The Declared Purpose and Present Moral Processes: 2. The History of Faith

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Soon the evidence appeared of the change in the nature of man; from being good, it has become bad-utterly bad. The sin of Adam shows itself in distrust and disobedience, in lust, in disbelief of His love and truth, in guilty distance and self-justification. Fallen nature showed itself in the jealousy and murderous hate of Cain. The fratricide is banished, and becomes a vagabond. Yet the heavier curse which rested on Cain and his family did not hinder the mental activity, or dull the inventive power, of his descendants. Some of the useful and of the fine arts were discovered by them. They would be called benefactors of their race by man, but they were the children of a murderer. God had cursed the serpent, had cursed the ground for Adam's sake, but did not pronounce a curse on him, nor on Eve. Sorrow was the lot of both man and woman. But now the first human blood is spilled, and the man, Cain, is cursed. “And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand.” (Gen. 4:1111And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand; (Genesis 4:11).) It is as if the earth itself cursed the murderer, and, because it had drunk the blood of his brother, would never yield her strength to Cain when he tilled. To Adam it should bring forth thorns and thistles, but when Adam tilled, the earth did not withhold her strength, it was yielded though by the sweat of his face. But to Cain God says, “When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength.” However great his toil might be, no adequate return would the earth yield to him as the fruit and reward of his labor. “Cursed from the earth.” And this is the condition of the earth so soon after its creation-cursed through Adam's sin, cursing through Cain's! How quickly its best beauty faded away! A fitting arena now for Satan's power. The stain of human blood was on it, the blood of one whom God calls righteous (Heb. 9), slain by a brother's hand, and in bate of God. This is Satan's work, and he gloried in it. He is allowed for a time to enslave the human race by his corrupting power. A still more awful effect of it, and of the accelerating steps of man in the paths of violence and corruption, is given in very few words, but how pregnant in meaning the “sons of God” took wives of the daughters of men. In the Old Testament, “sons of God” is a name found also in Job 1, 2, and 38, and from these scriptures we learn that they were angels, and the name given to them as such; not because they were holy, but in reference to their nature as distinct from the lower creation, and perhaps indicative of their order among the creatures of God.1
Job 38:7 is most conclusive as to this, for Jehovah asks, “Where wast thou.... when the sons of God shouted for joy?” This is not merely to Job as an individual, but implies, “Where was man when the foundations of the earth were laid?” Man was not made till the earth was completed and made ready for him. But the “sons of God” were present, and shouted for joy when “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Men may use the same words to denote things widely different. Not so in the word of God. There we find the strictest accuracy as to the use of words, and a divine certainty as to their meaning. So that, if through ignorance we fail to seize the meaning in one place, God, in His grace, has used the same word or words in other places where there cannot be any hesitancy as to the meaning. Whatever doubt might arise as to who the “sons of God” were in Genesis is removed by Job 38. For I utterly reject the thought that God speaks of angels in Job, and of men in Genesis. Such an indefinite use of words would lower God's book to the level of man's writings. Interpretation like this, applied generally, would destroy the certainty of divine truth, tending to sap the foundation of faith, and to take away the assurance of salvation.
In the Old Testament “sons of God” invariably, I believe, refer to angels. In the New Testament the title is bestowed upon believers, and is expressive of honor rather than of relationship like “child.” For angels are never called children of God. “Child” and “son” do not express exactly the same thought. God never uses two words to denote precisely the same thing, any more than to denote two different things by the same word. “Child” tells of family ties, intimacy of communion, freedom of access to the Father. “As many as received him, to them gave he the right to be children of God.” (John 1:1212But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (John 1:12).) “Son” tells of the honor He puts upon His children, and of the rank the believer holds in the universe of God. It is in contrast with “servant,” with non-age, and being under tutors, and is so used in Gal. 3:2525But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Galatians 3:25). “But faith having come, we are no longer under a tutor; for ye are all God's sons [sons here, not children] by faith in Christ Jesus.” Every child of God is a son, but every son is not a child. Angels are sons, not children. One of the brightest of Old Testament saints is called a “friend of God;” with another God spoke face to face; and though they and others were doubtless born of God, I do not know that they were ever called children. But we are certain they never were called sons; for we are sons by faith in Christ Jesus. No saint could be called a son of God before Christ came. Faith in Him is the necessary qualification for man now to receive that title. If angels have that title, they are at the same time ministering servants to the heirs of salvation, and must give place to those whom they serve, for unto the angels He hath not put in subjection the world to come. But we shall reign with Christ. But we are sons of God in a higher and more blessed way than, they, or than Adam when created. They are such by creation, and we by redemption and faith in Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus as man was THE Sox of God, and not only in reference to His Godhead. (Luke 1:3535And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35).) Grace gives the name of sons to those who believe in His name. He was the first man that had that name. It was His preeminently, in a way in which no creature could have it. Still, He must first be manifested as such before it could be even subordinately given to the believer. In all things, as Man, He must have the pre-eminence.
To return to Genesis. There were giants born in those days, a progeny half-human, half-angelic; hence the name “giants.” What is the effect before God? He saw the wickedness was very great, and destroyed them. Such a mongrel race caused the deluge. The earth must be cleared, or there can be no redemption. Adam's race are the objects of God's salvation, but it must be free from all demoniacal taint. Man, with the system of which he is the first link of all that which through him became subject to vanity (Rom. 8), is alone the object of the deliverance resulting from the bruising of the serpent's head, and of the Deliverer's heel. Hence the deluge, hence a new beginning of the human family with Noah. The fallen angels who caused the sin are not roving the earth, but kept in everlasting chains of darkness unto the great day of judgment. (Jude 66And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. (Jude 6).) “For verily he took not up the angels.” (Heb. 2:1616For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. (Hebrews 2:16).) Redemption is for man. Noah found grace in His sight, and so was preserved from the universal corruption. Jehovah said to him, “Come thou and all thy house into the ark, for thee have I seen righteous before me in all this generation.” (Gen. 7:11And the Lord said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation. (Genesis 7:1).) “Thee!"-only one man! Not even his sons are called righteous, but they were preserved with him-doubtless kept from the corruption by his authority; but God's commendation is to Noah alone. The righteousness of the bead brings blessing to the whole family: an important principle, which marks God's government even now. But what a proof we have here of the complete subjugation of man through sin to the power of Satan-only one righteous man in a whole world! And what a proof, too, of God's grace and of His determinate counsel to perform the great work of His salvation, spite of sin and the opposition of the devil. One man is kept, so that the promised Seed might come to destroy the works of the devil, and exalt God as a Savior-God. On the other hand, had the corrupt antediluvian race continued, how could a free salvation be offered to all? How could it be “unto all,” if some were found on the earth contaminated with “strange flesh” For all such are outside the pale of redemption. Had there been no deluge, could there have been God's righteousness to all? The coming of the promised Seed to be exalted in the midst of a loving and intelligent creation-the eternal purpose of God-necessitated the destruction of the old world. Therefore the deluge is not merely an instance of God's judgment, but a necessity for the display of God's glory in Christ, and also a merciful interposition for man, that the platform whereon God would show Himself in boundless grace as the Savior-God might be purged from all that could stand in the way.
