“The Morning Star”

Christ Our Hope

Words of Help from the Scripture of Truth, volume 1 1912.

Introductory

Paradise was not long enjoyed by our first parents. Through listening to the suggestion of Satan, they disobeyed the solitary commandment which had been given to test their dependence upon God in the scene where everything was prepared for their happiness, and where communion with their Creator would have been their supreme joy. All the other creatures, being by their nature incapable of this blessing, had been made subject to Adam, according to God’s first purpose, and God brought them to him to give them names (Gen. 1:26-28; Gen. 2:19-20). That dominion remained to him after his fall; but Paradise, where it had been for an instant enjoyed with God, was lost to him for ever, — lost through his disobedience. Into the details of God’s subsequent ways with Adam we cannot enter, our present object being to draw attention to the fact that in judging the “serpent”, God intimated that his final destruction would be wrought by the woman’s SEED. She had been, in the first instance, seduced by Satan; and through her, the Deliverer was to come. Besides that, He was to be characterised by the obedience in which both she and Adam had failed.

Such is the real meaning of the words in Psalm 40:6, “Mine ears hast Thou opened”.* The true sense of this figure in its moral bearing is given by the Greek version, quoted in Hebrews 10:5, “A body hast Thou prepared Me”. The blessed Lord took His human body, “made of a woman, made under the law” (Gal. 4:4), in order that obedience might become possible for One who not only had made all things, but sustained and upheld them all “by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). Before taking human form, He had never been in a position to obey; but having taken it, His delight was to carry out to the uttermost the Father’s will who had sent Him, as it is indeed expressed in the words of the Psalm, “Lo, I COME: in the volume of the book it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart” (see John 6:38; John 8:29). Ever subject, He learned “obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8; Isa. 50:4-7).

{*The word “opened” as stated in the margin of some Bibles means literally “digged” or “hollowed out”; an allusion no doubt to the way in which a potter finishes off his work, by digging out of the clay the ‘‘ears’’ (or handles) which are needed to complete the circular part of the base made upon the wheel. The hearing ‘‘ear” signifies obedience (Prov. 4:1-4, 20; Prov. 20:12).}

His supreme act of obedience was His death, when He took upon Himself the penalty attached to Adam’s disobedience, and its consequences: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). Those words never could be true of any of Adam’s seed according to the flesh. And here let us note how both the divine and human nature of our blessed Lord is clearly established in a way that reaches the heart and conscience of all who can say, He “loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). It will be our joy in eternity.

It is therefore not surprising that the coming of Christ, as expressed in those words, “Lo, I come”, is one of the most prominent truths on the pages of the Old Testament. We find it both in direct and positive statements, and also in figures and in types which proclaim unequivocally not only His personal coming, but also His death and resurrection; for “without shedding of blood is no remission” (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22).

As time went on, the unfolding of these blessed truths became more complete in details, as in Isaiah 53 and the end of Daniel 9; but for various reasons, they remained more or less obscure. They were difficult to reconcile with other passages which spoke of His kingdom, power, and glory. The Lord Himself began to unfold them to His astonished disciples from the moment of His undertaking the last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. He reminded them again of His death, at the last supper, on the night in which He was betrayed; and, again, after His resurrection, He showed how the Scriptures set it forth (Luke 24:6, 25-47).

It is remarkable that, in the gospel history, not one of the disciples asked Jesus an explanation as to how sins could be righteously forgiven, nor as to the reason for His dying. The scribes and Pharisees reasoned in their hearts when they heard Him say, “thy sins be forgiven thee”; but, not believing in His Deity, they treated it as “blasphemy” (Mark 2:5-12; Luke 7:49). No doubt they all believed, from Old Testament Scriptures, that there was such a thing as forgiveness of sins. It had been first proclaimed on Mount Sinai, in the very spot from whence the Ten Commandments had been promulgated. It was given in answer to Moses’ intercession after the first commandment of all had been violated in a way which trampled under foot God’s goodness as well as His power, and also after Moses had broken the tables divinely made and graven; for he was overcome when he saw the extent to which the Israelites had debased themselves in presence of the golden calf. But Moses interceded, and God answered him; such was His grace then; and the moment was well suited for establishing the basis of future access into God’s presence afterwards, figured by the blood sprinkled on and before the mercy-seat (Lev. 16). Thenceforward, the faithful could say with the Psalmist, “There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared” (Ps. 130:4). Forgiveness was an established fact, though as yet unaccounted for, and the blessedness of one forgiven could be celebrated, as by David in Psalm 32. But what the needed sacrifice was, or when it was to be offered, had not as yet been clearly understood. Even John the Baptist did not know it, though by the Spirit he had pointed out “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Only the Lord Himself could reveal it, and He only did so when the appointed moment had arrived to carry out God’s will.

Many other features of the coming of Christ are set forth in the Old Testament. And these required time for making them known generally. He is the Prophet, Priest, and King. Personally, we find these typically in Abraham, Moses, and David; and the gospels of Mark, Luke, and Matthew correspond thereto respectively. Moreover, in Abraham, we find most particularly the fundamental principle of justification on the principle of faith. It is set forth in Romans 4. Not only so, but the portion of those justified through faith is shown to be heavenly, by the words which directed Abraham’s attention to the stars, saying, “So shall thy seed be”. How, where, or in what circumstances his seed was to be like the stars of heaven was not then stated,* nevertheless there was, in the words used, a present divine purpose for the blessing of Abraham’s own soul, as is shown in Hebrews 11:14-19. This is why the saints of the present economy of grace are called “partakers of the heavenly calling”. The gospel cannot be properly preached now without insisting on the Saviour’s present place in heaven (Acts 3:21), which, in His person, set forth God’s purpose of having many sons in glory. There it is that Jesus can say in the fullest sense, according to His own heart’s desire, “Behold I and the children which God hath given Me”. (Heb. 2:5-15; Heb. 3:1; John 17:24).

{*God gave a further intimation of its meaning to Daniel (Dan. 12:3). Compare with Genesis 15:6. Righteousness was Abraham’s portion from God as soon as he believed, but it was reserved for others to turn “many” to it, so that the heavenly “seed” might be manifested, as well as their consequent “shining” for the glory of God.}

All the Scriptures which speak of Christ’s power over this earth, when the judgment — over and over again predicted — must be carried out by Him, will also surely have their fulfilment. But even then, the judgment will not be unmixed with grace; for He is Priest as well as King, “and He shall be a Priest upon His throne”, when He shall “bear the glory” (Zech. 6:13; Ps. 72).

This supposes His coming again to this earth. He insisted particularly on His return, in speaking to His disciples before He left them, and it was definitely promised by angelic instrumentality when He went up from their midst on the Mount of Olives (John 16:16-22; Acts 1:11).

It is well to bear in mind, in reading the Old Testament, that its primary intention was to reach the consciences of those to whom it was first delivered, so that they might walk with God by faith in His written Word, and not by their own estimate of passing events.

At the same time, prophetic announcements were, as Peter says, not “of any private interpretation”; that is, they were by no means confined to instruction adapted to the particular circumstances which gave rise to them. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost”, and had, by diligent inquiry, to learn that the Spirit was testifying to Christ, and consequently to future events which reached far beyond anything that their actual knowledge of God’s plans and purposes could enable them to grasp (1 Peter 1:9-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Daniel himself “fainted, and was sick certain days”, and had to record that “none understood” the vision that was shown to him (Dan. 7:28; Dan. 8:27).

All predictions of that which was to take place were necessarily partial, though sufficient to accomplish their object; not by flattering the intelligence, but appealing to the conscience of those who heard them. We have the advantage of beginning at the point to which the Old Testament saints looked forward, namely, the sufferings of Christ, which were needed to accomplish redemption. They could celebrate the blessedness of forgiveness as the only possible ground of walking happily with God, but none of them could point to the finished work of the Redeemer as their own start in a new life, to which they could look back. Whereas we, having the cross before our souls, can now enjoy to the full the divinely-given expressions of the blessedness that flows from it (Ps. 32:1-2; Ps. 130:3-6; Rom. 4:3-8).

Faith is now, as it ever was, the only principle for a walk that is pleasing to God, such as Enoch’s. And faith is formed and nourished by revealed truth. The principle is the same for all time (Heb. 6:17-20; Heb. 11:4-6). But at any given moment of the world’s history, only so much of the truth could be really made use of as had a direct bearing upon the circumstances of the time being. By this means true exercise of conscience toward God was produced, and the soul was animated by the hope set before it (Heb. 6:11-12).

Abraham, for instance, had promises for this world, but his portion here was to live as a pilgrim and a stranger, while waiting for the things promised. We, knowing accomplished redemption, have other promises, heavenly in their character, for the full realisation of which we wait, though we are already made “partakers of the divine nature”, and our calling is “heavenly” in principle (2 Peter 1:3-4, and 1 Peter 1:3-5).

The above remarks, though short, will, we trust, suffice to explain why it is that, in the Old Testament writings, the first coming of Christ to this world, and His return in glory to set up His kingdom, are often treated as one single event, both advents being referred to in the same verse. The passage which the Lord read from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue at Nazareth is a case in point (Luke 4:18-19).* His purpose being to show from the Scripture what was the object and character of His ministry in Galilee, He read only so much of it as referred to His first coming, and “closed the book” in the middle of the second verse, when He came to words which spoke of a future “day of vengeance”.

{*The adaptation to the day of Pentecost, of Joel’s prophecy, is another instance (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:16-21).}

Elsewhere, as for instance in the latter halves of Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, we do find indications of two “comings”, the first in grace and suffering, the second in judgment. But, as a rule, there was no need to speak more definitely at the time when these Scriptures were written, their essential object being to insist upon Messiah’s personal coming to this earth.

He is the “anointed one” whose throne God was about to set upon His holy hill of Zion (Ps. 2:1-6). His authority must eventually be owned in the place where He was rejected and so suffered for us;* and for His “glorious appearing” every loyal soul, whether he belongs to this Christian dispensation or not, must wait with a longing heart. Paul did so, not expecting his “crown of righteousness” until that day shall come (2 Tim. 4:6-8; Titus 2:13).

{*That the coming manifested glory of the Lord in His kingdom is the appointed counterpart of His sufferings here, is abundantly shown by the accounts of the Transfiguration in the first three gospels. Compare also Luke 23:42-43).}

Nothing is more definite, all through Scripture, than the Lord’s personal coming to this earth. The first intimation of it on the occasion of Adam’s fall and the consequent judgment of the serpent, is given in those striking words, “thou shalt bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15). And the closing chapters of the Old Testament remind the faithful among His ancient people (how treated as “Lo-ammi,” Hosea 1:9; Hosea 2:23), that the Lord whom they seek for shall suddenly come to His temple (Mal. 3:1). Indeed the returned captives in Zerubbabel’s time had to be assured that the builder of the only temple that can have a permanent duration must be the Lord* who will “be a priest upon His throne”, true Melchizedek, “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham”; Son of man, and Son of God (Zech. 6:12-13; Ps. 8:4; Ps. 80:17; Ps. 110:4; Dan. 7; 1 Chron. 17:13-14; Matt. 1:1; Luke 3:38).

{*Presented as “the Branch” i.e. the Son of man who should “grow up out of His place” (compare Luke 2:40, 52).}

Besides His personal coming into the world, His death is abundantly set forth, not only in type, as by the sacrifices which are everywhere found in the Old Testament from Abel’s onwards (see Heb. 11:4 & Heb. 12:24), but also in direct testimony, as in Ps. 16:10-11, Ps. 22:15, Ps. 102:23-24; Isa. 53; Dan. 9:26, etc. And death was to be followed by resurrection. He “showed Himself alive after His passion” to the “apostles whom He had chosen” during forty days, before He went up in their sight from the Mount of Olives (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:2-3, 9-10, 12). And to that spot He must return; His “feet shall stand” there (Zech. 14:4). So that in every way Christ’s return to this earth is abundantly guaranteed.

The last prophecy of the Old Testament, addressed to those who fear Jehovah’s name, presents the Messiah as “the Sun of righteousness” who shall “arise with healing in His wings”. Yet it does not omit the mention of judgment which must also take place at that time, and burn up the wicked (Mal. 4:1-3; compare Matt. 25:31, 46). The coming of Elijah the prophet, to prepare the people for that day, is foretold in the same passage, so that grace might run its course instead of judgment. But the Lord, in referring to it, showed His disciples that for those who “could receive it”, Elijah’s mission had been already fulfilled by John the Baptist, who was sent of God to prepare the way of His own Son, by leading the people to repentance (Mal. 3:1, Mal. 4:1-6; Matt. 9:10-14; Luke 1:67-79; John 1:6). From this point of view the most important part of Christ’s work was already accomplished at His first coming (see Ps. 40:7-8; John 17:4-5), and His present glory with the Father is the answer to it. Indeed, all John’s gospel makes the Lord’s death exceedingly prominent, for without it no one could ever have part with Him in His glory, nor could He have prepared a place for any in His Father’s House (John 12:24, John 14:2-3).

He was indeed “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), but the Baptist, though divinely instructed to point this out, was unable to tell any one of those who came to him that their sins had been forgiven; nor could he at all understand why Jesus should take a place with those who had confessed their sins at the Jordan (Matt. 3:14). His mission was simply to put God’s seal, as it were, by baptism on those who, by their confession, took their place before God as sinners; then he was able to direct their thoughts to One who was to come after, and who alone could baptize them with the Holy Ghost (Mark 1:1-8). For that, however, it was needful that Jesus should, in the first place, ascend to heaven (Mark 16:19; John 16:7; Acts 1:4, 5; Acts 2:1-4, 33). The Lord hinted that to Nicodemus when He intimated to him that He had “heavenly things” to communicate; and He could not speak to him of eternal life, until He had first shown the necessity of His being “lifted up” upon the cross (John 3:12-15; John 8:28; John 12:31-33). His death opened up the way to glory “above”, in the Father’s house, not to Jews only, but to Gentiles — both being included in the words “all” and “whosoever”. The “other sheep” were Gentiles (John 10:14-16).

Henceforward every hope, whether for the enjoyment of the FATHER’S HOUSE in company with the SON, or for the accomplishment of the promises made to the fathers by the prophets (Heb. 1:1), depends upon the return to this earth of Him who, in His cross, laid the foundation of every blessing in store for this sin-stricken world. How and when these things are to take place, we have yet to examine.

In our introductory remarks our thoughts have been chiefly occupied with some of the prophetic announcements of the personal coming of our blessed Lord to this earth. We may say that this is the central truth of the Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi and well it is for our souls if it has an abiding and increasing place in our hearts. None of God’s purposes of grace towards fallen man could possibly have their accomplishment without it. Promises and types all converge around that one blessed truth. The New Testament unfolds what was foretold in the ancient Scriptures: it opens with the account of Christ’s first coming and closes with the assurance of His speedy return.

Now this hope can only be kept alive and operative in our hearts through the power of the Holy Ghost, by means of the Scriptures (John 16:13, 14). The Christian is thus enabled to walk here below in a way that pleases the Lord, “being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:5, 10, 27; Col. 3:4).

The first portion of the New Testament that was written was directed to the Thessalonians, shortly after the apostle’s visit to that city. It speaks in every chapter of the Lord’s coming. Paul only had the opportunity of preaching to them on three successive sabbath days, before he was driven away by persecution raised against him and his companion Silas. The effect of his preaching was so marked that all the people in the country round about were informed of it, and the report which rapidly spread abroad testified as to its extraordinary results on those who had “turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven” (Acts 17:15; 1 Thess. 1:5-10).

The method adopted by the apostle in his preaching is clearly indicated in Acts 17:13. In the synagogues he found copies of the Law and Prophets, which served his purpose. Consequently he sought out the synagogues and proved to the Jews, by their own Scriptures, that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the “Christ” to whom they bore witness. He it was who had suffered, as it had been foretold, and was risen again from the dead. Numbers believed the message and in spite of the afflictions that awaited them they were filled with the joy of the Holy Ghost.

It will be of the deepest interest for us now to trace out briefly in the inspired record the way in which “the decree,” which the Lord Himself was to declare according to Psalm 2:7, was eventually carried out.

It is so to speak from the earth, sanctified as never before by His blessed presence, that He does so, and according to the terms of the prophecy, in connection with God’s settled purpose then and there expressed, “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.” God would set His King there in defiance of all the lawlessness which seeks to set aside and tread under foot every vestige of His authority. He finds delight in His Son alone, and the Son, as born into a world alienated from God, says “I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto Me, Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me, and I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.”

That prayer has not yet gone up to God. Just before leaving His disciples to go to the cross He poured out His heart to the Father and, in commending to Him all His redeemed whom He owned as the Father’s gift to Him, He said, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine” (John 17:9). Judgment must be the portion of the world when the Lord returns, as we have already seen, but in the meantime we learn the riches of God’s grace set forth in His love to the Son of His own bosom. Jesus would have His disciples know it, and how deep and full are the words which express it: “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love” (John 15:9).

This is our blessed portion now. In perfect accordance with it we find God working in His own way to carry out the promise He made to Abraham. Heavenly indeed was the promise in its character, but in order that it might be so for sinners, strangers to grace, it had to be carried out, in its most important features, on this earth, where alone the antitype of Abraham’s offering of Isaac could take place. Isaac bound and laid upon the altar became a vivid type of Christ upon the cross. When he was replaced by the ram provided as his substitute God gave Abraham the wondrous promise, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:16). The seed, says the apostle, is Christ. The promise itself was of such importance that it was repeated both to Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 26:4; Gen. 28:14), and surely it was to this that Jesus referred when He said to the Jews “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56).

Our minds turn instinctively to the earth when we think of the woman’s seed, who was to bruise the serpent’s head. In doing it His own “heel” must needs be bruised. The word “heel”* involves a walk on the earth. But we must ever bear in mind that the promise made of God to Abraham, after he had seen Melchisedec, turned his thoughts away from earth to heaven. He had previously heard that the Most High God was possessor of heaven as well as earth and the contrast was great between thinking of his future posterity “as the dust of the earth” and his having now to hear them likened to “the stars of the heaven” (compare Gen. 15:5 with 13:15-17). The former had been sufficient to give him courage to deliver Lot but it needed the visit and the words of Melchisedec in order to keep him from losing the blessing prepared for those who confess that they are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). God was the “God of heaven” as well as of earth and He would be not only a shield to Abraham, but also his “exceeding great reward.” God’s estimate of the future seed was to be measured thenceforward according to the glory of His own dwelling-place in heaven, rather than by Abraham’s path when walking by the sight of his eyes on earth. For journeying from place to place Abraham needed the light of day but God’s further communication to him was made in the darkness of the night, when nothing hindered the manifestation of heavenly glory, in the countless stars which testified of God’s mighty power and wisdom.

{*It is sometimes translated “footsteps” and it is used in connection with the iniquity inseparable from man’s walk on earth in Psalm 49:5.}

There was at that time no need for any explanation as to how or when God’s Word was to have it’s accomplishment: the effect to be produced by it was the faith needed for the walk here. Heavenly aspirations were doubtless produced by the words, “So shall thy seed be,” but the faith that was formed by God’s Word, and that accepted it, is the faith to which justification is attached (Rom. 4:3, 5, 9).

As it was for Abraham, so it is for us. Faith, righteousness, grace, and glory all go together and “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:1, 2, 5). How blessed to know God in these three displays of His nature: love, glory and righteousness! But for this to be our portion Jesus must die and at His very entry upon this scene say “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” (Ps. 40:7, 8; Heb. 10:4-10).

Faith and hope are intimately connected and it has pleased God to illustrate both by Abraham’s instructive history, the former more especially in the epistle to the Romans, the latter in that to the Hebrews where our heavenly calling is so prominent: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

We can enter somewhat into Abraham’s joy as, in the silence of the night, he gazed upwards on the well-garnished heavens and all the stars in divine chorus seemed to answer “So shall thy seed be.” The hidden meaning attached to their shining was not needful for enjoying them, it was reserved to the close of the Old Testament canon after the return of the captives from Babylon to Jerusalem (Dan. 12:3).

But we must follow the line of revelation. Nearly nine hundred years after God’s word to Abraham those same stars thrilled David’s soul and he was inspired to write of the glory of the humbled SON OF MAN, now crowned “with glory and honour” (Ps. 8).

Yet another thousand years, or rather more, had to pass before an angel brought the heavenly light down amongst the shepherds of Bethlehem, as they kept watch over their flocks by night, to convey to them the wondrous news that the Christ, the Lord, was at length born, that He was a Saviour for them and might be gazed upon in the most humble place of all, a place which, because of their occupation, belonged especially to shepherds. There they saw Him after they had heard on earth the acclamations of the heavenly host going up in praises to the Most High God (Luke 2:8-20).

Shortly after that, on another night, a new “star”, His own, arrested the gaze of Gentiles in the East and in that very quarter of the heavens where the sun is accustomed to rise. It was not at that time to usher in an expected day of glory but to fix their attention on the ONE who was coming and to constrain them to undertake a long and dangerous journey to the West, to see the ‘‘little child” who was “born King” in order to “witness to the truth” (John 18:37).

Their inquiries for the King of the Jews in Jerusalem, His royal city, awakened consternation instead of joy. But the Scriptures had indicated Bethlehem as the place of His birth and when they sallied forth on another night in obedience to Herod’s order, “His star” again appeared to direct them to the very house where they found Him. There, in the quiet of the night, they were enabled to worship Him while laying their treasures at His feet (Matt. 2:11). And they disappeared from the scene returning to their country another way.

In all these cases it was not the glory which belongs to Christ’s manifested power on earth which filled the hearts of those that belonged to Him: it was HIMSELF, His own person, who was their all in all. The aged Simeon, directed by the Holy Ghost into the temple at the critical moment, is another affecting example. He had long waited “for the consolation of Israel” but when he took the little child into his arms he was led to see in Him God’s salvation and as to himself, in abounding joy, he could say, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29, 30). Christ was far more to him than all the glory to which an Israelite could look forward.

Such is our present portion while waiting for His return. It is the same for saints still living as for those who are called to rest before seeing the Lord. The great apostle of the Gentiles was enabled, in view of death, to say, “To depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better,” better even than serving Him here below and participating in His sufferings in a scene which cast Him out. The “night” is still running its course but believers are “children of the day” and their aspirations and hopes are formed and maintained by Him who, not only prepared and sent His star on a fitting occasion, but who is Himself, for our hearts, “the bright and morning Star.” That truth carries our hearts away from earth to heaven, centering them on our coming Lord.

Before the blessed Lord left His disciples He took care to comfort them in their sorrow by the assurance of His return. He had come forth from the Father in order to make the Father known to them and it was needful that He should go back in order to send the Holy Ghost (John 1:18; John 16:7, 28). Their grief was great to learn that He was going but He said, “I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16:5, 6, 22). That hope is still the comfort of His saints at the present time. We are still, to use the words of the apostle, waiting “for His Son from heaven” (Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10).

We are all naturally more disposed to be occupied with the things which will take place at the Lord’s return than with the blessedness of seeing Him and being with Him for ever. But if we read the Scriptures attentively we cannot but be struck with the fact that God’s thoughts are concentrated on the Person of His Son, in whom and through whom all His purposes of grace are carried out. And He would have our attention fixed there also so that we may enjoy the communion to which we are all called (1 John 1:3, 4).

The first promise of the Deliverer was given on the occasion of Adam’s fall. The main point in that account is He was to be the woman’s SEED. She seemed to remember that word when her son was born however mistaken she was as to his character and being also quite ignorant of the time that was to elapse before the Deliverer came. But her words, “I have gotten a man from the Lord,” surely show that, for her, the birth of the son was the chief consideration (Gen. 3:15; Gen. 4:1).

Again, in Abraham’s case, God allowed him to enjoy Isaac for many years before he was called to give him back and it was at that moment that God gave the promise, “In thy SEED shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). The promise was connected with Abraham’s obedience. Nothing is said as to how or when the blessing spoken of for the earth was to be realised but Jesus says to the Jews, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56). We have too the divine assurance that the SEED spoken of is Christ (Gal. 3:16).

Later on, David’s desire to build for Jehovah a permanent temple in the midst of His people at Jerusalem was answered by God’s assurance that such a work, according to God’s intention and estimate of it, could only be carried out by his “SEED,” whom God would, in the course of time, raise up after him. He alone was competent to carry out the Father’s thoughts in the Father’s own way. And when He received from Peter the true confession of who He was He intimated a new kind of building, spiritual in its nature, which alone corresponded to the full revelation of the Father and the Son. “On this rock,” He said, “I will build My assembly” (1 Chron. 17:11-14; Matt. 16:16-18; Rev. 21:9, 10).

The Spirit of God would keep our thoughts set upon the Person of Christ in whom the Father found His delight. Only so can we really understand any truth affecting ourselves. With such a key for the right intelligence of all prophecy we are not surprised to find that Christ’s second coming is in complete correspondence with His first appearance “born” in this world according to the foreannounced fact, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a SON is given.” His names, including that of “the MIGHTY GOD,” are noted at the same time (Isa. 9:6). He was born to be seen and believed in when here (John 6:40; John 9:35-38). He it is for whom we wait (1 John 3:2).

All John’s gospel carries the heart on from Christ as seen here to the realisation of the blessed hope of seeing Him again. The interval may effectively be treated as a parenthesis.

A parenthesis is a sentence enclosed between two curved lines in the course of a larger one treating of any particular subject. Though needed for the better understanding of the matter in hand it may, if convenient, be omitted and the sense is not interfered with. The connection between what preceded it and the words which follow it is left unimpaired.

Now this is precisely what we find as to God’s ways with the earth and more particularly with His chosen people Israel. His thoughts as to them are unchanged in spite of their being for the time “Lo-ammi,” that is, “Not my people” (Hosea 1:9; Hosea 2:23; Hosea 3:4, 5). His thoughts about them are set forth by Moses and by David; they had been taken out from among the nations, separated to God, to be on condition of their obedience His peculiar people (Ex. 19:5, 6; Deut. 4:7, 8, 20, 31-38; 1 Chron. 17:20-22). But they, like Adam, disobeyed (Hosea 6:7) and they lost their land. Notwithstanding that, after the Captivity, a remnant returned to it and in process of time the promised Messiah was born (Dan. 9:25). But Christ found them as rebellious as ever. On the way to the cross He wept over Jerusalem and had to leave their house “desolate” (Matt. 23:37, 38).

On God’s side we always find His faithfulness to be unchanging (Ps. 89:33). Christ came to those that were peculiarly “His own” but “His own received Him not” (John 1:11). As said the prophet, they smote “the Judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek,” and were in consequence “given up” (Micah 5:13). Rejecting the counsel of God against themselves and despising their own mercies, they crucified the Son of God and put Him to an open shame (Jonah 2:8; Matt. 12:41-45; Luke 7:30; Heb. 6:6). Nevertheless Paul, while weeping over them and still praying on their behalf, found comfort in the fact that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” He called to mind that “the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises” all belonged to them as God’s special gift; the “fathers” too were theirs and of them, as concerning the flesh, “Christ came” (Rom. 9:45; Rom. 11:29). All that remains true and God will never forget it, but it is also true that they killed the Prince of Life, whom God raised from the dead (Acts 3:15).

That act never could be undone. They refused the light, and darkness came upon them: Jesus “did hide Himself from them” (John 12:35, 36). He never showed Himself to any but His own disciples after He had been laid in the tomb. All distinctively Jewish hopes lay, so to speak, buried there and there they must remain until His earthly people shall say as to Him in a day still future, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matt. 23:39). When He was here they said, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14).

In that coming day they will indeed look on Him whom they pierced and will mourn for Him as for an only a firstborn son (Zech. 12:10; Isa. 66:7, 8). But between these two moments of their final rejection of Christ and future reception of Him intervenes the parenthesis we speak of. When it is over the thread of their history will be resumed in connection with the accomplishment on earth of the promises made to Abraham.

The Lord however did not leave the earth immediately after rising from the dead. He showed Himself to His disciples now and again “during forty days,” but only to the “witnesses chosen before of God” (Acts 1:3; Acts 10:41). And He treated them as altogether apart from the Jewish world, taken out of it in order that they might be sent again into the world in its fuller extent (including Gentiles as well as Jews), even as He Himself had been sent of the Father (John 20:21). He had already prayed for them as the Father’s own gift to Himself and as no longer belonging to the world (John 17:6-10, 16). It was from their midst that He went up to heaven leaving them still to wait on earth for the promised gift of the Holy Ghost. He fulfilled that promise “when the day of Pentecost was fully come,” ten days after His ascension. Thenceforward every saved soul was no longer considered as being on Israelitish or Jewish ground, with earthly hopes, but on the contrary as having heavenly hopes in and with Christ. Belonging to Him who was risen and glorified, they were “added to the Church” (Acts 2:1, 47).

We may then consider the first curved line of the parenthesis in this world’s history as being marked by the cloud which received Jesus out of the sight of His disciples when they stood on the Mount of Olives gazing after Him as He was taken up into heaven (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:3, 9-11). From that moment dates the special calling and portion of the Church. It belongs to Jesus risen and glorified.

The close of the parenthesis is indicated by another “cloud,” which will receive, in like manner, every believing man, woman and child at the moment of the Lord’s return. At the same instant every sleeping saint, that is, everyone who has believed and “died in faith,” will be raised and all together will be caught up “in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Blessed is it to think of it!

As soon as the Church is removed from this scene the remnant of Israel, with their earthly hopes, will come once more into prominence and a call to repentance in connection with those hopes will again go forth (Matt. 10:23). That will be the time of Zion’s “travail” and those who lend a willing ear to the call will be considered as the remnant of Christ’s brethren. They, instead of being added to the Church as we are, will then “return unto the children of Israel” and be reckoned with them (Isa. 66:8-14; Micah 5:3). They will also be earnestly looking for the rising of the Sun of righteousness with healing in His wings that “Sun” which the disciples saw for a moment on the mount of the transfiguration (Mal. 4:2; Matt. 17:2).

The Church will at that time be seen in her proper place in “heaven, for the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:43; Luke 12:33). The glory will be ushered in for us by Him who, through grace, is already known to our souls as “the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16).

Shortly before his departure the Apostle Peter, feeling the necessity of stirring up the saints by putting them in remembrance of what they had already heard, was led to recall that wondrous scene when he, with James and John, were eye witnesses of the Lords glory on the “holy mount”. It was, so to speak, his legacy to the church. And we may notice that he calls especial attention to the “voice” which they were then given to hear, and which centred all their thoughts on the Lord Himself as the object of the Father’s delight. This expression of delight was a notable feature of Isaiah’s prophecy given 750 years previously (Isa. 42:1), but when quoted in Matthew 12:18 the word “beloved” is added by the Holy Spirit, thus linking the passage in a very marked way with the testimony already given at the Lord’s baptism and repeated at the transfiguration (Matt. 3:17; Matt. 17:6). Peter adds that the voice “came from heaven”, identifying “the excellent glory” they saw with “heaven” whence the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form after the Lord’s baptism (see also Mark 1:10, 11; Luke 3:21, 22).

Let us pause here to take note of three wonderful things:

(1) The Father’s good pleasure is equally centred and expressed in the SON, when He condescended to identify Himself in baptism with confessed sinners hoping for mercy as when He shows for a moment His coming glory in the kingdom.

(2) The mystery of the Trinity is for the first time manifested to human eyes and ears at the baptism (John 1:33, 34; 1 John 1:13). The communion which we are now called to enjoy is founded upon this.

(3) Though on earth carrying out the Father’s will and purpose the humbled Son of man belonged to heaven and in the mystery of His divine Person was ever there. Consequently, as He says to Nicodemus, He alone was able to unfold “heavenly things” (John 3:12-13).

These blessed facts lie at the basis of Christianity and have evidently the most important bearing upon “the heavenly calling” of which every believer in the present age is made a partaker (Hebrews 3:1). It is very little understood and as a consequence the “hope” which should animate our souls is enfeebled and our practical walk often comes far short of what it ought to be. Is it not a sad fact that in the minds of many the “hope” is reduced to a vague idea of getting to heaven eventually because they find they cannot live for ever on this earth as they would like to do? That is very different from the glory of the mystery given to Paul to reveal which he says is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). And the practical consequence flowing from the possession of such a hope is that abiding in Him we should walk “as He walked” (1 John 2:6)

The Christian calling is heavenly in principle because it is God’s purpose to bring “many sons unto glory”. They are made “sons” by receiving God’s testimony about His own blessed Son and they are the Father’s gift to Him, Christ, who was ever His delight the Son in the Father’s bosom who became flesh in order to carry out all His will in redeeming them. Having thus become “the Captain of their salvation” He is now seated at His own right hand in the heavens. It is as speaking from thence that Jesus says, “I and the children which God hath given Me” (Heb. 2:9-13; Heb. 8:12; Heb. 10:8-10, 12-14). Surely all this is in contrast to the blessing reserved for God’s ancient people of Israel who will have their portion on earth in the promised land when Christ shall come in Person to make it theirs (Zech. 14:4, 5; Mal. 3:1). And it is this future deliverance of the people which is referred to in Isaiah 8:17 to Isaiah 9:7 where there is no mention at all of Christ’s present place “on high”, nor of the coming of the Holy Ghost.

It is true that Abraham’s thoughts were turned toward heaven when God spoke to him of the “stars” but heaven was not mentioned in his call which was simply to go forth into the land of Canaan, into which he came (Gen. 11:31; Gen. 12:57; Acts 7:3, 4; Heb. 11:8). The earthly inheritance will eventually be made good to the earthly people, that is, to Abraham’s natural descendants, when God’s time is come to establish them once again in Canaan; but in the meanwhile Christ has His own place in glory and with Him are associated in the most intimate way those who are consciously at the present time the fruit of His sufferings on the cross. That is why they are called “holy brethren” and “partakers of the heavenly calling”. And it is to this incorruptible inheritance, reserved for the saints in heaven that Peter drew the attention of the converted Jews to whom he wrote. Naturally enough they looked for the accomplishment on earth of the promises made to their father Abraham, all the more so as they were strangers scattered abroad far away from Palestine. But what they lost on earth was made good to them “in heaven”. It is quite true that the glory of that which is “reserved” for believers of the present day will only be fully known at the “revelation of Jesus Christ” for which we wait; but the “spirit” of it is to animate the souls of those now called to be “partakers of Christ’s sufferings” (1 Peter 1:3-13; 1 Peter 4:12, 13).

Everywhere we find in the epistles that this glory is the counterpart of sufferings endured in the present time. It is to be our eternal portion after we have suffered awhile down here (1 Peter 5:10; so Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17; 2 Tim. 2:12 etc.). And how beautifully that is set forth in the transfiguration scene when we learn that Moses and Elias “appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem”! They were occupied with Christ’s sufferings whereas the disciples had the privilege of seeing His glory, “and the two men who stood* with Him” (Luke 9:30-32). May the Lord lead our hearts into more constant and diligent occupation with the Person of Christ in His present glory that we may realise more of that change “into the same image from glory to glory”, now being accomplished by the Spirit of the Lord! (2 Cor. 3:18). We have to be transformed by the renewing of our mind in order not to be conformed to this world (Rom. 12:2).

{*Compare with this what is said of Moses when called to go up into Mount Sinai the second time, when God graciously stood with him there and showed him as much of His glory as it was possible for him, in his human body, to see (Ex. 33:21-23; Ex. 34:58).}

All these Scriptures that we have passed rapidly in review bring us again to the parenthesis in God’s ways of which we have already spoken. How needful is it that our souls should get confirmed in its distinctive and moral features in order that our practical walk may be in accordance with it!

The more we realise its character the more readily we can understand the difficulty felt, even by the apostles who had seen the Lord on earth, in laying hold of the meaning of His words, “Ye are not of the world” (John 15:19). It needed the presence of the Holy Ghost, who came down on the day of Pentecost, to teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that He had said to them, besides those other things which they were not able to bear, or enter into at all, until after His death and resurrection (John 14:26; John 16:12-16). So complete a change in all their thoughts and aspirations must needs be gradual. His death had seemed to blast all their Jewish hopes in connection with their Messiah whom they rightly believed Christ to be (Luke 24:21) and when they were assured of His resurrection it was their familiar hopes that were naturally revived. We observe it in the question “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). The Lord’s answer was confined to insisting upon the character of their testimony to Himself as He had previously told them (John 15:27; Acts 1:8) while waiting for the coming of the Holy Ghost. Little by little their thoughts were turned into another channel as the meaning of His death and resurrection dawned upon them while they still waited for the coming of the Comforter.

When He came down on the day of Pentecost a new era began for them but as yet they had no idea at all of the glad tidings going beyond the limits of Israel; and for the moment they were so enthralled by the great facts of the Lord’s ascension to the right hand of God and of His having sent the Spirit as He had promised that they had enough to do to preach the gospel of the remission of sins to “the house of Israel” (Acts 2:14-39). They knew full well that this gospel must go to those “afar off”, as the Lord had distinctly told them more than once, but they were very slow to carry it to them and the majority of those converted in Jerusalem could not conceive it possible that Gentiles could be brought into the enjoyment of its blessings. Even Peter himself presented to the Jews the acceptance of the gospel as a reason for the Lord’s immediate return to accomplish the earthly promises made to their fathers (Acts 3:9-26). Many were scattered abroad afterwards by persecution but the apostles, in spite of the Lord’s charge to them, remained at Jerusalem (Acts 1:8; Acts 8:1). They were slow to fulfil their commission of going to “the uttermost part of the earth”. But God carried out His thoughts in His own way as we shall see.

The assembling of so large a multitude on the occasion of the miraculous effects accompanying the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost made it necessary that Peter should show the Jews that their own Scriptures were accomplished by what had taken place. For the Lord’s death, resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand had all been set forth in so many words a thousand years previously.* Peter’s preaching was in the power of the Holy Spirit which he had received, an evident token of God’s gracious purpose to lead His rebellious people to repentance, so that they might learn the fullness of His grace in the forgiveness of their sins. Let us, however, not lose sight of the fact that the forgiveness they needed was the Father’s answer to the prayer of His blessed Son at the moment when He was nailed to the cross (Luke 23:34).

