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3 Magazine of Christian Literature, with Special Reference to the Revealed Future of the Church and the World.
"THINGS WHICH ARE BEFORE."
F God has told us about "Things unseen as yet," we are bound to believe Him. If those things are in their nature fitted and intended to affect the human race, we feel personally interested in them, for though their actual advent may be delayed beyond the time of the existing generation, yet we cannot be indifferent to events which will influence the lives of our children's children, and furnish them with topics of thought and conversation respecting the designs of the Almighty before He "Made the earth and created man upon it," And if those things are certain greatly to increase the joy of human life, and to unfold and develope the beauty of the Divine character, we will most certainly hope for them.
It must be affirmed, however, that the theology of centuries has inverted many of the propositions of inspiration, changing the locality for the fulfilment of promises from earth to heaven; thus necessitating the repulsive intervention of death before the realisation of the good held out to Hope. But as death is unwelcome to human nature, notwithstanding all the poetic illusions which have been thrown around it to serve the purpose of the inverting theology, the exercise of a scriptural hope has been greatly neglected through all these ages. Men clung to life, and rightly too, not choosing to hope for things which, according to their teachers, could not be reached except through the gloomy gate of death. To make this the portal of life, the avenue to blessedness, and the entrance to glory, whilst "The King of Terrors" is turned into an angel of light, the loving messenger of Jesus to carry the ransomed soul to the beatific vision,-all this fails to conquer the physical shrinking from dissolution, and the moral loathing of the corruption that follows. Facts and the true instincts of humanity protest against this inverted and perverted theology. Hezekiah and Paul are not the only men who have thanked God for even a temporary respite from the clutch of "the last enemy."
In like manner the hope of resurrection to eternal life, which is
certainly one of the most dazzling prospects that the Father has unveiled for his children, is neutralised, or rather, in fact, robbed of all intelligent meaning by the theological process of inversion. This process results in sending to heaven, and investing with glory every redeemed soul when it leaves the body. There and then joy and felicity are possessed in full fruition by the "glorified soul,” which is of course a perfect personality with all the faculties and attributes necessary for complete manhood. Nay, more, it is delivered from the "clog" of the flesh; incarnation was a "prison,” from which it has happily escaped; and now it is before the throne of God, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing! If this be true, the apostolic doctrine of resurrection from the dead is worse than superfluous. For you cannot add to perfection; and to bring down the bright tenants of those celestial regions to the world from whose prisons they have escaped, seems wholly irrational, if not an act of wanton cruelty. And so the magnificent doctrine of the resurrection gradually faded from the preacher's vision, and finally dropped from the pulpit as a thing for which there was no conceivable mental or moral use. But the Gospel of Inversion had to be sustained with something like logical consistency; and the ingenuity of the schoolmen discovered that death meant life, and falling asleep meant remaining awake; and heaven and hell are therefore receiving "immortal souls" in an unceasing and ever widening stream from age to age through all the centuries of time, the former to inexpressible and ever growing blessedness, the latter to inconceivable and ever deepening woe, and this to all eternity!
Brethren! Is this the gospel? Is this the revealed will of our Father in Christ? Can we contentedly embrace all this as the faith once delivered to the saints? Does it commend itself to sanctified intelligence as every way worthy of Him "who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working"? And can we as loving children present it to our Father's enemies and say, "Examine this carefully and you will love Him too"? It is impossible to say "Yes" to these questions; at least, speaking for myself, it is impossible, mentally and morally, to me. Of course if you accept the non-natural, or mystical, meaning of words and phrases as a trustworthy canon of interpretation, you may invert the teaching of Scripture on any subject and to any extent, but in that case you lose the benefit of revelation, and place yourselves at the mercy of your theological teachers. Your faith no longer rests on the wisdom of God, but on the fancies of men. You have left rock for shifting sand, and the house you have built is in hourly peril. You have exchanged the words of God, upon which men live, for vain tradition, which is spiritual famine. A robust and vigorous faith, which can stand the pelting of any storm or laugh at the tongues of fire as they play around the martyr's stake, can only be secured by the solid food which comes from the hand of God. Credit Him with honesty and truthfulness, as meaning exactly what He says, and you will become strong in
the Lord and in the power of His might, ready to dare, and do, and suffer for His glorious name. You will "grow up into Him in all things, who is the Head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."
Although it needs an elaborate volume, and would amply repay the needful labour,-the field is so immensely rich,-it is only in brief outline that I can indicate some of the things which are before us, as the sequel and complement of the present dispensation, and as, consequently, the objects of hope to the friends and brethren of Christ.
1. His return to His world, our world, His inheritance, our inheritance, is the first in importance and foremost in glory of "the things which are before," and for which we hope as the climax and crown of our high calling.
"What, personally do you mean, Christ to return personally?" asks a startled disciple of the inverted school.
"Yes, dear brother," I reply, "there is no other way in which He can return; for He has never been absent spiritually from the Church which is His body, and could not be except He desired its death, for He is its life."
"But," adds my incredulous querist, "you mean after the millennium at the day of judgment?"
