful, and would have them keep these things constantly in remembrance (2 Pet. 1:16-21), "we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also* a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."

{*Properly, the word of prophecy confirmed or made more sure, to wit, by the transfiguration.}

In going through the more general features of prophecy, we shall examine these three great subjects: the church; the nations; and the Jews.

282 In pursuing this study, we shall find, according to the measure of light which is given to us, a very beautiful result, namely, a full development of the perfections of God under two names or characters, according to which He has revealed Himself in relationship to man. To the Jews, it is as Jehovah that He makes Himself known (Exodus 6:3); to the church, it is as Father. In a word, as that which is predicted by the mouth of the prophets as to the Jews gives us the character of Jehovah - His faithfulness and all His attributes; so that which is prophesied concerning the church opens out to us the name of Father. The church is in relationship with the Father, and the Jews with Jehovah, which is the characteristic name of their relationship with God. Jesus, in consequence, is presented to the Jews as the Messiah, the centre of the promises and of the blessings of Jehovah to that nation; to the church He appears as the Son of God, gathering to Himself His many brethren," sharing with us His title and privileges, those, namely, of "children of God," members of His "family," "joint-heirs with Christ, the firstborn among many brethren," who is the expression of all the glory of His Father.

In the dispensation of the fulness of times, when God will gather together all things in Christ, then will be also realised in its fullest sense the name in which He revealed Himself to Abraham, the father of the faithful: that name under which He has been celebrated by Melchisedec (a type of the royal Priest, who will be the centre as well as the assurance of the common blessing of the united earth and heavens), the name of "the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth."