A true believer in Christ is neither an optimist nor a pessimist, according to the way in which these terms are used amongst men. He takes neither a hopeful nor a despondent view of the state of this world, through which he has to journey to the glory of God. He is not occupied with either the bright or the dark side of things down here. He is not elated by the world’s apparent prosperity, nor does its wars and wickedness cause him to imagine that it is coming to its end: this he knows will not take place while the church of God is upon earth. His judgment of it does not arise from what he sees it to be, or from any report he has of it from its own account of itself.
He does not pose as a prophet or the son of a prophet, able to foretell what shall take place on the morrow, by some special insight which he has more than any other human being. The source of his information is as open to every other person as it is to himself, and the knowledge he possesses regarding the state of this great cosmos through which he has to find his way may be enjoyed by all, for it is not a secret sacred to a few,
The superficial veneer of questionable civilization does not deceive him, so as to cause him to suppose any improvement in its moral state has taken place, or any alteration in its innate God-hatingness. Its legislation in favour of the poor and needy, its philanthropic associations, its battles with the pestilences which afflict humanity, its efforts to solve the enigma of life, its endeavours to lift up the fallen, its societies for the amelioration of the sorrows that afflict humanity, look very well on the outside, but he knows that they are but a coating of whitewash upon a midden of corruption.
When the rulers of the world have to confess that they are helpless to quell rebellion; when one set of politicians accuses the other set of lying, deceit, trickery, and treachery; when women shriek against the tyranny of men, and men in their pusillanimity sink to the level of women; when the judges on the bench declare that they cannot get men, even when on their oath, to tell the truth; when the Christian pulpits reek with Pantheism, Hegelianism, Eddyism, Unitarianism, Socialism, and Spiritualism, the man of God has no different thoughts about this world than he has when it seems to be as tranquil, as truthful, as moral, and as Christian, as can well be imagined. He knows that, whatever garb of religion it may put on, it is just the same old Devil-ruled system that murdered the Son of God, and which, from that day to this, has ruthlessly persecuted His glorious gospel.
And the true believer in Christ knows all this, not because he is, as I have indicated, more wise than others, but just because he believes with all his heart what God has caused to be written for our learning. Not only has the whole origin, history, and doom of the world, been plainly marked out in Scripture, but also the history, fall, and finish of the professing church. The history of the ruin of that which was set up at Pentecost in such spiritual power and moral glory, however sorrowful its reading may be, only confirms the believer in the truth of the sacred narrative. Had the church withstood the seductions of the world we might well have been bewildered, for it is not that which we have been led to expect; but as everything has turned out exactly as foretold by the apostles and prophets of our Lord, nothing is there to shake the faith of the feeblest of His people, but everything to encourage, strengthen, and sustain it.
Men think they will accomplish some kind of deliverance for themselves by their investigations, discoveries, and inventions. A millennium, but a Christless one, they hope to bring about by their own efforts. They are “working out their own salvation,” they tell us. The evils that afflict the human race are about to disappear from the earth. The brute crassitude, which still in measure dulls the intellect of the higher order of creation, is fast vanishing away, and that which is supremely perfect and God-like is making itself visible in every corner of the earth.
“Fools and blind!” for surely a man is a fool who thinks he can do without God. Is He not necessary to our very existence here below? Is it not true that if Him we live and move and have our being”? Was the Athenian poet mistaken when he said, “For we also are His offspring”? Or are we really the offspring of the toad and the ape? And surely a man must be blind indeed who cannot see that against sin and death no headway is being made at all. He is most certainly a fool who imagines he can improve the world, and he is blind indeed who cannot see that it is drifting farther and deeper into God-forgetfulness.
Nigh two thousand years ago the great Apostle of the Gentiles, standing in the midst of Mars’ Hill in the city of Athens, made the solemn declaration, that “God commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because He has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He has ordained; whereof He has given assurance unto all men, in that He has raised Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). From that day to this God has been exercising His long-suffering mercy. But the day of that judgment is appointed, and the Man also is appointed who is to execute the judgment. The world that judged Him is to be judged by Him.
This judgment is to begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). The circle nearest to Himself, and that which has been the most privileged, must be the first to bear the brunt of His righteous wrath. Those appointed to execute the judgments of Jehovah upon Jerusalem got the command to “begin at My sanctuary” (Ezek. 9:6). The judgment, then, will begin at the house of God, but it will not end there, it will be world-wide. But when the judgment begins to fall upon the house of God there will not be one true believer left in it. All will have been removed from this world before the day of wrath and revelation of the judgment of God sets in; for “God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thess. 5:9-10). The first to be dealt with will be the head of the Roman Empire, and the King at Jerusalem, the former the beast, and the latter the false prophet. These two will be cast alive into the lake of fire. Next, their armies will be slain, and the fowls will be filled with their flesh. Then the devil is bound in the abyss for one thousand years, before being finally cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20).
In the presence of this plain, perfect, and unvarnished revelation from God, mere human hope or fear, pessimism or optimism have no place whatever. God, who alone can, has written the history of this world beforehand, that we may believe it, be assured of it, and seek a way of escape, so that we may not be involved in its condemnation and overthrow. To close our eyes to the danger is not wisdom, but madness of the most awful kind. It is the prudent man who “foresees the evil, and hideth himself; like Noah, who, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house” (Prov. 22:3; Heb. 11:7). May both reader and writer have this foresight and faith given them of God so that from the impending judgment of an angry God a hiding-place may be sought and found.
