The Epistle to the Hebrews in its Special Bearing on the Age to Come.
Beloved Friends,—Entering together on the study of this wonderful epistle, let us remember the promise of our blessed Lord, that the Holy Spirit shall "guide us into all truth" (John xvi. 13), and let us expect without wavering the promised guidance.
The epistle is not addressed directly to us, though it is our blessed privilege, as those who are "members of His Body, of His flesh, and of His bones" (Eph. v. 30), to see and understand all our Lord's correspondence. It is written specially to the Hebrews. There are some who still think that the terms the Church and Israel are synonymous; but these papers are mainly for such as have already been enlightened as to the difference between the "Church which is the Body of Christ," and Israel the nation of God, as to God's separate purposes with regard to them and Christ's connection with both.
It may seem to some others, however, that the epistle is specially meant for, and addressed to, those Jews who had become Christians, and were, at the outset of Church history, members of His body. To a certain extent this was so, but, as we shall see, it does not cover the whole ground, and it does not give the true and special place of the epistle. The Church is so entirely separated from "Jew and Gentile," and in the purposes of God so unique, that those who, in the language of Scripture, are "in Christ" have been once for all separated from the Jewish nation as such, and from all other nations, and welded by the Holy Ghost into a great heavenly company, one with Jesus as the Christ of the living God (1 Cor. xii. 12 and Eph. iv. 13). Henceforth, those thus united to the Lord Jesus are styled saints, or sanctified ones, never Jews or Gentiles.
But while it is true that this epistle is not directly addressed to the Church, and that the theme of it is neither the Church, nor Christ's connection with the Church; nevertheless, it is because of our very intimate union with our Lord Jesus Christ that we are permitted and enabled to know these distinctions, as well as to understand all prophecy, and to see His glories in all His connections, not with ourselves only, but with Israel and with all the earth. "To you it is given" —it is the high privilege of the Church—"to know all things" (1 Cor. ii. 9--12 and 1 John ii. 20, 21), all God's purposes relating to His beloved Son. It is interesting to know that in the older MSS., the place of this epistle is just after the two epistles to the Thessalonians. This would seem indeed the divine order, seeing that these are the letters in which the Holy Ghost leads the saints up to the very last point of their waiting upon earth.
Another point of great importance is, that in chap. ii. 5, it is definitely stated that the epistle is about the "habitable world in its future condition." Like all the Word of God, it is about Christ, but it is about Him specially as God's High Priestly King for Israel, blessing the nation and the earth during the Age to Come, "the times of the restitution of all things, which (times) were spoken of by the mouth of the holy prophets since the world began." We shall thus find this epistle connected closely with all Old Testament prophecy in a way in which no purely Church epistle is, our existence and special place in "the Christ" never having been foretold.
It may be asked, however, how it is that since the epistle is neither written to the Church nor about the Church, we should be able clearly to see its import and enjoy its truths. The answer is, "All things are ours." We, as the Bride of Christ, have the joy of entering before-hand, along with Christ Himself, into the knowledge of all this. Very soon, as we know from other Scripture, He shall call us hence, and shall, when we meet Him in the air, "present us to Himself in glory" (Eph. v). Then the whole heavenly company having been gathered, and the full body of resurrection glory completed, our blessed Lord shall take up in Melchisedec priesthood, Israel's case, as in Rev. v.
While He shall thus stand before Jehovah for Israel during the short period of His "day of vengeance," the effect of the intercession, as he shows the blood of the atonement, shed not for us only, but also for the nation (John xi. 49—51), will be that the vail upon Israel's heart shall be taken away, the seal of prophecy (sealed to them from the moment they rejected Him till now) shall be broken, and through the entrance of the truth, as spoken to their hearts by Him, 144,000 of Israel shall be sealed as the true nation (Rom. xi.; 2 Cor. iii. 16; and Rev. vii.).
These, the recognized Hebrews, are, then, to be intelligently waiting for His appearing, as we are now for His coming to receive us to Himself, to present us along with all the saints unto Himself. They shall be waiting for the full realization of all the promises made to Abraham for national and earthly blessing, which they shall now know are to be made good through that same Jesus, whom, as a nation, they rejected and crucified. They shall have heard the risen Lord speak to their hearts, and shall know Him as their High Priest and King; and they shall know to wait for His coming to them with Jehovah's blessing to begin God's "dispensation of the fulness of the times" (Ephes. i. 1), His reign of perfect righteousness for a thousand years. Then, blessed be God, we shall be manifested with Him as the sons of God, and shall reign with Him over a happy Israel-people to the enlightenment and blessing of all nations, and to the joy of all this old creation travailling together until now in pain (Rom. viii. 21, 22). This is what Israel and the whole present creation is waiting for—"the manifestation of the sons of God." May God grant that it be hastened.
Keeping now in mind to whom this epistle is addressed, the opening sentence will confirm what has been said. The one great word to the Hebrews, the one great article of their faith, we might say, is GOD. Their knowledge of God, and their national dependence on Him, were ever what alone gave them and their nation greatness. In all their sinfulness and throughout their long continued apostasy, their hope is still in God. In their expectation of a promised seed of Abraham, who shall thus be at once one of themselves, and sent to them from God as their king, and who shall restore all things according to prophecy, they still turn to God, and their cry is, "How long?" We, who from among the Gentiles have been led to God, have known Him only since Christ ascended, but they knew God long before. As a people, they are from early ages the conservators of His knowledge. "To them were committed the oracles of the living God" (Rom. iii. 2). They are, emphatically, still the people of God, "the people whom He foreknew" and whom He has "not cast off" (Rom. xi. 1, 2): except for a time—verse 15 (read whole chapter). Seeing, therefore, to whom it is addressed, no book in the whole canon of Scripture begins more appropriately than does this.
For the same reason, let us note the expression, "the fathers." This could be said to none but to the Israelites. To our fathers, God did not speak by the prophets. As we read in Acts xiv. 16, 17, "He suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways," His witness (His only witness) to them being that, "He did them good, giving rain from heaven and fruitful seasons," etc. But here it is the fathers and the prophets. In Romans ix. 5 also, we have a remarkable passage grouping together the possessions of God's nation. There, we read, not that these blessings once belonged, but that they still belong to Israel. "Who are Israelites; to whom belongeth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service (of the sanctuary), and the promises; whose are the fathers and of whom as concerning the flesh is Christ, who is God, over all blessed forever. Amen."
II. GOD AS THE SON,
Speaking in the last days. We gather from the sixth chapter of "the Revelation," that at the close of the Church period, the hearts of many in apostate Israel shall be enlightened, and turn to the Lord. "They shall seek Jehovah, and David their king" (Hosea iii. 4, 5), and that in consequence, a special elect company, 144,000, shall be sealed, so as to witness against the Antichrist, and to proclaim the coming of the true King and the setting up of the kingdom. These shall be specially instructed by the Holy Spirit in unfulfilled prophecy, and shall be clearly taught that Jesus, whom their nation rejected, is none other than God the Son. Doubtless this very epistle shall be used by the Spirit of God to enlighten and confirm them in the faith.