{*The Scriptures quoted by Peter from Ps. 16 and 110 furnished the needed proof His sermon was an example of what is stated in Ps. 68:18; compare Eph. 4:7-11.}

Their reception of the gospel message was followed by baptism. It was only right that they should thus testify to a complete and definite change of position, involving their giving up Jewish privileges and boasts in order to own the lordship of the Messiah they had confessed. God had made Him “both Lord and Christ”, and they must needs confess it by being baptised unto His death.

The repentance of the Jews, thus marked, made a distinct change between them and the leaders of their nation who, persisting in their unbelief, soon began to persecute the followers of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 4:1-22; Acts 5:17-18, 28, 40). The Lord’s words in John 15:17-21, both as to the hatred shown towards His disciples, and the persecution of which they were to be the objects, were very soon fulfilled. Those that believed were “added to the church”; those that refused the proffered forgiveness maintained their place and position in the world which hated the Father and the Son (see also Rom. 8:7).

The importance of such an inevitable separation of the church from the world is too great to be overlooked, all the more so because of the increasing tendency in the present day to obliterate this distinction. The climax of the foretold “strong delusion” will be reached when Christianity is reduced to an outward improvement of the world with a view to finally getting rid of the name of Christ altogether and substituting for Him a political and a religious leader, all whose power, in both cases, will be derived directly from Satan himself (2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:4-12). And consequently, wherever God works in His long-suffering grace, a persecution of all who are faithful to Him must necessarily follow. It has often been so in the history of the church, though with less pretension to universal success than at present. But the enemy outwits himself and the supposed emancipation of mankind so much in vogue will end in a slavery far worse than any which they think they have a right to complain of. When the church is gone persecution will burst out in a fresh direction namely, against the Jews who will then once again be God’s messengers to a Christless and Christ-hating world.

But let us pursue the history. After the descent of the Holy Spirit God’s work prospered in Jerusalem for a time. The numerous converts to Christianity felt the necessity of being together and of having “all things common”. The outward unity of the church was thus borne witness to, but they had much to learn as to the faith they professed. That was the case even with Peter himself and with the others who were all slow to understand and carry out their commission to go to “Samaria and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Though seven deacons were chosen to look after the temporal administration and care of so large a multitude of believers, in order that the apostles might be free for the ministry of the Word, God made use of two of these very deacons to carry out the ministry first confided to the apostles. One of them, Stephen, gave the last and crushing denunciation of Jewish apostasy; the other, Philip, was the first to visit Samaria with the gospel. Later on Peter, much against his Jewish thoughts, received a special call to carry the gospel to Gentiles at Caesarea, after which he was severely taken to task for it by the leading converts at Jerusalem (Acts 10:9-21; Acts 11:2-3, 18).

The true character of Christianity was only apprehended by degrees. Peter, led of the Holy Spirit, had spoken of “the Father” on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:33), but present relationship with Him, according to the Lord’s first message after His resurrection, “My Father, and your Father”, was not entered into (John 20:17). Nor does it appear in their prayers, recorded in the early chapters of the Acts. They address God as “Jehovah”, which is represented by the Greek word “Lord”, and once (Acts 4:24) as Master or “Sovereign Ruler” (as in Jude 1:4), and they speak of the Saviour as God’s holy “child” or “servant”.* They had not yet realised what the apostle John afterwards described as the Father’s “manner of love” (1 John 3:12). Jewish aspirations and Jewish hopes filled all hearts, engrafted on a sense of forgiveness by the accomplished sacrifice of Christ, such as had never been known under John the Baptist’s preaching, or since. Peter’s stirring call to repentance in Acts 3 was based, as already remarked, upon the realisation in the near future of national hopes inspired by the prophets of Israel when they foretold the earthly blessings to be inaugurated on Christ’s return.

{*“Son” in Acts 3:13, 26, should be “child” or “servant”, as elsewhere, and Acts 8:37 is known to be an interpolation.}

A further testimony was needed of a wholly new character in order that these hopes might become heavenly in accordance with Christ’s present seat at God’s right hand in glory whither He had gone to prepare a place for those whom the Father had given to Him (John 14:2). This special testimony God, in His sovereign mercy, was now about to bestow. And that it might be effective in every way three conditions were satisfied: the witness had to be a pharisee of pharisees thoroughly versed in Jewish modes of thought and withal a man of spotless life (Acts 26:5; Phil. 3:5-6); secondly, the most desperate persecutor of those who followed what they esteemed to be a delusive novelty (Gal. 1:13-14); thirdly, he was to be admitted to see the personal glory of the Lord (1 Cor. 9:1; 1 Cor. 15:8). By such means God not only operated his conversion, but also gave to his ministry the needed power. This witness was Saul of Tarsus, afterwards known as the apostle Paul. He had never seen Jesus on earth and consequently his start on the Christian career bore the stamp of what he saw and heard when, as persecutor, he “drew near to Damascus” (Acts 9:3-6). The person of Christ in the glory was everything to him, accompanied by the deepest self-judgment (1 Cor. 15:9, 10); and he was the first to preach Jesus in the synagogues that “He is the SON OF GOD” (Acts 9:20).

To Paul were confided truths of a peculiarly Christian character and of which we find little or no mention in other writers of the New Testament but which have their source and living expression in a glorified Christ and this explains the fact of the glory being such a remarkable feature in the epistles he wrote, as for instance in Rom. 5:2; Col. 1:27; Heb. 2:10; 1 Thess. 2:12, etc.

The first particular communication was made to him at the time he wrote the first Epistle to the Thessalonians, explaining how it was that the Lord will bring His glorified saints with Him when He returns to this earth. The fact is stated in Zech. 14:5 and Jude refers to it as Enoch’s prophecy (though in this case “saints” might refer to angels). But no explanation had as yet been given as to a previous removal from this earth of both sleeping and living believers.

The next became the subject of the Epistle to the Romans which unfolds “the righteousness of God” in forgiving sins on the ground of Christ’s sacrifice and the character of the glory which is to be revealed in those who are made the “sons of God”, so that Christ may be “the firstborn among many brethren”, all of them being “conformed to the image of HIS SON” (Rom. 8:19, 29-30; Gal. 3:26).

Another truth was the freshly established ordinance of the Lord for His church on earth, to show His death “till He come” and that is intimately connected with the glory as we find in both Epistles to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 10:17; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; 1 Cor. 15:20, 23, 49-57; 2 Cor. 4:17-18; 2 Cor. 5:19).

Lastly, the full revelation of the “mystery” of the body of Christ (unfolded in the Epistle to the Ephesians and referred to at the end of the Epistle to the Romans and in that to the Colossians) was confided to Paul alone and gave colour to the gospel he preached (Acts 20:27; Col. 1:25-26).

A very little reflection suffices to convince the attentive reader that all these truths, peculiar to Paul’s writings, depend upon what Christ is in His own Person, now seated “on the right hand of the Majesty on high”, after having by Himself purged our sins when He suffered on the cross (Heb. 1:3).

And how infinitely precious it is for us to know that Christ must needs, in the first instance, satisfy His own heart, not by a public display of His power in this world, but rather in presenting to Himself His bride-elect, the Church which He has purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25-27). The more we meditate upon these special revelations made to the apostle the more our hearts are drawn out to the blessed Person of the SON OF GOD, which Paul was the first to preach. He began at once in the synagogue at Damascus. The persecutions he had been a chief means of carrying out necessarily recoiled upon himself when he preached the faith he had previously sought to destroy (Gal. 1:23). But had he not heard from heaven the underlying truth of all his future ministry when Jesus, whom he persecuted, intimated the marvellous identification of His saints with Himself in the glory, in those words of pity and love, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou ME?” (Acts 9:4).

Paul’s ministry has a character of its own. It is distinctly “heavenly” and is largely illustrated by his life which forms the subject of more than half of “The Acts”. Luke, who was the author of the book, became Paul’s companion when he left Troas to go into Macedonia, and thus take the gospel for the first time into Europe. We may well say that his peculiar testimony had its source in heaven, from whence the Lord revealed Himself to him, when he was intent on persecuting the saints in foreign parts and was approaching the city of Damascus furnished with authority from the chief priests at Jerusalem to deliver the saints to prison or to death (Acts 26:10-12). The Lord arrested him with the words, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest though ME?” Did not these words contain the essence of the “mystery” afterwards more definitely revealed to him the mystical union of Christ and the church, “which is His Body” (Eph. 1:20-23)?

Furthermore, Paul received for his own soul a wonderful accession of power, granted to no one else, when he was “caught up into paradise”, whither the Lord took the repentant thief crucified at His side (2 Cor. 12:1-10). On that occasion the Lord gave His servant a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble, and to maintain in him a deepened sense of his own weakness — the proper condition for not merely knowing but feeling that all true power is from the Lord alone. There was real danger lest, through the abundance of the revelations, he should “be exalted above measure”. Dependence upon the Lord is constantly needed for all true ministry and particularly for such as Paul’s.

Besides that, the Lord’s word to Ananias had to be fulfilled in regard to the apostle: “I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Without the suffering here there can be little spiritual power for entering into the glory set before us; it would be shorn of its true incentive and energy in the soul through not being linked, as it should be, with the blessed Lord’s pathway and life on earth. Consequently the apostle’s evangelistic service was a continuous series of bitter persecutions, especially from the Jews. On his many journeys he had to brave every kind of danger on land and sea and was often in peril of his life, to say nothing of bonds and imprisonment (2 Cor. 11:23-27). No other witness of the truth was called to suffer in the same degree and thus “fill up”, or complete what might be lacking in those outward afflictions which served to show how the church’s course on earth is practically identified with Christ’s (Col. 1:24). Every Christian has in some way thus to learn by experience how hostile is the world which nailed Christ to the cross. “Unto you it is given,” says the apostle, “in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake; having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (Phil. 1:29-30).

