Thank God, we have a revelation from God Himself, whatever men may say to the contrary, a revelation that casts divine light upon the whole sorrowful history of man, giving the reason of all the degradation, distress, misery and mortality of the creature, and flings its merciful light beyond the grave, revealing to our anxious and inquiring minds the issue of all the activities of men in the little span of life allotted to them here on earth. Let us, then, in the light of that revelation, and according to the ability given us of God, examine the nature and character of…
The Judgment that Lies Upon Man
We read in the first chapter of Genesis how God began to work upon a world that was “waste and empty,” a world of which God was the Creator, and which He had made beautiful (Ecc. 11), though it subsequently became a ruin. Isaiah 45:18 shows that this was not the state in which it was created. Upon this ruin God begins to work, with a view to placing man upon it. But before we have Adam set in his place of supremacy and authority, we have everything over which he was to exercise lordship created and placed in its respective position. By means of Adam, the appointed head the whole creation was linked up with God in relationship and responsibility.
From the creature that stood nearest to Adam in intelligence, down to the most distant organism, everything was set analogously to its head, for had there been no affinity between Adam and the lower creation, he could not have been ruler, director, and governor over them. He had insight into their various natures and characteristics, so that when his Creator brought them to him to give them names, the name he gave to each set forth the essential feature that was peculiar to itself. Even the manner of the creation of Eve was well known to him, though he was all the time of her formation in a deep sleep.
I speak of this to show the peculiar place that Adam had, on the one hand in relation to God, and on the other in relation to everything God had created; and in connection with this to draw attention to the fallacious reasoning of the evolutionists, who imagine they can trace advance from the lowest form of life up to man himself, instead of beginning with man, and tracing down to the bottom the characteristics of the various families placed under his headship.
Man was the first and great thought of God, but as all things were to be placed in relationship with him as head, the lowest and most distant of the creatures must bear some affinity to him, some more and some less; but not until man had his place as supreme was everything by the Creator pronounced “very good.” Everything beneath Adam looked up to him as centre, as bearing rule, and in whom was seated the wisdom that was necessary for such a place of supremacy.
Now when he fell, everything that depended upon him fell with him. Creation was wounded in its head. Death came upon him and upon all that was under his headship. As far as dust was concerned it returned to dust again, and the lower creation, which sprang out of the earth or sea at the command of the Creator, came in that death to an end of its existence. Not so man, who was first formed from the dust of the ground, and afterwards became a living soul through the inbreathing of God; death cannot end an existence like that. A dog was not first formed out of the dust, and when it was formed became a living soul by the breath of God. The earth brought forth every creature but man: it did not bring forth man at all: man is the offspring of God (Acts 17:28).
The judgment upon Adam was, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen. 3:19). In this there is no mention of anything but that which relates to human life on earth; there is no, “after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Where the vital principle that was by the breath of God would find an abiding place is not taken into account; the end of human life down here is what is involved in His judgment. Man as formed out of dust is all that God speaks of here; and this, He says, man is; but He does not say it is all that man is. Stephen was carried to his burial, and the dust returned to dust, but the Lord Jesus received his spirit (Acts 8:2; 7:59). And Paul speaks of his not knowing at one time whether he was in the body or out of it (2 Cor. 12:2), and were the body everything a man is, the statement would be senseless. But this is not taken into account in the Scripture under consideration, for it has nothing to do with it.
Adam is driven out of the garden to toil for his bread until this judgment would be consummated, and he should return to dust. His posterity, all sinners like himself, come under the same judgment, for God must put a period to the life of the sinner on earth; hence all are debarred from partaking of the tree of life, which would have renewed the waste and decay that a body derived from the dust would naturally undergo. Death is man’s portion here below, because he is a sinner.
A Deliverer is spoken of, One who would bruise the head of their fell destroyer, but He was to be a suffering Deliverer, for His heel must be bruised by Satan, But He is not spoken of as One who would bring in redemption for lost sinners, and who would open heaven to all who would submit to His salvation. He would simply destroy the power of the devil. No mention is made of any other sphere than earth for man.