Turning thus to the Lord, the vail (as yet upon their heart) "shall be taken away" (2 Cor. iii. 14, 15, 16), and without the covering, they shall read the Gospels, and listen anew to all the wondrous words which He spake, and behold again the works done by our blessed Lord in the days of His flesh. Thus they shall see Jesus as THE CHRIST, and exclaim, like their ancient representative, Nathaniel, "Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God, Thou art the King of Israel." To them, according to His promise, shall the "heavens then be opened," and their God, who spake in times past to the fathers by the prophets, shall again be heard speaking to them in the Person of the Son. Our blessed Lord shall then open to them, by the Spirit, "all Scripture." They shall be taught to compare their own Old Testament Scripture with the words of the Son of God in the New, and thus shall clearly see, after we have been gathered to the Lord, the past history and blessed future of the heavenly company.
Looking back to the time of Acts iii. 19-25, they shall see the result of the refusal of the nation then to have Jesus to reign over them. Judah, cast off (for a time), as Ephraim had been before. Rom. xi. 25 shall show them that the casting off is only for a time. God's work in the interval shall then be made plain. They shall see that, having cast off the nation for a time, God in wondrous grace broke down the "middle wall of partition" between Jew and Gentile, and taking a righteous stand on sin, put away by the Sacrifice of His Son, had proclaimed grace to all sinners, without exception, who should receive Jesus as their Saviour, that the effect had been a special selected company, selected by the very power of this word of grace, called out of Jew and Gentile to Christ, while He was still held in rejection by His people, and in a very peculiar sense made one with the Son, receiving from God the highest place in heavenly glory along with Him. They shall see that, throughout the long period of forbearance and grace, God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing unto them their trespasses (2 Cor. v. 18). Thus instructed, and waiting for the appearing of their King with the "ten thousands of His saints," they shall boldly witness that "the kingdom is at hand," in the midst (as we learn from the Revelation) of much trial and persecution, but of great joy in the Holy Ghost.
Thus it is, then, that the wondrous epistle before us opens with the words, "GOD, who at many times and by many persons spake in times long past to the fathers by the prophets, has at the end of this (pre-Messianic) age spoken to us in His Son." The words, "in these last days," are, more literally, "at the end of these days" (Alford), or "in these days that are the last time " (see Darby's translation, with note). In either case, the period is what in Old Testament Scripture is termed "the latter days." This is to be distinguished from the "last day" of prophecy, which is a term embracing the whole millennial period, as in John vi. 39, 40, 44, 54. The term, "last days," in Gen. xlix. 1; Isa. ii. 2; and Micah iv. 1, should rather be translated "in days to come;" but the expression, "latter days," in Deut. iv. 30; Jer. xxiii. 20, xxx. 24; Ezek. xxxviii. 16; Dan. ii. 28, x. 14; and Hosea iii. 5, quite refers to "these last days" spoken of here.
In comparing these passages, it will be found that throughout the period thus referred to, great tribulation was to come on the Israel people, and that in the tribulation they were to "return and seek unto the Lord and David their king." From other passages, we learn that it is to be a period of the righteous indignation of Jehovah against the whole earth. From OUR present standpoint, they are referred to in 2 Tim. iii. 2, and 2 Peter iii. 3.
Marked out in every way very signally are "these last days!" How solemn it is that even now the spirit-enlightened eye can see all things, taking sides, as it were, in preparation for them. Turning to Acts ii. 17, and comparing the words of prophecy from which Peter there quotes, we shall learn that the period in question is also to be signally marked by great miracles, and signs, and gifts of the Holy Ghost conferred on "all flesh," with wondrous prophetic utterances by men and women. That this was partially fulfilled at Pentecost, and for a little while after, is true; and this fact has, for want of rightly dividing the Word of truth, been much misunderstood and led to confusion. At that time the door of the kingdom had not been finally closed against the Jews. Peter, in the power of the Holy Spirit, opened it wider than ever; calling upon the nation to repent, enter the kingdom, and receive back from their God the King whom they had with wicked hands crucified and slain." The whole of the early pentecostal period is thus really connected with the kingdom. Were it otherwise, it could not be found in Joel. It is often said that this line of prophecy was interrupted when our Lord was crucified. Truly the Messias was then "cut off and had nothing," but that event did not then interrupt the fulfilment of prophetic utterance. That God would raise Him from the dead and say to Him, "Sit Thou on My right hand," etc., this was clearly within the scope of prophecy. So also was the descent of the Holy Spirit at pentecost, and as we read in Luke xxiv. 49, this gift was the "promise of the Father." All this, therefore, was outside the theme of the mystery kept secret from the foundation of the world, and revealed (not to flesh, but) to the holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit (Ephes. iii. 3). At pentecost, God was still dealing with men in the flesh, by men in the flesh upon whom the risen Jesus, as the Christ of God, had poured the Holy Spirit, according to the Father's promise in Joel. Thus far we have had a company of men made absolutely one with the risen Christ and, together with Him, put to death as to the flesh, and made alive unto God in the Spirit. In noticing these distinctions, we shall see also the true place of the "preaching of repentance" as a necessity in connection with the establishment of the Kingdom. Hence, John the Baptist's message, as the forerunner, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This was continued for a time after pentecost, and is within the scope of prophecy. The casting off of Judah, because of the continued rejection of the king's witnesses, is also within the fulfilment of prophecy; and then, not till then, is the line of prophetic fulfilment interrupted.
When this takes place, none can see what God next does save those IN CHRIST, directly instructed by special revelation through the New Testament apostles and prophets. All other Scripture is silent; and the mystery is still kept hid from the generations of men, as it was kept hid "from the ages." The mightiest intellects have tried, and are continuing the attempt, to fit prophecy into God's present actings, but they fail miserably. There is no fulfilling of prophecy at present; nor shall there, in the very least particular, till the "mystery of godliness" be completely formed; for it must be remembered that this mystery is no mere story but a divine work (1 Tim. iii. 16).
In Isa. xlix., we are brought up quite to the break in prophecy, though, of course, no break is seen there. In that remarkable chapter, the blessed Lord is speaking as Israel the true servant of Jehovah. As such, He stands alone, the sole representative of the nation, Jehovah having declared Him such, and called Him by name, He complains, "I have laboured in vain" (ver. 4, read verse). Jehovah in His answer tells Him that, though "Israel be not gathered" by His labour amongst them while on earth, nevertheless three results are promised. (1) He himself is to be glorious in the eyes of Jehovah, and God is to be His strength; (2) He is yet, as Jehovah's servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the desolations (margin) of Israel. But that is a light thing; (3) He is to be "given as a light to the nations, that He may be God's salvation to the ends of the earth " (see also Acts xv. 16, from Amos ix. 11, 12).
So clear was all this to the Apostles, that when it became evident to them that the Jews everywhere continued to reject God's Christ, they turned to the Gentiles, knowing this is to be the direct line of prophetic fulfilment; and taking the prophetic word as Jehovah's commandment to them as the witnesses of Christ (Acts xiii. 46, 47). As they did so, however, God began, as we learn from the Church epistles, to reveal something not prophetic; and in the power of this new revelation, a people was gathered to the name of Jesus, "out of Jew and Gentile." So the onward march of prophetic fulfilment was stayed till the wondrous "body of Christ" shall be completed. God grant that this may be soon!