My answer is now, as it has often been to this very question: "The millennium is the day of judgment, according to Scripture; so that it is a matter of both regal and legal necessity that the Judge should come before the millennium." What is the millennium but the righteous reign of Christ on and over His own world? He came to His own inheritance of old, and His own people received Him not. They conspired against the heir, cast Him out and killed Him, and seized on His inheritance. But they did not possess it long; for the legions of the Gentile Cæsar crushed the murderers, and Immanuel's land has been trodden down by the heathen ever since, as the Holy One said it should be until the time of His return. Nor did His death annul His claim; for He rose from the dead and was seen in vision by His loving follower breaking the seals from the title deeds of the inheritance, for which exulting adoration greets Him, as the rightful occupant of the throne of universal power. For be it distinctly understood that the temporary loss of Palestine by the Son of David issues in the permanent sovereignty of the entire world by the Son of Man. The title deeds of the holy land give Him legal right, in resurrection life, to absolute dominion over every nation and people on the face of the earth, and "under the whole heaven." The witnesses of the ascension were addressed thus: "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner
as ye have seen Him go into heaven." And Paul says, "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven; and "The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven."
If this be not a literal coming in His own proper person, the Bible deceives us, and language is useless, for the Bible positively says this in words which no grammarian in the world could make plainer or more to the point. It is to trifle with our understanding and to grieve the Holy Spirit, by whom these words were inbreathed, to say that they are mystical or metaphorical, and are not to be taken literally.
2. We see before us the resurrection of the righteous dead at the time of the Lord's advent. Marvellous scene, glorious prospect, wonderful result of the August Presence, the dead in Christ rising up victors over death, incorruptible, glorious, sharing the likeness and immortality of their illustrious Head, and to remain so for ever! This is a tempting subject for grateful reflections on happy re-unions, and Divine compensations for the crushing afflictions, and bitter griefs, and heart-rending separations of the mortal state; but we may not now indulge in such holy luxuries; enough for us to know that our joy shall be full, and that we shall ever be with the Lord! But one or two remarks are necessary to give doctrinal coherence to the subject. We need hardly ask a Christian thinker which picture gives him most intellectual pleasure-glorified ghosts in the world of spirits, or glorified men in the world to come, when Christ will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied? I do not suggest our preferences as any rule of action for God; but I insist upon the proposition that God's rule of action, as revealed in Scripture-taking the words in their literal and therefore true sense- -commends itself to sanctified intellect as every way better than that which has the patronage of either metaphysical or metaphorical theology. Now the idea of men, perfect, immortalised men, animated by the spirit of Christ, that is to say, men in spiritual bodies, ruling over the world under the Supreme Ruler, is sublimely grand. It rings home upon the heart and mind a note of triumphant gladness and perfect victory. It shows us God's original idea of manhood absolutely realised-Divine manhood, man in the likeness of Christ, who is the express image of God. The resurrection of "the body" is not a doctrine of Scripture, the frame animated by blood returns to its original dust. It has served its purpose and appears no more. But the resurrection of " the dead" is, and God preserves the identity of individuals, and when Christ comes the body of every saint will be animated by the spirit of Christ. This is the resurrection revealed in Scripture.
3. We hope for the removal of the curse from creation. Shall we look for a few seconds on the dismal picture which the hand of history has painted, for the purpose of deepening our gratitude to Him who has gilded its upper lines with glory, the herald and the guarantee of the magnificent deliverance in reserve for the groaning
creation? The depth and extent of the calamity prove the resources of the transcendent mercy which rolls it back and leaves blessing and joy in its place. The appalling darkness of the long and tempestuous night makes us wish for the day" and hail its dawn with a sense of unutterable relief and thankfulness. fact that all efforts of moralists, philosophers, philanthropists, governments, and churches have failed even to touch the chronic disease that preys upon the very heart of the world should make us turn with eagerness to God's prescription for the agonised sufferer.
Very early in the pages of the Bible, just after we have repeatedly heard God pronouncing the works of His hands very good, and just after we have seen the first pair of human kind placed in a garden of delights, we are startled by these awful words from the Holy One: "And unto Adam He said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns, also, and thistles shall it bring forth unto thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 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."
There is the sentence of the righteous Judge from whose award there is no appeal; and that it has taken effect the mournful experience of nearly six thousand years too fully proves. From the shock then given to creation it has trembled ever since. The shudder at its centre has flashed to its circumference. No continent
or island has escaped. It is a fallen world, whose foundations are out of course, all whose inhabitants are exposed to pain and smitten with mortality, and whose history is a long record of lamentation, mourning, and woe. Man disobeyed God. Herein lay the cause of the disaster. Sin plucked the key-stone from the glorious arch which connected Paradise with Heaven, and man's house lay in ruins about him. The legacy of woe has been transmitted to the race. "The earth, also, is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate." Moral guilt and mental and physical suffering have characterised all generations. War, famine, pestilence-words of dread significance-enter largely into the history of the world. And the lower animals are not only subjected to suffering in consequence of their connection with man, but they prey upon each other, thus distributing the confusion and the terror through the earth, the ocean, and the air. The jungle and the forest have their deadly reptiles and ferocious beasts; and man, the dethroned monarch of a splendid kingdom, has constantly to defend himself as best he may against thousands of enemies-insect, reptile, and quadruped