But what is to be the attitude of the true believer in Jesus with reference to this world in which he has to do his business, earn his bread, live an honest and peaceable life, honour the king, obey magistrates, pay tribute, and be subject to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake? This is a most important question, and one that demands an answer from the same source as that from which we have the true character of the world set before us, and that source is the Holy Scriptures.
In the first place, the believer is not of this world. He was once, but he is not now. He has been born again. He is a partaker of the life of the risen Son of God; and that life is heavenly in its nature and character. It is not the life that he had from Adam, the first and fallen head, but the life of the last Adam and heavenly Head. It is not only that he is justified from his sins, he is a man of an entirely different order from that according to which men are born into this world.
Therefore we have in 1 Corinthians 15, the statement made, “The first man Adam was made a living soul: the last Adam a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and after that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.” This is the contrast between the two heads, the first Adam and the Last. The former has his origin in the earth, made of dust: the Latter is out of heaven: one earthly, the Other heavenly. No greater contrast could be than this.
The Spirit of God comes next to speak of the contrast between the two races, which spring from their respective heads. He says, “As is the earthy (the man made of dust), such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly (the Man out of heaven), such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.”
Here we have, first of all, the two heads contrasted, the earthy and the Heavenly; and next, the two races: the earthy race deriving from the earthy head, and the heavenly race deriving from the heavenly Head. It is the old creation and the new; the old in Adam, and the new in Christ; “For if any man be in Christ there is new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17, N.Tr. margin).
The rule and responsibility of the old creation, in its then fallen state, was declared from the burning mount in the ears of Israel, and subsequently written upon two tables of stone, which were placed in the ark of the covenant. Long life upon earth was to be the reward for obedience; death and the curse the penalty of disobedience. This, because of what man is, became to the people a ministration of death and condemnation. No one got life by this means, for no one was able to fulfil his obligations. The debtor had not one farthing wherewith to pay his debts.
Now Christ has come into this world, and has met the whole question of our unfulfilled obligations. He has settled the account to the infinite satisfaction and glory of God, and risen from the dead He has become life to all who put their trust in Him as the only Saviour.
But more than this; in His death not only have our sins been put away for ever from the sight of God, but the life in which the sins were committed has also come under the judgment of God, so that man, and sins, and all, have gone out of existence in the cross of Christ, in the judgment of God. “Our old man (all that we were as of the first and fallen head) has been crucified with Him” (Rom. 6). Therefore the initiatory ordinance into the profession of Christianity is baptism, in which we are committed to the death of Christ, no longer to live in the life of flesh to the gratification of our lusts, but to live in the life of Christ, of which we have become partakers by His quickening power, to the glory and praise of God. In short, we are not in Adam, but in Christ; not in flesh, but in Spirit; and though the flesh is in us, and shall be in us as long as we are down here, we are not in it, but are to bring the cross of Christ, where it was condemned and set aside, to bear upon it, so that we may have it practically crucified, with its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24).
In Colossians we are told that we are dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, and not alive in the world (Col. 2:20); that is, not in our old life of flesh, taking a place as living men in connection with this world-system, but as risen with Christ, having our minds set upon the things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. We are alive to His world of glory. There our life is at the present moment hid with Christ in God. As long as He is hidden in the heavens our life is also hidden with Him, for on earth to this world we are dead with Him. The moment He appears and takes in hand things here, in that moment we shall appear also. Then, and along with Him, we shall have to do with the ordering of things here, but His present relation to things on earth and things in heaven determines ours. Our conversation, or commonwealth, is in heaven; that is, we are heavenly people, who have all our associations of life there.
The cross has severed all the ties that bound us to this great world-system, and we cannot again enter into its associations as naturalized citizens. When Jesus comes and takes to Himself His great power and reigns, it will be time enough for us to have to do with the government of this world. When He reigns we shall reign with Him, but who among His people would desire to reign during the time of His rejection? No, I say, if you will not have Christ, you cannot have me. “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us: if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).
To this it may be replied that a true believer is just the man best qualified to take part in the government of this world, as he is inspired by higher and loftier and purer motives than the ungodly. But are we to consider ourselves wiser than God? Are we to suppose He does not know how capable we are to order things here for His glory and for the good of His creatures? The place He has given us in His wisdom and grace is the place for us to keep, and let us keep far off from that which is obnoxious to His judgment, lest we perish in its overthrow.
But it may be asked, What would come of things here if everybody acted in the way indicated here? What would happen would be this, instead of Christ being in rejection He would be in acceptance, and if He were acceptable here on earth, why would He shut Himself up in heaven? The moment His earthly people say, “Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord,” He will come to them, and if all the earth said it, He would remain no longer away (Matt. 23:39). But we need not occupy our time with that which is, not only hypothetical, but unthinkable. The world, as such, will not repent. It hated Him, it hates His people, it hates His gospel; and if it had its way it would not allow His name to be mentioned on earth. A day is appointed for its judgment, and in the meantime God is drawing souls out of it to Himself by the gospel of His grace.
Let us not go back into it. We are heavenly people. We have a heavenly calling. We are strangers and foreigners here. We only desire a plain way through this world. We will keep the king’s highway; that is, we will be subject to every ordinance of man, for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by Him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well (1 Peter 2:13-17). We will pay for everything we get by the way, and will commit no trespass, but we must maintain our pilgrim character, and keep ourselves unspotted from the world (Jas. 1:27).
The day of manifestation is coming. When Christ appears we shall also appear with Him in glory. Then He will give to every man according as his work shall be (Rev. 22:12). Let us take heed to ourselves, lest at anytime our hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness and eases of this life, and so that day come upon us unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the earth (Luke 21:34-35). “But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of day: we are not of the night, nor of the darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober … sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, “who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him” (1 Thess. 5:3-10).