It is very blessed to see clearly the fittings in again of the prophetic truth—God's purposes in Christ for the earth,—after the heavenly company shall have been completed. This shall be fully opened up to us, as we study the Book before us; and the more clearly we see this, the more fully shall we apprehend the position in God's purpose of the true Church. In the early days of her history, all this was clear enough; but as coldness and worldliness crept in, leading to the falling away, the subtle error, that the Church is the Israel of prophecy, came gradually to be accepted; and thus the whole truth of God was perverted. Men found wisdom in "their own conceits" and became fools, turning the very truth of God into a lie. How sadly solemn this is! Yet, alas! to many even of God's people, the whole Bible has, through such erroneous teaching, become something entirely different from what it is to God. Blessed be His name for all who, in these closing days of grace, confessing universal ignorance, have turned to Him who is "the Truth" and searching the Scriptures, are hearing what GOD HAS SPOKEN.
III. "THESE LAST DAYS"
To this expression we have already alluded. The period to which it refers began with our Lord's ministry as Jehovah's Servant to the Israel people, and was continued by Him through His chosen Jewish witnesses to all the nations (middle wall of partition having been broken down) till the Church period. Throughout Church history, prophetic time, with its days and seasons, is not in question; but when the rapture of the body of Christ shall have taken place, Jehovah shall again begin to deal with the earth by His Son as "His holy Servant Jesus;" and from Acts iii. 19--22, from the middle of Israel's Pentecost, as it were, the last days shall again run their course—a very short course then—till our Lord and we shall be manifested, the great company of the sons of God born from above, for whose appearing and reign the whole creation is groaning. This period stands in contrast with the Spirit's day, so much spoken of in the closing chapters of John's Gospel, the great Church period under the superintending care of the Holy Spirit, while all the nations of the earth continue to reject the Lord Christ. At present, it is a pause of forbearance and grace, during which all who accept grace through the great sacrifice are separated from the earth, which still lies under the wrath and righteous judgment of God.
Let us try, for a moment, to leave the day of grace out of account, and think of the "last days" as if uninterrupted. They would then be seen thus:—
Our Lord's ministry on the earth, His death and resurrection, His gift of the Holy Spirit (the promise of the Father), and call to Israel, repentance with promise of immediate return (Acts iii. 19--21). Then Jehovah's days of vengeance, His "rising out of His place" "to shake terribly the earth." At the outset of these days of vengeance, the Christ shall take His place as Israel's High Priest, on the ground of the nation's sin having been put away in the blood of "His Sacrifice,'' and shall plead Israel's cause—the Mediator also of the New Covenant. In consequence of this, a national remnant, according to the election of grace, shall be delivered, enlightened and sent forth as the King's witnesses. Through their testimony—while the days of vengeance roll on—as they preach the Gospel of the kingdom, multitudes of all nations shall be saved from "the lie" of the Antichrist and the wrath of God, and taught to wait with patience for the coming King.
It is to this period, therefore (the last days), that all the teachings of our Lord in the Gospels, respecting His coming again, refer. It is intensely important to see this, otherwise the greatest confusion will arise in dealing with the doctrine of the second coming.
To us in the Church, put to death together with Him in the flesh, and quickened together with Him in His present position, our risen Lord has, in and by the Spirit, been whispering, in this the Spirit's day, a sweeter word than ever prophet uttered—viz., our union with Himself in eternal life, our never-to-be-broken fellowship with Him in all that the Father hath given Him; and, in close connection with this, His coming for us to "receive us to HIMSELF, that where He is, we may be also." On the other hand, the truths relating to His coming (with us) to the nation as King, are taught in all prophecy, and very distinctly, with minute details in Matthew, Mark and Luke (not so in John, which is specially the Gospel of "eternal life.")
Besides these Gospels, the Epistle with which we are now dealing, and the Epistles of Peter, James, and Jude, all take up and deal specially with the last days. A clear recognition of this will help us much [in our study], and throw light on many an otherwise obscure passage of Scripture. It is, as our Lord points out, in the last days that the Noah-like company shall be saved; and in the last day of that period that the Lot-like company shall be delivered (Luke xvii. 29--31). Then also it is that the land is found in possession of the unjust judge, and a "poor widow " crying for vengeance (Luke xviii. 2).
It has been necessary, at the very outset, to deal thus fully with the expression, "These last days." But now let us turn our gaze, along with these Hebrews, to Him in whom God has, in these last days, specially spoken. Beloved, may our hearts be fixed and our ears anointed by the Holy Spirit, for every word about the Blessed One is full of glory.
The Spirit here first speaks of what He is (verse 3). We are also to see what he has, in fulfilment of God's purposes, become, or, "been made;" but first it is what He is. Now, what one is in himself he cannot become; it is his nature, the very essence of his being. "Who, being the effulgence of His glory, and the exact expression of His substance, and (by virtue of what he thus is in Himself) upholding all things by the Word of His power."
This, then, is what He is, and has ever been. Our blessed Lord has, from the beginning, in one form or another, and in one way or another, always manifested what God is. His Old Testament appearances were the expressions of God, according to the necessities and circumstances of those with whom He was dealing; and when "a body was prepared Him," He then, in the "likeness of sinful flesh," manifested what GOD IS quite as much as in any other likeness. But "we knew Him not." It was GOD in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and we crucified Him! Is any further proof needed that it is the truth which is spoken against fallen humanity, "the whole world lieth in the wicked one"?
IV. "UPHOLDING ALL THINGS."
We saved ones know something about the word of our blessed Lord, and something of its power. Blessed be God, it has already been much to us and done much for us; but in the blaze of these three words, "UPHOLDING THE UNIVERSE," beloved, how little we know! The word of our precious Lord and Saviour has ever upheld, and is now upholding, the universe. Well may it be called the word of His power! And what shall we say of Him? What must be the intrinsic glory of one whose very word is, not figuratively, but really and literally, upholding the universe.
This I cannot understand, but can well believe. Well may Paul cry, "That I may know HIM!" In the light of those three words, what madness and crime are seen in the attitude of an unbelieving world! Aye, brethren! think of our own want of faith in it. Think of limiting that word, of doubting it, of subordinating it to anything. Think of adulterating it, as the many do (2 Cor. ii. 17—Alford), or of adorning it, and thus impiously thinking to add to its power by man's tawdry eloquence. Beloved, think of having to preach it! Surely, surely, in the light breaking on our hearts from these words, we to whom it is given to handle this wondrous Word, shall more than ever seek to utter it in all its grand simplicity, as "the oracles of God." This very Bible at my side is the Word written.