The Lord Himself, after His resurrection, showed to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus how intimately connected are “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Peter 1:11). Such indeed is one of the chief burdens of the Old Testament Scriptures (Luke 24:25-27, 32, 44-47). Is it not precisely on this principle that Christ’s present place in glory, after having suffered, indicates the believer’s hope? A little serious consideration will surely make this plain and [?] first as to life possessed.

The Lord, in answering the cavils of the Jews, shows that every living soul must know the Son of God in one of two ways: either as the life-giving Spirit at the present time (1 Cor. 15:45), or else as the Son of man to whom all judgment has been committed by the Father (John 5:19-29). Now the believer, through grace, does not look for judgment, Christ having already borne that for him and met every claim against him in righteousness when He bore “our sins in His own body on the tree”. The assured portion of every redeemed soul is consequently to be with the Saviour in glory and there to enjoy the rest that remaineth to the people of God (Heb. 4:9). Those who do not thus know Christ through the gospel have before them all the terrors of awaiting the judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries (Heb. 10:26-31). From that judgment to come there is no escape for one who refuses the gospel of God’s grace offered to every one NOW. But judgment is deferred till Christ’s return.

In other words for a believer the present age is characterised by the Lord’s absence from this world as He said to his disciples, “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father . . . And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16:5-6, 22, 28). The gospel has gone forth and it is still being proclaimed. The gospel net has been cast by the Lord Himself into the sea and the work of the fishermen ever since has been gathering “the good into vessels” (Matt. 13:47, 48). Presently the reverse will take place for at the end of this age “the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just; and shall cast them into the furnace of fire”. The preparatory work of binding the tares “in bundles”, is already going on (Matt. 13:30, 49, 50). But the saints that form the church have nothing to do with judgment; they await the Lord’s return.

God is still speaking in the SON (Heb. 1:1). Judgment is, however, rendered necessary by the lifting up of the Son of man upon the cross. It was in view of His death that Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31-36). But previously to the judgment, that is before He begins to carry it out, Jesus will come to take all His redeemed to be with Himself for ever in the Father’s house (John 14:2, 3). For that we are now waiting. Paul bears constant testimony to the same truth (see Rom. 8:18-19, 29-30; Phil. 3:20-21). The Thessalonians, who had only heard the gospel on three successive Sabbath days, were converted — turned to God from idols — “to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). They were characterised by their work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father. There were no printed Bibles in those days; no part of the New Testament had then been even written. Notwithstanding this does not the energy of their faith put us to shame when we think of the advantages we enjoy? Is the Lord Jesus Christ “our HOPE” (1 Tim. 1:1)? Are we all earnestly looking forward to be with Him? Do our ways and walk prove it to those who know us?

We do well to ask ourselves a further question. Is Christ, in this sense, the “anchor of the soul”? Is it not a fact that the Lord is as it were anticipating the heavenly hope even now, by appearing for us in the very presence of God? (Heb. 2:10, 13; Heb. 6:19-20; Heb. 9:24). His prayer to the Father on behalf of His redeemed must have its fulfilment: “Father, I will that they also, whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am . . .” (John 17:24). By all these passages is our place shown to be for ever with the Lord. Even a believer who dies in this present time departs to be “with Christ”, which is far better even than serving Him on the earth (2 Cor. 5:6 8; Phil. 1:23). Jesus who is already in the glory is our “forerunner”, which He could not be if none were to follow Him there. We should be looking forward at any moment to meet Him in the air (1 Thess. 4:17, 18). He will never fail us. Does He find us faithful?

Paul’s ministry came early to a close in martyrdom. But the Lord took care that it should receive a final and authoritative confirmation from both Peter and John who survived him and who had both seen the blessed Lord on earth and were also present at the transfiguration scene. The importance of what they then saw and heard “in the holy mount” cannot be exaggerated. We have already referred to it. There were three witnesses whom Jesus expressly called aside and Satan’s object was evidently to get rid of them. Herod put James to the sword but when he was, as he thought, keeping Peter safely shut up in prison for the same purpose, the Lord sent His angel by night to open the prison doors (Acts 12:1-11).

Both Peter and John were preserved to the end of apostolic history. Peter’s mission was to explain the import of the transfiguration as related by Matthew “the Son of man coming in His kingdom” (Matt. 16:28). In other words, that is from the point of view of God’s governmental dealing with His saints at the present time of suffering in view of the Lord’s return. This is also pointed out in its moral features in Mark and Luke. John, on the other hand, does not mention the occurrence, but is really occupied with the voice heard “from the excellent glory”. For both in his gospel and in his first epistle he unfolds Christianity from the special standpoint of present relationship with the Father as set forth in the Lord’s message confided to Mary Magdalene: “My Father, and your Father” (John 20:17). The Gospel of John unfolds this relationship as seen in the person of the SON (John 1-12), and made good in our souls by the power of the Holy Spirit (John 13-17). The epistle deals with the effects of sonship in believers, both as to their life and hope. Finally, the closing page of the Revelation emphasises the hope by confirming the promise made by “the Son of God” to the overcomer in the address written to the church of Thyatira: “I will give him the Morning Star” (Rev. 2:18, 28).

Peter calls it the “day star”, literally a “lightbearer” or “lightbringer”, evidently referring to its moral character and intimating that darkness still reigns at the time of its rising. We have only to compare the closing chapter of the Old Testament in order to be penetrated by the complete contrast between the Jewish hope, only to be realised after the church is gone and the Christian’s portion in an actually glorified Christ. The “Sun of righteousness” (Mal. 4:2) speaks of outwardly manifested blessing on this earth, the attendant effects being shown in the expression “healing in His wings”, whereas the “day star” is evidently a call away from this earth, only seen by those who are watching in the night. The saints should be ever watching. How much the Lord insisted upon it shortly before His death! (Mark 13:34-37). In full accordance with this attitude of watching Peter’s desire is that the day star should be as it were already risen in our hearts, with all its sanctifying power and the day time of Christ’s glory be dawning there.* In his first epistle this is called “the revelation of Jesus Christ” fraught with the final grace of completed salvation (1 Peter 1:5, 7, 13).

{*The passage, 2 Peter 1:19, is somewhat obscure in our Authorised Version on account of the position given to the words “more sure”. This is corrected in the Revised Version. The meaning is that the transfiguration confirmed in an extraordinary way, and thus made more sure the “word of prophecy” with which the Jews were more or less familiar. Once this is understood much light is thrown upon the passage. The Father’s voice heard on the mount not only confirms all prophecies relating to the Son but imparts to them a fresh and deeper signification with an accompanying effect on the believer’s heart similar to that of putting aside a candle because the day is dawning. Prophecy refers to future blessing on this earth but it also speaks largely of Christ’s personal sufferings and coming glory. Its scope is therefore not to be limited to the special circumstances or events which gave rise to it in any particular case. In this sense it is not of any private or restricted interpretation, like a human sentence, for “holy men of God spake under the power of the Holy Spirit”.}

In connection with the apostle Peter’s account of the transfiguration, we do well to notice that his second epistle is of a more general character than his first. It evidently embraces the whole church and thus falls into line with the wider application of the gospel, as it was committed to Paul (See Gal. 2:6-10). To Peter had been committed “the gospel of the circumcision”; which means that Jews and proselytes were naturally first in his thoughts; and ministry to Gentiles, as in the case of Cornelius, was exceptional (Acts 10, 11). Paul, on the contrary, was sent definitely to the Gentiles, while not excluding the Jews whom he necessarily met, and had first to deal with in the synagogues. For his habit was to go there in order to find the copies of the Old Testament Scriptures from which he proved that Jesus of Nazareth was “the Christ” to whom those Scriptures everywhere bore witness (Acts 9:15; Acts 17:13; Acts 26:17, 18).

Peter’s first epistle was addressed more particularly to the converted Jews scattered over the provinces of Asia Minor, probably before or about the time that Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus. All who heeded the Lord’s warning had then to leave the city (Luke 21:20-24). This extended to a period of forty years after the Lord had suffered on the cross. Terrible indeed were those “days of vengeance” on the unbelieving people, then weeping in vain for themselves and their children (Luke 23:27-31). We can thus understand better what reproach “for the Name of Christ” meant in those days (1 Peter 4:14). But in the second epistle, the apostle had good reason to feel that Jerusalem as a centre was blotted out from the earth, and that both Jew and Gentile must rally round the character of the gospel specially entrusted to Paul. It was no longer a question of Jews being blessed in a new way, that is with a full knowledge of accomplished redemption, and of the efficacy of the blood of Christ, but, notwithstanding that, on lines set forth in Abraham’s history, who confessed that he was a stranger and pilgrim on the earth (Heb. 11:13). True as that must needs remain for Christians in all time, there was and is a still deeper truth at the basis of the church’s standing, namely the personal knowledge of the Son of God. The Jews naturally looked for blessing on earth; the Christian finds it already in the person of Christ.

Now Paul began with this in his preaching at Damascus. And in agreement with it, Peter’s second epistle speaks of the precious things “that pertain unto life and godliness” through the knowledge of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ.* In that “knowledge” we have to grow and increase, learning not only the grace but also the “fulness” which is in the Son (John 1:14-16). That is the great theme of John’s writings, both of Gospel and epistle.

{*We may usefully compare in this respect 2 Peter 1:2, 3, 8; 2 Peter 2:20; 2 Peter 3:18; with Colossians 1:10, and Phillipians 3:8.}

Moreover, it is interesting to notice the humble place that Peter takes, putting “servant” before “apostle” in the opening verse of this second epistle, besides referring so definitely to “all” the epistles of “our beloved brother Paul”, at the close. His conclusion is “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” God takes up man as he is, without taking into account national distinctions of any kind; for there is “no difference” in this respect, that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22, 23). But then again, “the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him”; and with this Peter’s words agree.