The grace of God in clothing Adam and his wife with coats of skins is brought to light, and in figure we see Christ delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification; for the two naked sinners are clothed with the skin of the victim that died for them; and this sets forth the great gospel truth, that the One who suffered for sinners becomes the clothing of the one who believes on Him.
Evidently in this was set forth a way back to God through death, the death of a victim that could not be held guilty of offence against God. And this way Abel took, and all the faithful from that day until this. Unbelief and rebellion against God take the way of Cain, a way, that professing Christians are accused of taking, when once decay has set in upon the church (Jude 11).
But not during the antediluvian age, nor after it during the patriarchal dispensation, does heaven come into view as the hope of the believer. Nor when we come to the age of law: in that dispensation the earth and life upon it is the whole point. When the law was given, the blessing promised on the ground of obedience was life upon earth: “The man that does them shall live in them” (Neh. 9:29; Gal. 3:12). The whole question raised by the law was whether man could, on the ground of the fulfilment of his obligations, maintain himself as a living man upon earth. There was no question about going to heaven raised, nor could there be; for if a man cannot by his righteousness maintain himself alive upon earth, it is plain he cannot by his righteousness lay claim to heaven.
Therefore God’s dealings with men, and their state under these dealings in Old Testament times, while their probation was running its course, demonstrated clearly that there was no power in man to accomplish his own recovery; for in spite of all the ways in which God tested him, and in spite of all the advantages of God’s dispensations, man remained a sinner subject to death. He could not arrive at life by his obedience, for he was not obedient. Man was lost.
I have said the question of his going to heaven was never once raised, nor will any man ever be judged because he was unfit for heaven, his conduct on earth is the only thing to which judgment has any application. His responsibility does not extend to fitness for heaven. Heaven is rather a vague idea in the minds of most people, but Scripture speaks of it in most definite terms as the glory of God.
When you come to the New Testament the question of earth is over. I can anticipate being met with the Scripture, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). But that is in contrast to the proud, self-conceited, and self confident Pharisees of the day, who thought that God had respect to none but themselves; and also the promise has the reign of the Messiah in view (Ps. 37:11; Isa. 29:19), when the meek will have their portion along with Him who could say, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” But at the close of that reign the earth with all its works shall be burned up, and this shall bring the earth in its present condition to an end, but it will not bring to an end the inheritance of the meek, for they will come into the enjoyment of “a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
But the question of man’s retaining the earth on the ground of the fulfilment of his obligations is over for ever; and this was the question which was raised by the law, as I have already pointed out. Now the great truth is out, that men must go into the glory of God, as fit for that glory, or into the lake of fire, as fit for no other place. The two extremes in the last dispensation were life or death, and that as children of Adam on earth; but now “the last Adam” is in the glory of God, and it must be that for man, or the lake of fire. These are the two extremes. And the glory of God is the glory in which He shines out in Christ, as fully revealed. It is not the glory of God as seen in the face of Moses, which was the glory in which He displayed Himself to Israel in the old covenant, but it is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, which is the full revelation of God, not only in His attributes, but in the love of His heart; that is, what He is in His nature, and “God is love.”
But in connection with this the works of men have no place at all. It is all of grace, from beginning to end. In this connection God is the worker, not man. It is “To him that worketh not, but believes on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness”; and, “Being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 4:5; 5:1-2). We are now called to contemplate what God has wrought. Here where man was overthrown by the devil, the devil has been overthrown by Man; here where God has been dishonoured by man, by Man He has been glorified; here from whence daily the effluvium of sin went up provokingly to the very throne of God, a sweet savour from the cross of Christ rises like incense before that same throne, and before Him who sits therein; here where sin abounded, grace has much more abounded; and here where death has for thousands of years been swallowing up every bit of life that has appeared upon this scene, even here shall death be swallowed up in victory. But in this glorious work of God neither Adam nor any of his race has the slightest part. It is Christ who said, “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God,” and He has done it.