My God! to think how it is treated. No wonder that it has ever been Satan's effort to hide, to destroy, to adulterate, to break it up into fragments, to couple it with his own lies, and utterly to destroy from the earth those who have learned ever so little to value it and speak it out; for God the Son is by it, upholding the very universe. More than ever, then, as we go on trusting Him, let us believe in the marvellous power of His Word. We cannot tell how it is keeping the universe, but it is. Men of science tell us that no word spoken, even by sinful human lips, is ever lost. It goes, they say, on and on, leaving its impress and doing its work athwart the universe, recording itself for ever in some kind of material way, as yet unseen—a force, they tell us, which, with all other forces, is determining the motions of the planets themselves. We know not, but all this may well be true of the words of Jesus Christ, THE HEIR.
It is by virtue also of what He is in Himself that our Lord is Jehovah's heir; and by inheritance, He hath obtained the name of Son. From the beginning, He is the Father's Son and heir, God the Son. By Him, God made the worlds, and, as we have seen, by Him still upholds them. It is indeed blessed to consider Him first as thus set forth. We have somewhere heard of His incommunicable glory, but the phrase is unscriptural. This which we have been considering is indeed the glory which He had alone "with the Father before the world was," and which in pre-eminence He shall still hold forever above all the sons of God: but, wonder of wonders, not alone. We shall be sharers of even this. He might have continued eternally to bear this without us; but it has not so pleased Him. What a thought it is that to us, beloved brethren—I speak to those, of course, who are members of His body—He has been pleased to give a place of oneness with Himself in all that which we have been considering—not only in what as man, He has been made, but in what as Son of God He essentially is—unity with Himself and the Father (see John xvii. 21--23). Sonship and heirship through participation of the "divine nature" (John i. 1--13; 2 Peter i. 4; 1 John iii. 2). This is the great distinction between our nature and position by-and-bye, and that of the blood-purged and restored sons of Adam reigned over by Christ and us in the great Millennial day so soon coming. This, however, is a distinction so important in the study of this book, and indeed of all prophecy, that we must consider it, if the Lord will, more fully in our next.
V. "THE SON THE BRIGHTNESS OF GLORY."
It is highly important that we who are the saints of this dispensation, separated from Israel and the nations, should see intelligently our oneness in all things with the Son, and this before entering fully on the study of those themes which directly bear upon Israel; otherwise indeed we shall be little fitted to understand much in the book before us. Let it be clearly understood, then, that we who now believe on Him are as sons of God, one with "the Son" in all that He is, as well as in what in resurrection He has officially become, or "been made." This perfect unity with Himself is His special gift to the Church, just as the Church is the Father's special gift to Him. This mystic oneness is the true distinction at present of the company called out of all the nations, known as "His body" on earth, and of the great company which by-and-bye, is to be manifested as His bride, the New Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We need not fear to look at the marvellous height to which God hath raised us, since we cannot forget the depth from which we have been rescued. May the Father enable us to gaze steadily, with humility, but great joy.
Throughout the Old Testament the word "glory" is applied to that in which (or rather, to Him in whom) Jehovah more especially dwelt, and by which He manifested Himself. Careful reading will soon convince anyone that this, whether it be the cloudy pillar, the pillar of fire, angel of presence, or Shekinah of the Holy of holies, is ever a person, and the same blessed one who afterwards "was made flesh," and dwelt among God's elect people on earth, to live a life of sorrow and rejection, and to die accursed as an evil-doer, "our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
Towards the close of His life in the flesh, when it became evident that the nation was steadfastly rejecting Him, He spoke to the few who had continued with Him, and who, by the power of the Spirit, were to be enabled to witness for Him during Israel's protracted rejection. He spoke to those few of a new and unheard-of condition, to be still more plainly revealed afterwards in the Church epistles.
We have it first in John xvii. 22, "The GLORY which Thou gavest Me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one, I IN THEM AND THOU IN ME, that they may be (thus) perfected into a unity." In verse 21, where He prays the Father to bring about this which He had given them, the unity is seen to be still more marvellous—"that they all may be one as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one IN US." I need not point out the precious truth, that not only the few who continued then to follow Him, but "all who afterwards should believe on Him, through the Word," were here included. Let us see what this wondrous gift amounted to. A unity with the Lord Jesus, AND WITH GOD! This He calls "the glory which Thou gavest Me." This, as we have already pointed out, was the indwelt of Jehovah, the true Shekinah, the bright shining forth of the otherwise unseen God. Into this oneness we have been received. No matter what the likeness or form, that might vary, and it was not the outward form which proved the unity; that indeed might, and often did veil it, as when it was "the likeness of sinful flesh," or as now in us, when, because of its wilfull rejection of Him, the world knows us not. Nevertheless, whether it was the man who talked with Abraham, or the pillar of cloud which talked with Moses (Exod. xxxiii.), the fire in the bush, or the Shekinah light, the Man of Sorrows or they who are now the sons of God in the body of humiliation, it is still the same, the one true dwelling-place of God.
A little consideration will show that this is a very different kind of oneness from that which many are ever ignorantly hankering after, and vainly endeavouring to bring about. Such succeed in, alas! only more fully hiding it. With such the outward form is everything, and they think that an outward uniformity of all the Lord's own now on the earth would prove satisfactorily to the world the oneness of this great Christ-given and God-produced unity. Like all the rest of God's true workmanship, this is a unity of type, with a great variety of development. It is the organism of ETERNAL LIFE at present hidden, and soon to be manifested together with Him. Even now, the true Church is united; but it is a unity not outwardly visible to the eye of sense, composed of many varieties, with manifold "manifestation, operation, and ministration."
Men idly dream of turning all these varieties, with their modes of operation, into one dull uniformity to be seen of men. This is ignorance of God's plan, and ignorance of His Word. In verse 22, our Lord says, "Even as we are one." Now they were really one; but not to outward seeming. The poor, despised Nazarene was not visibly seen as God; yet He was so, even on the cross, there, as much as at any other time. But it may be asked, "Why, then, does He say that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me? That the world may know"? &c. We reply that the world knew, and still knows, the oneness by the words and works of this wonderful One. The likeness of sinful flesh did not prove to the world that God and the "MAN of SORROWS" were one—on the contrary, rather. But the words He spake, and the works He did, manifested this in spite of the form which veiled the glory; so that He could truly say to the unbelieving Jews, "Ye have both seen and hated both Me and My Father." Observe the strength of the first "both." They had seen Him and the Father. How? "Though ye believe not Me (that is to say, though ye believe not My assertion of the fact that I and the Father are one), yet believe the works: that ye may know that the Father is in Me, and I in Him" (John x. 37, 38). Again, "The works that I do testify of Me," &c (chap. v. 36, compared with chap. xvii. 23). See also John xiv. 9, "He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father." More emphatically, also, as to the world. "If I had not done among them the works that none other man did, they had not had sin; but now—i.e., because He had done these works—they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father" (John xv. 24). This, then, is the oneness into which the true Church has been brought; and which, during the time of the world's impenitency, is to be manifested in the same way as when Jesus was on earth—that is, by the spoken words of God and the fruit-bearing of the Holy Ghost in the lives of believers; but which is to be manifested in the bright outshining of glory to all when He comes again to be admired in all them that believe.