His second epistle is addressed “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us.” Do not these words recall what the blessed Lord said on the occasion of the coming of the Greeks who desired to see Him? Speaking of His suffering on the cross, so soon to come about, and of the consequent “judgment of this world,” He added, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all unto Me” (John 12:32). See also John 11:52, and John 3:16. The gospel cannot be shut up within narrow Jewish limits, in spite of their great privilege in possessing the Scriptures. All are naturally dead in trespasses and sins dead to God; and He comes in on their behalf with that quickening power, shown in raising up Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:19-23; Eph. 2:1-10). What a blessing it is for us to have this assurance from God Himself!

But if, on the one hand, nationalities are dropped, so that there is “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all,” there is also another kind of distinction more difficult to overcome, that of religious and class hatred, a distinction found often in the gospel history amongst the Jews themselves, and well illustrated by the parable of the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18. That feeling was deep rooted in Saul of Tarsus when the Lord met him in grace. But even he had to come into blessing together with the thief on the cross, whose language he practically uses at the end of Galatians 2, when he says, “I am crucified with Christ.” The cross is thus, so to speak, the birthplace of “the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him” (Col. 3:10).

And how infinitely precious is this knowledge of the Son of God! Paul’s object in life was to “know Him.” The excellency of that knowledge delivered him entirely from his own righteousness and enabled him to count those things which were, from a Jewish point of view, most advantageous to him, to be but loss for Christ (Phil. 3:3-11).

We may go even further in considering the account of his conversion and affirm that the practical apprehension of the “mystery,” afterwards confided to his ministry, was in the persons of those whom he most hated on account of his religious zeal. This is a matter of the deepest importance for us all. And we may ask ourselves individually the question, what is the Person of the Christ to my own heart? Are all its hidden, ardent, inward longings expressed in those few words, “That I may know Him”?

When the voice from heaven said, “Why persecutest thou Me?” who were they that, in the Lord’s judgment, were signified and embraced in that word “Me”? Was it not the very ones that Saul was committing to prison and to death (Acts 22:4, 5; Acts 26:10, 11)? Are we accustomed to realise and enjoy in this way our position and privileges, as members of the body of Christ? That is to say, not so much by our own personal feelings as by what all His “members” are to Him, and by the love and care which He bestows upon His church? Do we enter practically into the meaning of that word, “to comprehend with all saints . . . the love of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:25, 26; Eph. 3:18, 19; Eph. 5:29)? If not, would it not suggest that, in our minds, there are lurking many of the thoughts and prejudices common to the Pharisees among the Jews? Surely this calls for much self-judgment.

When we begin to learn our own privileges by what is realised in the consciences of our brethren, “love in the Spirit” asserts itself, as in those to whom Epaphras ministered (Col. 1:7, 8; Col. 4:12). That love is measured by the Lord’s love to all His redeemed, and again by the Father’s love to Him (John 15:9-13). May the apostle’s earnest desires be more found in each one of us, as the fruit of the operation of the Holy Spirit, “To know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:19)! The Holy Spirit’s mission is to take of Christ’s things and show them to us, and thus lead our souls into the practical enjoyment of the Father’s love (John 16:13-15).

It is true that Paul does not actually refer to the “morning star” in so many words; but all his epistles set forth what it is to the heart occupied with Christ who is now hidden in the heavens. He is our “life,” though not as yet in outward manifestation, for it is “hid” with Him in God; He Himself is also our “hope” (Col. 1:27; Col. 3:3, 4; 1 Tim. 1:1). He it is to whom the Father bore witness on the mount of transfiguration, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him” (Matt. 17:5).

In keeping with this, Paul gives expression to what he learned on the road to Damascus in that remarkable word, “It pleased God . . . to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him,” and, further on, “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me”; and again, “Ye are all God’s sons by faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 1:16; Gal. 2:20; Gal. 3:26).

Christ glorified in the heavens is the source of all our present blessing now and occupation with Himself gives power in the soul to enjoy it. He it is who gives us that closing word, ‘I am . . . the bright and morning star.”

Sonship

The morning star has a heavenly character peculiar to itself as a “star,” and is thus connected with the church in a twofold way, as we shall see, whether we consider it as the house of God now on earth, or as the body of Christ. The latter was the “mystery” specially confided to the apostle Paul (Eph. 3:24). All the truth about the church depends upon and flows from what Christ is in His own Person — the Son of God. And therefore sonship is a prominent feature in the passages which unfold it. This calls for serious attention.

The church is first mentioned in Matthew 16. At the close of His patient ministry in Galilee, the Lord asked His disciples, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of man,* am?” Various were the thoughts about Him, but as soon as He received from Peter the desired answer, He said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: — for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but MY FATHER which is in heaven.” We are thus placed at once in the presence of THE FATHER and THE SON, which is the great theme of John’s Gospel (John 1:18; John 20:17). Then Jesus added immediately, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (that is, a stone); and upon this rock I will build MY CHURCH.” Peter was thus recognised by the Lord as a representative “stone” in the building; that is to say, that every one of those who thus form a part of it, are characterised by this confession made to the Lord Himself, “Thou art the Christ, the SON of the living God” (Matt. 16:13-18).

{*How simply and perfectly are the two sides of the Lord’s Person set forth, without any human effort, in the second Psalm, verse 7! It is Messiah, the Anointed One, who says, “I will declare the decree: Jehovah hath said unto Me, ‘Thou art My Son’ this day have I begotten Thee.” Born into this world, He is declared to be the ‘SON OF GOD.” Compare Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6; Luke 1:35. The Father’s voice confirmed this when, at His baptism, Jesus associated Himself outwardly with those who had confessed their sins under John the Baptist’s preaching; the voice from heaven proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16-17). the Lord will have the same confession from the heart and mouth of His disciples, as in the case of Peter (Rom. 1:4; Rom. 10:9)}

The word “build” is an evident allusion to a well-known Old Testament figure of the dwelling-place of God in the midst of His redeemed people.* It will have its counterpart in the eternal state (Rev. 21:3). As an apostle, Peter had his place in the foundation (Eph. 2:20), the blessed Lord Himself being “the chief cornerstone,” or, according to the passage in Matthew, “the rock” on which the church is built (see 1 Cor. 3:10, 11). No other foundation can ever be laid. More than this, the fact of God’s present dwelling in the midst of His saints involves personal responsibility on their side which is of the deepest moment (see Ps. 68:18; 2 Cor. 6:16). The apostle insists upon it after speaking of the church in its future completed glory, in Ephesians 2:20, 21. Considered with reference to the future, it is growing “unto an holy temple in the Lord”, but at the same time it is equally true that believers are now “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (ver. 22).

{*See Zech. 2:10; Zech. 3:9; Zech. 4:6-10; Zech. 6:12-13, 15. It is true that the first form of God’s dwelling-place in the midst of His redeemed people was necessarily a “tabernacle” or tent, as long as the people were in the wilderness, moving from place to place (Ex. 25; 8; 1 Chr. 17:56). When, after David’s time, they were peacefully settled in the land of Canaan, the tabernacle was replaced by a temple built of stones. In this way Solomon’s Temple, glorious as it was, but finally destroyed by the Chaldeans on account of the sins of the people, is still a figure of what is to be in a yet future day, when the millennial temple described in Ezekiel, will be built (Isa. 2:23, etc.). Here again there is a divine forecast of the spiritual or heavenly Jerusalem.}

The history of God’s ancient people is full of instruction for us. We are told that, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Consequently we may observe in all these Old Testament passages that we have referred to, besides many others (such as Ezek. 37:26, etc.), a deeper spiritual signification addressed to the heart and conscience of believers at the present time. The Lord’s answer to Peter involves this, and the epistles, especially Paul’s, make it clear. We need, however, to remember that in the case of Israel their future establishment and blessing will be on earth and in the Holy Land, whereas in the case of the church in its future manifested glory, it is seen to come down from God, “out of heaven” (Rev. 21:10, 11). This contrast between earth and heaven must be borne in mind.

No adequate estimate of the church, even in its most elementary character as a spiritual building, can be formed apart from its heavenly origin. That is to say that its final manifestation in heavenly glory is but a consequence of its heavenly start in connection with the Person of the Son of God, now seated “on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3; Heb. 8:1, 2). That its very constitution is heavenly would appear from a comparison of Hebrews 8:1, 2 with Exodus 15:17; and we may infer it from the Lord’s words to Nicodemus (John 3:12, 13). For He came to speak of “heavenly things.” But the formation of the church was still future when the Lord spoke to Peter, for He said, “upon this rock I will build My church (Matt. 16:18).

Let us then return to consider the question and answer on which the Lord based the first intimation to His disciples of that which He, as a Builder, was about to do. His first care was to draw, from them all, the confession of what He was, and especially of what He was to God. His words were, “whom say ye that I am?” Peter, who answered, had still to learn that what he said was a direct revelation from above, “flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven”. The truth embodied in the answer was new to them all: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. What could be clearer than, as above remarked, that the heavenly source and character of the revelation centred round the Person of the eternal SON? What that means for the saints of this present economy of grace is unfolded in John’s Gospel. The first message sent by the Lord to His disciples, after His resurrection, shows its effect, “My Father, and your Father;” and “My God, and your God.” Sonship can only be truly known by us as manifested in the Person of the Son, and as the direct fruit of His death and resurrection (John 1:18; John 12:24; John 20:17). It is made good in our souls by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 4:6).

Furthermore, in considering the formation of the church as the house of God, we see that Christ keeps it in His own hands. He is the foundation, and He constructs it. Every individual believer has his place in it as a “living stone” (1 Peter 2:5, 6). The position given to each one, assigned by the Lord, is also maintained by Him in such sort that “the gates of hades shall not prevail against it”. What a comfort it is to be assured that all the efforts and power of Satan are fruitless in the case of the Lord’s church!