The Two Headships
Lost in Adam, the first head, men must find salvation in Christ, another head. Responsibility, in the sense of maintaining oneself in the place of blessing in which one has been set, or of drawing near to God when sin has placed the creature at a distance from God, is all connected with the first head, the man made of dust. He lost his place by his disobedience, and came under the sentence of death, but a way back to God was for his posterity opened up by sacrifice. The altar of the worshipper, or of the one who attempted to draw near to God, bore witness to the state of the offerer’s mind regarding the whole question that lay between the creature and the Creator, and the acceptance or rejection of the sacrifice by God was the witness of His acceptance or of His rejection of the worshipper.
But to come in the way in which Abel came meant the acknowledgement of the justice of the judgment which lay upon man; for Abel’s altar was the witness, that he not only acknowledged the fact that his father was a rebel against God, but that he himself was by nature no better, and that therefore death lay upon him as the just judgment of a righteous God. At the same time his faith enabled him to avail himself of a way back to God through the death of another on his behalf. This was figuratively a return to God by the sacrifice of Christ. And in type and figure this way of return is kept before men in all dispensations, until we arrive at His sacrifice, which is the glorious antitype and the fulfilment of all the others.
Now by the sacrifice of Christ a way of salvation has been opened up for all. Just as Adam’s one act of disobedience had a death and condemnation aspect toward all, so the one act of Christ’s obedience to death has a justifying and life-giving aspect toward the whole human race; but only those who submit to the gospel are partakers of that righteousness and life which are found in Him. “Be it known unto you, therefore, men and brethren, that through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins,” tells us the worldwide aspect of the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of men; and “By Him all that believe are justified from all things,” tells of the application of the benefits of that death upon the believer (Acts 13:38-39). The righteousness of God which is “unto all, and upon all them that believe” (Rom. 3:22), is a parallel Scripture with this. And as to life, we read in John 5:24. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believes on Him that sent Me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation (judgment); but is passed from death unto life.”
Man’s Place and Portion for Eternity Settled on Earth
But the earth is the sphere in which this mighty question must be settled. It was here that man was proven to be a lost sinner. It took four thousand years to bring that terrible truth fully to light; and in those long years the probation of man was running its course, and the question was, not the glory of God as revealed in Jesus, or the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, but, as I have already said, life or death upon earth. That those eternal issues were involved need scarcely be said, but they were not the elements of the dispensations. Then when it was clearly demonstrated that man was without strength to help himself, and ungodly in his life and nature, God made a way of escape for all, revealing that way of escape as in His Son risen and glorified, and that that way of escape was only available by faith in Christ, as delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification.
The gospel brings this to the ears of men, who are called to submit themselves to God’s way of salvation. The believer is clothed with the righteousness of God, has eternal life, his sins are remembered no more, his soul is saved, and all he waits for is the changing of his body, which will take place when Christ comes to receive His people to Himself (Rom. 3:22; 1 John 5:13; 2:12; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5; Phil. 3:21).
The work of man’s redemption was accomplished upon earth, on earth the gospel of salvation is preached, on earth men receive forgiveness and eternal life, on earth they are born again, on earth are they brought into new and eternal relationships with God, on earth they are sealed with the Holy Spirit, and on earth are they made members of the body of Christ.
Here they are waiting for God’s Son to take them up and place them along with Himself in the Fathers house, here they are assured that they shall never come into judgment, and should they die, they know they shall be raised in glory; not raised and judged to see if they are fit for glory, but raised in a glorified condition, and in the meantime, between their dying and the coming of the Lord to raise their bodies, their spirits are with Christ, in a state which is far better than the best state upon earth (Phil. 1:23).
But what about those who are unbelievers? They have sinned away their title to life upon earth; they have lived for the world; they have sought after the things that pleased themselves; they have done their own will, and have disregarded the revealed will of God; they have refused to avail themselves of the salvation which is in Christ Jesus; they may have been moral, or immoral, but they have paid no attention to the claims of God, or to their need of a Saviour now judgment is before them: “He that believes not shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
Nothing is made more clear in the whole Word of God than this, that the eternal destiny of every man is settled upon earth, and while he is alive in flesh. The Lord says, “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24); and in Hebrews 9:27, we read, “After this the judgment.” Some think it is after this another chance in the separate state. It is a false hope; it is a lie of the devil. Again, “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, those who believe are placed in contrast with the rest of the world, who have NO HOPE.