VI. If we turn now to Eph. i. 18, we find that part of the Spirit's prayer for the Church is, that "we may know what be the riches of the glory of God's inheritance in the saints." This is an expression not to be lightly passed by. The word translated riches is literally "fulness." Let us note the distinctive expressions. (1) "God's inheritance in the saints" (ver. 11). Dean Alford translates, "We have been made God's inheritance; but (2) the glory of this inheritance, and (3) the fulness of the glory of God's inheritance. The Spirit's prayer is that we may come to know the fulness of the glory of God's inheritance.
In 1 Cor. ii. 7, we shall find another startling expression. There we learn that "our glory" is brought about by the "revelation of the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery; and ordained for this purpose before the ages." Here, in this hidden mystery, lies, as in the words or chrysalis, that which is to burst forth by-and-bye, the foremost and brightest of God's elections from the old ruined creation, the great Christ-company of the sons of God.
This is still more fully brought out in Col. i. 26. There we are taught that God gave to His servant Paul a special dispensation for the saints (that is, the separated ones, men sanctified from the world during its period of rejecting the Christ), this dispensation being to make known to them "the mystery hid from the ages; it being God's pleasure to reveal to such what is the fulness of the glory of this mystery—viz., Christ in you." Can anything be clearer than this? Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ is in Himself individually the glory of the Father, and Christ in the saints is the fulness of this glory. In verse 25, the dispensation given to Paul is said to "fulfil," or fill up, or rather to be the complement (plerôma) of the Word of God. The true import of that word "fulfil" is not often apprehended. In the margin, we find "fully to preach," but this is not by any means the thought. The word is the same as we have in Eph. i. 23, only verb for noun. In Ephesians, the meaning is clear. Here, then, we have it that part of the written Word was wanting till this hidden mystery was made known. Till then, we search all Scripture for it in vain.
Now the special work of God which He was to accomplish by means of this hitherto hidden word could not be begun till it was revealed and preached (for all God's creative works are the result of His spoken Word). That work is the gathering of the plerôma of the Christ (Eph. i. 23), the fulness of the glory of God. Thus, in two senses, it fulfils the Word of God. It completes the written, preached Word; and accepted, it completes the living Word; the Christ of God; the Christ of history, and type, and prophecy; the Son of God who is seed of the woman; son of Abraham, and of David, and of man; the wondrous resurrection body of the one seed corn which fell to the ground, and died, not now alone, but a multitude and yet one. Read carefully Gal. iii. 26--29. The Gospel which reveals this to us is not "the Gospel of the kingdom" which is to be seen in all Scripture. Paul specially designates it, "our Gospel," in 2 Thess. ii. 14, and there we learn that in obeying its call, we obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. In 1 Tim. i. 11, Paul calls it "the Gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which he was entrusted." In 2 Cor. iv. 4, 6, it is called "the Gospel of the glory of Christ, the image of God." There, we find also that it is seen "in the face of Christ;" and this expression leads us to 2 Cor. iii. 18, where we find that as "we, with unveiled face, behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are being transfigured into the same image from glory to glory."
From such passages as the following, which ought carefully to be studied, we may learn that it is not God's pleasure that this unity should always be hid, this glory be veiled. It is to be fully manifested at the appearing of the Lord with all His saints (Rom. viii. 18, and ix. 23; Col. iii. 4; 2 Thess. i. 10., and 1 John iii. 2).
Rom. ix. 23 is specially clear and beautiful in the light of all that we have just been learning. We, who in these days of Christ's rejection, have believed in Him, are in believing recognized as the chosen "vessels of mercy." Then as the Spirit reveals to us the glory in the face of Jesus Christ, we are "afore" the manifestation of it to all the earth "prepared unto the glory;" and by-and-bye, when perfectly prepared, "the glory" and its "fulness" are to be made manifest "on us" unto all.
This Gospel is veiled to all those now who will not believe on Jesus (2 Cor. iv. 3); not, let it be observed, the Gospel of grace to all, the offer of salvation from sin and wrath through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ to every poor sinner, that is veiled to none. But to those who reject this, and will not believe in Jesus to the saving of their souls, to all such, this Gospel of the glory is hidden. These are the perishing, and through persistent unbelief, they become the vessels of wrath, and as blinded and hardened more and more by the "god of this world", they come to believe "the lie" they are "fitted for destruction." It has already been pointed out that the unity of the true Church with Jesus Christ, which is the fulness and the brightness of the glory of God, consists of a mighty multitude of many varieties, men who are the sons of God indwelt by God the Spirit, the whole making up one outshining of glory, "the Christ of God." Yet within this glory there are many degrees, many glories. Thus it is we read of "differing glories." In the resurrection, one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and still another glory of the stars; and even among them, "one star differeth from another star in glory" (1 Cor. xv.)
Thus we read also of ''the excellent glory," and in Ezekiel, while we have the cherubim of the glory, we have still a voice from the firmament above their heads. This is important if we remember that these cherubim are clearly the figure of this very unity in glory. "They four had the likeness of A MAN" (Ezek. i. 5)—that is, the likeness of all seen together before detail is considered is that of the man in the glory. In this glory, therefore, the Father is still "God over all." He is the God of Christ, "God, even thy God " (Psa. xlv. 7). But the Son is likewise God, so addressed in this Psalm (ver. 6). Then amongst His fellows, the many sons, our blessed Lord is still and forever pre-eminent, "the Son." Individually, He will ever be the immediate glory of Jehovah, while the woman is ever "the glory of the man" (1 Cor. xi. 7).
VII. In our last, we saw the Son of God in His eternal nature, what He is in very being, the outshining of God's glory. The inspired writer next speaks of what He has been now made; but between these two heights—that of His eternal being, and that to which, as Son of Man, He has eternally been raised—is introduced in a single word, the depth to which, in His love for us, this wondrous One had descended, and its purpose, "When He had by Himself purged out our sins," or, rather, "when He had made purification of sins" (Dean Alford). This One, who was ever in His very being, the brightness of God, the express image of God's very nature, emptied Himself, was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, that He might lay hold of us in our poverty and emptiness, and "fill us with His fulness." Ere He could do this, sin must be purged away. Thus in the "body prepared for Him", He gave Himself for us, and "put away sin by His sacrifice."
This is a great thought, "He hath made purification of sins" (Alford). When He, who was in Himself the brightness of God's glory, had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand, having (at this point) been made or become so much better, &c. In consequence of having thus made purification of sins, He is now at liberty to carry out all God's purposes. He has put away sin. Now, where sin once reigned, He has the right to select, form, and glorify His Church. Now, nothing withstands that in His Father's time, the Israel-nation should be gathered by Him and to Him, and all the promises made to Abraham and his seed made good. Now the earth itself, which has for thousands of years groaned in the bondage of corruption, may be delivered by Him.
He hath made purification of sins, and lo! "we have our redemption," and "Israel's redemption draweth nigh." Yea, a mighty redemption song shall by-and-bye, be heard from "everything that hath being." Meanwhile, because He has finished the work on which all this depends, "He is set down on the right hand" of the Majesty on high.