Peter, in his first epistle, treats of the church as a “spiritual house”, in the Lord’s keeping, and already in existence, so that worship and praise to God may go on in it, and service go out from it. In the epistle to the Hebrews we find the same figure of the “house”; and besides that, an allusion to the heavenly city “Jerusalem which is above” (see also Gal. 4:26). This was afterwards shown to the apostle John (Rev. 21). It is instructive to notice in all these passages the place that “sonship” has; and that is even carried on to the eternal state (Rev. 21:7).

Let us now refer briefly to another truth revealed to the apostle Paul that of the BODY of Christ. This was the mystery kept secret, “hid in God”, and of which we find no indication in Old Testament times. The type of the “bride” was indeed seen in Eve and others (Eph. 5:31); but the figure of the body is different. In this case also, as we have already noticed, the sonship of Christ is prominent.

Paul was the first to preach Him as “the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). We have only to read carefully his epistles to see the effect of the apostle’s call on his own soul. In writing to the Corinthians, especially as to church order, he begins with reminding them that they had been called by God into the “fellowship of His SON Jesus Christ our Lord”. To the Galatians, who, through Judaising teaching, were in danger of losing this truth, he insists upon it in the most pointed way. (See Gal. 1:16; Gal. 3:26; Gal. 4:47, 28, 29.) And as if to bring home to their consciences what they were giving up, Paul associates with himself “all the brethren” (Gal. 1:2); for indeed the relationship with the Father was the common portion of them all, and by no means confined to any special leaders or labourers amongst them. As to himself he says, “It pleased God … to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the heathen”. In believers the Holy Spirit is called “The Spirit of His Son”.

The great subject of the epistle to the Romans is the gospel from the particular point of view of God’s righteousness revealed in it (Rom. 1:16, 17). Yet the opening verses declare that the subject of it is the Son (v. 3); and in Him, and His redeeming work, the love, righteousness, and glory of God are inseparable (Rom. 3:21; Rom. 5:2, 5). God’s glory is our “hope”, as soon as justification is known, and sonship in its final character and manifestation in glory is largely developed in Romans 8, as well as that personal witness of the Holy Spirit “with our spirit” which makes it effectual in every believer’s soul. The end and aim of it is the glory of the SON, that he may be “the firstborn among many brethren” (v. 29).

The epistle to the Ephesians which unfolds the “mystery” of the “body of Christ”, subject to the Head in heaven, also opens with this blessed truth of relationship with the Father, who has chosen us in His SON “before the foundation of the world”, and “marked us out beforehand for adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will”.

In Colossians, we are called to give thanks to the Father, “who has delivered us from the authority of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:12-13).

This truth of sonship so characterised the apostle’s early preaching, that in the case of the Thessalonians everybody was speaking of how they had “turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for HIS SON from heaven . . .” (1 Thess. 1:10). The Lord grant that, with a deepened sense of this blessed relationship, such waiting and watching may become more vivid and habitual with each one of us!

The Heavenly Call

We have spoken of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and noticed how it was the occasion of the Lord’s first intimation of what the church was to be, and the divine basis of all subsequent revelation as to the church in its varied aspects. We have also traced rapidly the place that same confession had in Paul’s preaching and in his epistles. But the epistle to the Hebrews demands some further examination.

It is this epistle which particularly unfolds the “heavenly calling” of the saints during the present economy of grace, and thus distinguishes them in more than one respect from all those who went before. Of these latter, Abraham was the great example: first as to the character of his faith, which is the same in principle for all believers of every dispensation (Rom. 4:3); secondly, as to his call “to go out” to another land, and the maintenance of the pilgrim character even in the land to which he went. That has also a spiritual application to believers of the present day; but considered as history, it is just there that we learn the contrast between the Old Testament saints and the church of Christ. Abraham’s call was earthly, that is, out of Ur of the Chaldees to Canaan, on reaching which he built his first altar (Gen. 11:31; Gen. 12:57; Heb. 11:8, 9). Our calling is heavenly from the start, and is maintained in principle by a heavenly priesthood. It is well to note also that, in the description of the “mount Zion” and “heavenly Jerusalem,” which is set before us for our encouragement, the “church of the firstborn” (saints), whose names “are written in heaven,” is distinguished from the “spirits of just men made perfect,” which evidently represent the Old Testament saints (Heb. 12:22-24).

In this epistle to the Hebrews, who were well acquainted with the letter of the Old Testament, the Spirit of God everywhere insists upon the Sonship of Christ; the Son is prominent from beginning to end, in all the aspects of His glory which are touched upon. Types abound, of course, but their object is to bring out in every case the marked contrast between the type and the antitype. If this simple fact be observed, the whole of the epistle becomes luminous for the believer’s soul, and the most difficult problems are solved. We are exhorted to look off unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith (Heb. 12:2), and thus to “run with patience the race that is set before us.”

God has spoken in these last days, in the person of the SON, now hidden from our sight, but visible to the eye of faith, and in Him He speaks now “from heaven” (Heb. 1:2, 3; Heb. 2:9; Heb. 12:25). All His work of atonement is accomplished, and He now exercises His priesthood in favour of His redeemed. This priesthood is heavenly in character, and is exercised from heaven, yea, the very highest heaven; for as the high priest of old had to pass from the altar in the court, through the holy place, into the holiest of all, so Jesus has passed through the heavens even to the right hand of the Majesty on high, and His glory is set “far above all heavens” (Ps. 8:1; Eph. 4:10). Thence it is that He watches over His own and intercedes for them (Heb. 4:14; Heb. 7:26; Heb. 8:1, 2; Heb. 9:24).

Besides this, as High Priest, consecrated “with an oath,” which the sons of Aaron never were, He is pre-eminently the SON (Heb. 4:14; Heb. 5:5, 8; Heb. 7:3, 28). Those who despise Him are guilty of treading under foot the SON OF GOD (Heb. 6:6; Heb. 10:29).

God’s purpose is to have “many sons” in glory. Christ had therefore to become the Captain of their salvation by means of His sufferings and death on their account; but having now taken His place “on the right hand of the Majesty on high,” He intercedes for and succours all who, through His finished work, are made heirs of salvation. He receives the “children” from God’s hand as a gift to Himself, and looks upon them as having a heavenly character in consequence, though they are still waiting till He comes to fetch them to be with Him where He is; but as belonging to that place in glory, He looks upon them as His companions, or “fellows.” It is that character which He desires we should maintain (Heb. 1:9; Heb. 2:14; Heb. 3:1, 14). He has Himself gone through the whole course, and is now in heavenly glory, and from the height and power of that glory, He, as the great High Priest, ministers to all who are called to follow Him in the race which He has run (Heb. 2:18; Heb. 4:15-16; Heb. 5:79; Heb. 6:19-20; Heb. 7:24-28; Heb. 8:1; Heb. 9:24, 28; Heb. 10:35-37, Heb. 12:13). “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession,” and “run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus,” waiting in patience until He come!

The character and effect of Paul’s preaching the “Son of God” (Acts 9:20) is well set forth in the Thessalonian believers, as shown in the first epistle to them, and which was probably the first portion of the New Testament committed to writing. They were “turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven.” This remarkable change was wrought, and maintained in them in spite of circumstances so adverse that the apostle himself feared that they might have possibly been turned aside by Satan’s continued efforts. Being himself hindered from going to them, he sent Timothy to establish and comfort them, and was greatly cheered by the tidings Timothy brought back to him of their faith and love (1 Thess. 3:1-8). That was the occasion of his writing the epistle, not only to confirm their hope in waiting for the Son of God, but also to impart to them a special revelation from God as to the manner of the Lord’s return.

Up to that time they had had no news of the way in which the Lord was about to redeem His promise of coming for His saints to receive them to Himself, as He indeed told His disciples before He left them (John 14:13). The early believers of the gospel, including Peter himself, had connected the Lord’s return with the setting up of His millennial kingdom (Acts 3:20, 21). And consequently the death of some of the converts filled the others with unwonted sorrow, under the impression that the departed ones would necessarily be deprived of their part in the glory they had expected to share in.

Such was indeed a fitting opportunity for the fresh revelation confided to the apostle, for the comfort and consolation of the saints in all time. While confirming the hope of the Lord’s return at any moment, and inspiring the saints in their attitude of waiting with fresh spiritual vigour, it directed their thoughts more definitely than ever to the Lord’s Person, and to His portion in His saints for time and eternity.

When He returns to this earth, He will bring His saints with Him. That had been already foretold (Zech. 14:5; Jude 14). But how it was to be accomplished was not made known, until it became needful to answer questions which arose out of the difficulties and trials of the Macedonian converts. They had to be assured first of all that the Lord would take His suffering saints, both dead and living, out of this scene, before establishing His kingdom and glory here below; and secondly, that this certainty was to prevent their supposing that the final manifestation of evil and Satan’s power had already begun (1 Thess. 4:14; 2 Thess. 2:1, 2).

When the Lord left this earth from the mount of Olives, the cloud concealed Him from the gaze of His disciples (Acts 1:9). Similarly, the clouds will hide from the knowledge of this world the taking up of the saints at the Lord’s coming “in the air.” As far as the world is concerned, their withdrawal from the earth will usher in the darkness of the “night” which precedes its final judgment (1 Thess. 5:17).

The Morning Star is indeed the harbinger of the coming day; but it shines in the night with a heavenly glory of its own, which has very little effect on the earth. Those that recognise it, rejoice in it for its own sake. The Lord grant that we may, each and all, be so watching, and occupied with Himself that, as we hear in our inmost souls His assurance, “Surely I come quickly,” our hearts may respond with the Spirit and the bride, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”