Correspondence on the State of the Saints Under Promise, Law, and Grace

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Dear ——
You ask — “Can we say that Abraham and the patriarchs knew themselves to be eternally saved, when Heaven, Hades and Hell were unrevealed?” I do not cite all your question, but embody it in my reply.
Salvation, as now revealed by the gospel in the New Testament, was then unknown, in fact, the salvation of the soul was not then the subject of revelation. The first time it is definitely spoken of in Scripture is in Matthew 1:21, where the thought is that Jesus, that is Jehovah-the-Savior, would save His people — not from their enemies, but from their sins. So also Peter speaks of the “salvation of your souls,” in contradistinction to that from their enemies, for which a Jew looked.
The great truths of Heaven, Hades and Hell were not then the subjects of revelation. Until the gospel was known, after the Cross was past, these things were but darkly hinted at, still they were there, and in measure referred to and known. The wrath of God from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom. 1:18) comes out with the righteousness of God to all, in the gospel, which is His power to salvation. Exclusion from God’s presence (Gen. 1) was seen in measure, as was the fact of the punishment of the wicked in a state beyond this life, but not in the clearness and distinctness which revelation has given it since then in the New Testament. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God,” shows that a punishment beyond this scene was known.
Before the Law was given, the saints walked with God, and Abraham, finding that he was to be a stranger and a pilgrim here “looked for a city which had foundations”; something stable outside this shifting scene; but saw it dimly and vaguely, as far as we are told. Thus a state of blessing with God, and after death, was looked for by the faithful. Confidence in God was blessedly seen in them. He had as yet raised no question of righteousness between Himself and His people, as afterward, by the Law. I do not therefore suppose they would have known the meaning of being “eternally saved.” They did not know that they were “lost” to which “saved” would be the correlative term. They lived and died in faith, no questions having been raised between them and God to disturb the blessed confidence of their hearts in Him, and their “faith was counted unto them for righteousness.”
With the wicked, natural conscience condemned them, “their conscience the meanwhile accusing, or else excusing one another” (Rom. 2:15). To this was added the responsibility of God’s Spirit striving with man, at one period of his then history at least, if not in all (Gen. 6:1), besides the recognition of “His eternal power and godhead” as displayed in creation, so that they were “without excuse” (Rom. 1:19,20).
When the Law was given, another thing came in. God raised by it the question, Had fallen man, a sinner, any righteousness for Him? When this question came in, all was changed. The free intercourse of God in grace with His people before that time, was all stopped. Perhaps Moses’ ease, individually, may have differed to the others. But God retired and hid Himself in the thick darkness. He hung up a vail between Himself and His people. Before that He used to come in and eat and converse familiarly with them at the tent door. All was now changed, and free intercourse over. When conscience awaked under the Law, there was perfect misery unless grace was known, and unless there was confidence in God, but that was outside of the Law altogether.
All this time God Himself was unrevealed. Much about Him doubtless was known, but as yet He had not come out and revealed Himself. Then came the Son of God, and here below He became a man. The unity of the Godhead was the great doctrine of the Old Testament, and this in contrast to the plurality of the God’s of the heathen. There were hints constantly given, and seen to faith doubtless in measure, that more was coming, and behind all this. But the unity of the Godhead was the subject in hand. “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our Elohim (God) is one Jehovah” (Deut. 6). “Unto thee it was shown, that thou mightest know that Jehovah he is Elohim (there is) none beside him” (Deut. 4).
The Trinity of the Persons was never known in the soul until the Holy Spirit was given to dwell in us. Hence even the apostles knew not fully who it was who graciously walked with them on earth. If it had been possible for them to know that God was there — when the Son was revealing the Father on earth — it would have been possible to know God in duality, that is, that He could be known in but two persons. This could not be. The Son reveals the Father on earth, the Father dwells in Him and does the works; but the Holy Spirit was the power by which the Son cast out devils — all was presented to man. But He must die and rise again, and go on high and give the Holy Spirit to those that obey Him, and now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I know the Father, revealed in and by the Son. One God is thus known in the Trinity of the Persons, as a subjective truth in the consciousness of the soul. Peter might say, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and have a divinely-given revelation of this from the Father, but it was inoperative at the time, as many things are in ourselves, until known subjectively in our souls. A few verses on in the chapter (Matt. 16) he shows that flesh was not broken in him up to the height of the revelation, and indeed it never had its power until he afterward received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit given when Jesus was glorified made all the difference.
In Jesus “all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.” There will never be, and there could not be, any further revelation of God, for all has been revealed, else the Son of God has not fulfilled His mission, which is simply impossible. The Trinity of the Persons is made known, and the Son has taken manhood into the Godhead — wrought redemption, and reconciled us to God by His death, and, risen with Him, we are sealed with the Spirit of God, and thus before Him in Christ Jesus, and He in us before men. The one settles our place before God, the other our duties before men (compare John 14:10).
There is no confounding the Persons of the Trinity, yet there is no separating them. Each Person (as we speak) does different things, yet all work in concert and in the unity of the godhead. The Father sends the Son, the Son does not send the Father. The Son dies for me, not the Father. The Spirit sanctifies, quickens, yet so do the Father and the Son. All this is now known in Christianity and under grace, and is quite different from what was hoped for by those under Promise, or felt by those under Law. Under the former, the Patriarchs knew Him as El Shaddai (God Almighty). See Genesis 17:1; and Exodus 6:3. He was the all powerful One, to watch over the pilgrim of faith. With Israel it was Jehovah — the self existing One, who would bring to pass all He had promised. With us it is the Father, revealed by the Son and known by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us — one God in Trinity. Yet He who is such to us — the Father tells us that He is the same who was Almighty to the Patriarchs, and Jehovah to Israel. Compare 2 Corinthians 6:18, and read Jehovah, for “Lord,” where it has this significance.
You ask also, “Would the knowledge of the character of God alone give certainty?” In the abstract I would reply, Yes. But I would qualify my answer by saying, that you could not know His character fully until the Cross was past, so that the work of Christ must come in, as well as God having been revealed on earth. I may be attracted to Him as a Man on earth; but the conscience must be purged by His work which rends the vail, and all God’s character known, perfect in grace, face to face with man at his worst. With the knowledge of such a revelation there must be certainty.
In Job’s case, it was a deep confident trust that God would come in and deliver him somehow (Gen. 19:23, 27). He desires that his hope and confidence may be graven upon a rock, to show how true and well-founded they are, as time would show. In the Spirit’s speaking by him, there doubtless was a deeper thing implied than that to which Job’s hope and confidence reached, just as the words, “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob,” spoken to Moses (Ex. 3) were used in unfolding a deeper truth in the lips of the Lord Jesus afterward, in Luke 20, than the Jews saw. Job’s hope rises up to God, and so he puts life in Him, in contrast with the corruption of skin and flesh, seeing that in Him was a power of deliverance from all this in God Himself, his spirit reaching onwards to a better resurrection.
Affectionately yours in the Lord, F.G.P.
Words of Truth 7:157-159.