There are two other passages associated with this. In chap. x. 12, we are told that, having "sat down," He is waiting till "His enemies be made His footstool"; and in chap.viii. 1, we learn that there He is acting as Israel's High Priest in order to Israel's full redemption. The true meaning of the word "redemption" must be kept in view. It is not purchase. By the shedding of His precious blood, all things have been purchased, but all things are not redeemed—i.e., set free or delivered. The distinction is important in our present study (Eph. i. 14). At the moment at which the Epistle opens, the Hebrews are taught to think of Him as having just made purification of sins, and sat down, waiting till Jehovah's short day of vengeance having come and gone, all Christ's enemies shall thus have been put under His feet.
This of itself excludes all thought of the Church.* It is only in His attitude towards earthly things that He can be said to be thus waiting. Towards us, He is indeed waiting, but it is to "receive us to Himself," and this great and blessed event shall take place before Jehovah begins His terrible work of vengeance, at the very close of His day of grace, which has now been extended in His marvellous forbearance well-nigh nineteen centuries. In our study of this Epistle, therefore, we must put ourselves for the time being, as it were, into the place of the repentant remnant of Israel. The Church, one with Him always, is then seated. She is lost sight of, as it were, in Him, and is there (Eph. i.). The Hebrews are not seated with Him at the right hand of God, and we must remember this throughout. Let us, then, endeavour to take their place for a little, looking at Him and waiting for His appearing. He has just sat down. He has not yet stood up, or begun to break the seals of that wondrous book of Rev. v. Nineteen hundred years ago—it is but as yesterday—He sat down; all His blessed work needed to secure fullest redemption having been completed. Set down, He received the promise of the Father, and sent the Holy Ghost to the earth. This blessed Person, God the Spirit, began His work by witnessing, to vast numbers of Jews and proselytes assembled in Jerusalem at Pentecost, that Jesus is the Christ (Acts ii.).
* While we accept this Epistle as written especially for and to the converted Hebrews of that and all subsequent times, we consider that it is also intended for the perusal and teaching of the whole Church, as composed of Jew and Gentile; there is internal evidence to support this.—Ed. (William Frith)
Peter, as the instrument of the Holy Spirit, said, "Ye men of Judea, and all that dwell at Jerusalem" (ver. 14), and ver. 22, "Ye men of Israel." Appealing to prophetic Scripture, he declared that God had made Jesus "Lord and Christ," and that at the moment of this declaration, He was sitting at the right hand of God (ver. 34). Kindly but firmly, Peter told them that Jehovah had taken up the cause of their King, whom they had rejected. From their own Scriptures, they well knew what this, if true, implied. At a glance they would look forward to His appearing among them again with all the might of Jehovah at His back. It was this which made them cry, "Men and brethren, what must we do?" They had but a few days ago crucified Him as vilest of the vile.
More fully, as we know, this is repeated by the Holy Spirit in Acts iii., and as a result, about five thousand were gathered. You will see how far short of God's purposed nation, this came. Why, twelve times twelve thousand are but the blessed Levite priesthood of Millennial times, soon to be gathered. But small as the number was, Satan's power was stirred, and in Acts vii., when the Holy Ghost spake again through Stephen, the nation as a whole, deliberately rejected Him whom God had made Lord and Christ. On this occasion, the Holy Spirit's purpose is manifest. He laid before them Jehovah's dealings with the nation from the time that He chose it in Abraham, through the line of Moses, "ruler and deliverer, with the help of the angel that appeared unto him in the bush" (Alford); through the times of Joshua and David, till the moment that they crucified Jesus. He then, dealing with the nation all through Jehovah's time of love to them, pronounced it one and the same stiff-necked and rebellious people, and charged home upon them their one great sin of rejecting God. Stephen made no offer to them. He simply witnesses against the nation, and is put to death. From that moment, the rejection is complete, and Jehovah might well begin the "day of vengeance." Instead, a term of wondrous grace to all, Jew and Gentile alike, and God begins to give Christ His Church. In doing so, He opens the "Mystery kept secret from the foundation of the world." Satan's triumph seemed complete. Prophetic Scripture seemed to have received the lie by this second rejection of Him whom God had raised from the dead; but God now began to do something of which no prophet had ever told; something of which God spake not in Eden or since; something of which Satan never heard, and which he does not even now comprehend, while, from Pentecost to Stephen's martyrdom, the Holy Ghost was witnessing to Israel's King and appealing to all prophecy. The truth of His testimony was proved to the unbelieving Jews in the usual divine way by many miracles;" and when by-and-bye, this testimony on the part of the Holy Spirit shall be resumed, all the miraculous gifts and powers shall be restored. Even now, as one dispensation seems as if just about to pass into another, the feelings after such restoration are very apparent. Meanwhile, the gathering out of the true Church is beautifully silent, as the Holy Spirit woos and wins the poor repentant sinner by the wondrous "Gospel of the grace of God." Silent and without miracle; for the Church needs no miracle save the revelation by the Spirit of the Son of God in them. Gal. i. 16 (Alford). The Spirit-given Word is its own proof, and they live by faith. Very soon this shall cease, and God the Son will again speak to the Hebrews.
To turn now again to Him who thus speaks. "Having made purification of sins, He has been made or is become. Now, we have already seen that the Church is associated with her blessed Lord in that eternal life and glory which He had with the Father before the world was. Hence her election is "before the foundation of the world." The phrase now before us as to what He has been made or become in consequence of His humiliation, has here special reference to Israel and the earth. This we shall afterwards prove from Scripture; but for a little, we must look at the meaning of the expression. A moment's thought is sufficient to convince one that it is new and strange. The wondrous eternal Son of the living God made better than the angels. Alone from all eternity with the Father, He was in Himself all that we have seen; but in con sequence of sin and for our sakes" He was made a little lower than the angels." "He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh;" "He was made of a woman;" "made under the law;" "made a curse;" "made sin for us." Thus far he emptied Himself. In all this, He took hold of (not angels), but the seed of Abraham (chap. ii. 16); and so not unto angels has Jehovah subjected the world to come (whereof the Holy Ghost speaks in this epistle), but unto the Christ as seed of Abraham (chap. ii. 5).
Blessed be God, all that He has made is past. And now that He has made purification for sins, God hath raised Him from the dead and made Him for Israel, "to confirm the promises made unto the fathers," all that in His own essential being, He was before. He has become in relation to them—i.e., as Son of Abraham, Son of David, Son of Man, just what in nature or name and inheritance, He was from all eternity. Thus then, as the Man Jesus, the Christ, in all His connections, He has become now what in essential nature He was before; has become now just so much better than the angels as He had been as Son and Heir of God. All, therefore, that is said of Him in prophecy as the Son of God, is true of Him now as the last Adam. The eternal Heir of God, gave up all the inheritance in order to become Son of Man and make purification of sins. Rich, yet for our sakes, He became poor, and died accursed; but Jehovah, in raising Him from the dead, has restored all the glory of that inheritance to Him now as the last Adam; constituting Him thus in all His former fulness, the head and life-giving power of the new creation.
It is as such, as thus constituted, and in virtue of this constitution, He is seated thus at the right hand of God, with us and for them. The Hebrews, whose hearts are now being unveiled, have it proved to them from their own well-known prophetic Psalms, that this is so. It is quite necessary to notice that all the Scriptures quoted refer to our Lord in this His new connection—i.e., it is proving what He has become. The statements could have no special significance if they were made concerning Him only as the eternal Son. For example, it would be altogether superfluous to say of Him as such that He is superior to the angels; but it is of this glorious One in His relation to Israel and to mankind as a whole, that these things are said. In our next, if the Lord will, we shall see how fully the many Scriptures quoted show forth this truth.
VIII. WHAT THE SON HAS BECOME.
Hitherto we have been occupied with our blessed Lord in His essential being, what He essentially is, and ever was (ver. 3). Now we have to listen to what is said of Him, as He "has become, or been made, after He had by Himself purged our sins, being made so much better than the angels, as," &c. (ver. 4). First, then, He is declared to be the SON OF GOD, and all the angels of God are commanded to worship Him. The writer to the Hebrews gets this in the Word of God—the Old Testament prophecy, which is all about Christ in the very relation which we are now considering. Inspired interpretation is never fanciful, it is a simple appeal to the "It is written." We must, therefore, carefully examine the passages of Scripture here quoted. Turning to Psa. ii., we find (verse 7) a decree of Jehovah—" Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee." We have said a decree, but it is "the decree." He has decreed many things, but, respecting the habitable world to come, this is pre-eminent. It is "the decree." No wonder! How much is made to depend upon it! What universal overthrow of the present state of things, called the world, is to come out of it! and what glorious restoration of the "all things spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets since the world began!
But let us study the declaration of the decree. When does Jehovah thus pronounce Him Son? At a period when the people and the nations have combined to reject Jehovah and His Anointed, and when all the kings of the earth have set themselves against Him (ver. 1, 2, 3). At the present time, this is not apparent. He came, it is true, to His own possessions, and His own people received Him not (John i. 11); and the scale on which He was thus first rejected, we find Paul stating, in Acts xiii. 27, "But it is Him whom God hath raised from the dead, and seated at His own right hand," to whom the prophecy of Psa. ii. refers. Against this Risen One, not only the Israel people, but all the nations, and all their kings and rulers have, when the scene opens, set themselves. This has never yet been done, though we know from many other prophecies that it is to be done. Ere this could be intelligently done, the whole world had to hear about Christ, had indeed to be "discipled," according to our Lord's command to His servants.
Now, this discipling of the nations has been going on, more or less, side by side with the gathering out of the Church, since Pentecost. Alas! with what sad result? Universal rejection on the same grounds as His own people rejected Him before. As yet, all the nations and their kings have not had it fully in their power fully to reject Him as Jehovah's Anointed, "the King of kings." But when the true Hebrews, the veil taken from their hearts, shall wake up to this epistle, and, in its light, shall read the second Psalm, the whole earth shall be, with the exception of those sealed ones, in the same state of rebellion and combination to reject as the Jewish people were at Pentecost. The believing ones then shall quite understand the full import of this and shall rejoice. Jehovah's decree shall be the article of their faith in the midst of general and concerted rebellion.
The second Psalm is indeed the first great appeal to the whole earth in that state. It takes up the thread just where it seems to us to be broken, at the death of Stephen. Jehovah appeals specially to the kings in their combined counsel (ver. 10). From other prophecies we know that the appeal is in vain; but whatever they may devise or do, the decree has gone forth. He is declared, the same Jesus, to be the "Son of God with power." The uttermost parts of the earth, and all the nations, are handed over to Him with authority to break into pieces their combinations and scatter their forces. This He is to do when Jehovah's appeal, "Kiss ye the Son," has been rejected, not gently and gradually, by winning them over to Himself in grace through the preaching of the Gospel, the rejection of which is indeed the cause of His wrath, but suddenly and violently with the "rod of iron." All this is determined, but He is told to "ask" of Jehovah. Now, for the purposes above noticed, He has not yet received the nations; He has not yet asked them. He is receiving His Church out from among them. Many Christians have, it is true, ignorantly asked in His name the nations "as His inheritance," &c; and they wonder that they should, in the spirit as they think, have, for well nigh 1,900 years, been asking this, and that yet the earth should still be as it is. They wonder and the infidel laughs!
Ignorant Christians, wise in their own conceits, will even, rather than yield their ideas and search Scripture, that they may be wise in God's revealed purposes, insist that it is being gradually done by the preaching of the Gospel; and the infidel laughs louder still, and proves, without any difficulty, and beyond controversy, that even professed Christianity is but a speck, compared with heathenism, that Christendom itself is in its leavened mass, the worst heathenism of all, and that the very profession of Christianity is on the wane. In other words, that the Christianity of mere doctrinal theology and ecclesiasticism is a failure. The infidel is right; but, alas! poor man, he too is grossly ignorant of Scripture. He dreams not that the very Word of God itself saith the same thing. The Christianity of the mere theologian is indeed a failure, because it is a mistaken notion of his own. But if he knew the Scripture, the poor sneering infidel would tremble to find out that he had quite as little reason to laugh or boast as has the ignorant theologian. Truly, such are all "blind leaders of the blind." Their onward march is sad enough, and their end sadder. It is true that more than ever, the blessed Gospel is preached, and that the uttermost ends of the earth are hearing it. With what result? Praise God, with this, that in all lands, from Jew and Gentile, a comparatively small number are being truly saved and separated unto Jesus, and this in blessed harmony with God's revealed purpose, with this also, that all the earth has, more or less, heard, and is hearing. The nations, in this sense, are being discipled. This will go on also, as we know, when the Church has been removed, to Himself and His glory. But to what purpose? In the days of His flesh, the whole land of Judea was thoroughly discipled; but the result was rejection. They could not have intelligently rejected Him without having been in measure taught, and as it was then, so is it now. This distinction is important; and on careful search it will be found to be borne out by all New Testament Scripture. May the Lord give us more and more faithfulness to follow Him in this discipleship, not turning back when His cross is seen. Thus shall we be more and more fully taught, and shall learn to ask only what He is asking. So shall we not only rejoice in present receiving, but look forward with Him along the line of prophecy to the future, asking and receiving. He is still saying, "I pray not for the world, but for those whom Thou hast given me out of the world." When this prayer was first uttered, all the others had chosen their place—not with Him—and that notwithstanding much light. When rejection was imminent, the few who continued to follow Him, they of whom He said, "Ye are they who have continued with Me in My tribulation," were specially given to Him of the Father, and He chose them out of the world, separating them more fully from it and its ways. He did not then ask the world, He has not asked it yet. When He does, and receives it, it shall be in the worst state in which it has ever been; and His first work, then as Jehovah's vicegerent, shall be to carry out "His sore displeasure" (verse 5). His very word, then, instead of being a Gospel professed or tolerated, shall only vex and irritate. No wonder, for it shall be "the day of vengeance." The wrath of the Lamb shall then be kindled; and though it be but "for a little while," kings (as such) shall disappear, their combinations be broken, and their forces scattered by His rod of iron. Nations shall be broken in pieces, and all things prepared for His rearrangement and His reign of peace.
To the intelligent student of prophecy, all this is plain. All the prophets, from Moses to Malachi, agree in these things; while Jesus in the flesh, and Jesus Christ in glory, continues to testify to them, and the wondrous book of His revelation, appealing to and uniting with all prophecy, becomes beautiful in its simplicity when this interpretation is received. It would be to fill volumes to take up prophecy after prophecy, and show that while they clearly teach these things, and so fit into one magnificent whole, they cannot be made to fit into the fanciful teaching of ordinary theology. Hence the "burden of the prophets" has been all but neglected; only the little that can be safely spiritualized ever being heard of.
IX. Let us take one of the prophets only. We shall take one seldom studied, not because there is not abundance in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, but first to show that all agree. Turning to Zephaniah, and studying the first chapter, we find that the subject of his writing is the "day of the Lord." In that day, we find that in His jealousy, Jehovah deals with the land of Judah first (ver. 18). Then immediately, as it were (chap. ii. 1), He calls and gathers to Him "the nation not desired" (i.e., the hitherto cast off, the Lo-Ammi nation). "We then find that this national gathering call is "before THE DECREE brings forth" its great and terrible results (N.B., THE DECREE as in Psa. ii). This, then, is God's gathering call to the nation. He calls the meek of the land (marg.), who, in Israel's continued apostasy, have sought His judgments, to seek now unto Him. Thus they are to be hidden in the day of His fierce anger. Not, let it be observed, like the Church, "kept from the hour" (Rev. iii. 10), but hidden in it. Not Enoch-like, caught away before it comes; but Noah-like, carried through it in a safe and hidden sanctuary (compare Isa. xxvi. 20, 21). At that moment, the decree has been declared, but it has not yet "brought forth." It is precious to hear (ver. 2), that when the day of God's fierce anger does at last burst on all lands, "it shall pass as the chaff." "These days shall be shortened for the elect's sake," as our Lord Himself teaches. Then follows, in Zephaniah, in rapid detail, the judgment of all nations, and the general effect is given in chap. iii. 6, followed immediately by the prophecy of Israel's shame, repentance, and restoration, the whole closing with the precious word to the nation: "At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you, for I will make," &c.
We have thus seen the import of Psa. ii. quoted in our epistle. There is, however, another important passage which the Holy Ghost connects with it, and which we must look at. If we would be God's scribes, wisely instructed, we must search Scripture, and trace all connections. The Apostle Paul, at Antioch (Acts xiii. 33), in speaking to the "men of Israel", quotes this passage from Psa. ii., and connects it with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If we read the whole passage from ver. 6--14, it will be seen how intensely Jewish the whole subject is. Paul there takes his place with them as one of the nation (ver. 32, 33). At ver. 23, he says, "The promise made to the fathers, that of the seed of David, God should send a Saviour to the nation", had been fulfilled. God had sent Him, after that John had first preached the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel, and testified of His coming. Though thus sent, according to promise made, the Jews had rejected, crucified, and buried Him. "But God raised Him from the dead," and in doing so, fulfilled the decree of Psa. ii.: "Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee." That is, by resurrection from the dead, He who was the Son of David according to the flesh, now made alive of God in the Spirit, is here declared to be the Son of God, begotten from among the dead. (We need hardly say, once again, that it is thus that we know the members of His body are begotten of God, born from above, put to death as to the flesh, and fellow partakers with Him of life and sonship in resurrection). Thus, therefore, God has not only fulfilled His promise in giving the nation a Saviour of the seed of Abraham and David, but when the nation had refused and crucified Him, Jehovah hath raised Him from the dead, conferring upon Him immortality, bringing Him (as the Son of Abraham, and David, and man) into the very life and position, which, as the eternal Son of God, the Maker and Upholder of all things, He had with the Father before ever He could have been the seed of Abraham and David, before, indeed, Abraham was, before the world was. Now, in resurrection, still the seed of Abraham, David, and man, but with the eternal life, nature, authority, and power of the Son of God. Then, in ver. 40, 41, Paul entreats and warns his kinsmen not to reject Him as the dwellers in Judah and Jerusalem had already, a second time, done (Acts vi.), because, if so, another prophetic Scripture must be fulfilled in their destruction. To this special prediction, many prophetic utterances refer, I doubt not; but the one singled out by Paul is peculiar. It will be found in Hab. i. 5. In studying that book, we soon see that it has for its theme the day of vengeance, terminating in the glorious appearing of Jesus Christ. The prophecy begins with the complaint that, the writer sees nothing but the iniquity of God's people. The prophet is among them in the Spirit of Christ, in His connection with the nation. This is always indeed the place of the Old Testament prophets. The time of the burden is while the people were among the heathen (ver. 5). The thing then predicted is the raising up again of the Chaldeans (ver. 6). Comparing ver. 11 with a host of other prophecies, we find that the leader of these Chaldeans, thus again raised up, is that very "WICKED," who, in the last days, is to be revealed as the last great kingly opposer of Jehovah's purpose, to establish the kingdom under His Son. This is deeply interesting and important.
In the book of the Revelation, we learn that the last representative of the Babel city, and the last king of the age, empowered, enthroned, and indwelt by Satan, is to be connected with a wonderful revival or resurrection, as it might be termed, of the Chaldean nation and power. The entire Habakkuk prophecy is another link in this chain. It is not possible, at present, to go into the minute details of this; and it belongs more to Revelation perhaps, but with these hints, we may more profitably study the subject.
We have now seen that "the decree" was first declared by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Paul speaks of it (the resurrection) as the declaratory act of this decree i.e., that our blessed Lord, as seed of the woman, seed of Abraham, seed of David—three distinct connections—should be in these connections constituted by death and resurrection what our Lord had been in His own person and right, had been from all eternity Son of God in the sense of John i. and Heb. i., not, of course, of Luke iii. 38. This Paul again gives us in Rom. i. 1--4, "Who was with power declared to be the Son of God, by the resurrection from the dead."
The second quotation in proof, "I will be to Him a Father," is taken from 2 Sam. vii. 14 and from Psa. Ixxxix. 26; though in the first of these there is a partial reference to Solomon, it is only as type; and in the latter, the language is decided. Here it is, "THE ONE CHOSEN out of the people. (How blessedly this associates us with Him.) Seed of David, anointed (christened) with God's holy oil, "He shall cry unto Me, Thou art my Father, my God;" "and I will make Him My first-born, higher than the kings of the earth" (ver. 26, 27). We know that while on earth, in the likeness of sinful flesh, He did constantly use the language of ver. 26, and this was at last the head and crown of His offending—the height of the blasphemy which they urged as a reason for His crucifixion; but Jehovah says, "I will make Him My first-born." This He did by the resurrection from the dead. Now, if we turn again to our epistle we shall find that He (Jehovah) is again to bring His first-born into the world; and with reference to the time when He shall do so, He saith, "Let all the angels of God worship Him, when He shall have brought again the first-born (the very word of Psa. Ixxxix.) into the world, He saith, " Let all the angels of God worship Him" (Alford).
We are thus, you see, carried along the majestic march of God's purpose, step by step. May the Lord make the study of it a profit and delight. Blackheath
"The Silver Morn and Prophetic Voice" 1884-85.