A new era began with Noah. Man had been hitherto without a divinely authorized government. Unrestrained violence and corruption led to the deluge. But God did not then put the sword into the hand of man. Cain feared that man would take vengeance upon him. God threatened sevenfold vengeance upon the man who dared to unsheath the sword of justice without His authority. If ever crime called for immediate punishment, it was this most cruel murder of a brother. Abel's blood cried to God for vengeance. Why was Cain screened from human justice? Because it was a part, and the preliminary part, of God's processes with man, that the evil of his nature should be developed en masse, and also the immense power that Satan had acquired over him. This was the first trial of the world, when without government, as well as without law. It proved the necessity of government, and that with the sword, if man is to be kept in decent order. Accordingly the sword is put into Noah's hand, with all its duties and responsibilities. In the present day man-such his opposition to God, even as to the first principles of moral order-would take the sword away from the hand of justice; be would abrogate the first law of God for restraining evil. But God's word stands yet with all its obligatory force, “Whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”
Man fails with government as well as without it—not the governed only, but the governor. Noah, that is, man, is made manifest as utterly incapable of wielding the sword in righteousness before God; for he who governs must first know how to rule himself. But Noah got drunk. And so another point is brought out; man must have a ruler, and it is seen that he cannot be his own master. To demonstrate this is part of God's purpose, to show the absolute necessity for the advent of the Man of His right hand to rule the earth. For “man, being in honor, abideth not.” But when God's Man comes, “with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked; and righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.” (Isa. 11:4, 54But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. 5And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. (Isaiah 11:4‑5).)
The descendants of Noah soon gave proof that the power of Satan, though not allowed to break out in the same evil as before the flood, was not annulled. Their first effort recorded is evidently Satan's suggestion. They wanted to have a name in the earth, and a rallying-point. So they began to build the tower of Babel. “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:44And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:4).) Why did they fear being scattered? Did they fear the curse spoken by Noah upon Canaan, and foresee scattering and enmity in the servitude of that branch of the family? If so, how soon they set themselves in opposition to God's word As yet the whole earth was of one language, and to this they would add another bond. A city, and a tower whose top should reach unto heaven, should be their central point, and the place of re-union, if any difference arose between them. It was Satan's work, his attempt to render null the purpose of God who will head up all things in Christ. It was his aim to center all things in himself. But Christ is to be the center to whom all men shall turn, not the city and tower of Babel, but the city of Jerusalem and Zion where He is. This ere long will be the rallying-point for all nations, one given by God, and the name and the praise of JESUS shall resound through the earth. “Let us make us a name,” they said. There is no name worthy but His among men. His is the only enduring name. Other names may glitter for a day, but are soon forgotten and lost in the dark grave, or at best but a shadowy remembrance. If man had made a name, it would have been opposed to the name of Jesus. God frustrates their intention by confounding their language. At the right time He will give Jesus to be the rallying point, and the center of union for the world. No fear of being scattered then. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me"-in grace now, in power then.
Jehovah came down to see what man was doing, and His judgment of their capabilities is surprising. “Behold the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do.” (Gen. 11:66And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. (Genesis 11:6).) This is remarkable testimony as to what united man can do. Though fallen, and some faculties impaired by sin, yet, if let alone, nothing will be restrained from them. One purpose even now, spite of dissensions, binds men together, and gives them generally a common front against all opposition if led by one master mind, and one aim presented: union makes strong. God bears testimony to what the great power would be if all were knit together by the tie of one language-” nothing would be restrained from them.” Why prevent this? Why does God say, “Let us go down, and there confound their language"? Because sin was there, and the increase of power would be the increase of sin; but chiefly, I apprehend, because the purpose of God, as seen later in Israel, separating them from all others (who, divided into nations and languages, exhibited the various and divergent ways in which fallen nature wandered from the knowledge of the true God), necessitated, according to His wisdom, the division of man into diverse nations, and through sin hostile to each other.
It was mercy to confound their language. God would still, by His restraining power, keep the surge of evil in check. In nothing restrained, what would man be? What has he shown himself, spite of many restraints? The time is coming when, for a brief moment, all restraint will be removed, and man, led by Satan, will be manifested in his utmost power of evil. But if there was mercy in restraining evil, there was also lodgment in confounding their language. Their thought and deed was rebellion against God. Both mercy and judgment are seen in the confusion of tongues. “Lest we be scattered,” they said. What they feared comes upon them-they are scattered. Henceforward divisions, hatred, and war mark the history of man. Yet there is in man a yearning for unity. The great conquerors of history have sought to unite nations under their own sway. The religious world in our own time aims at it. Such a union could only be by the delusion and power of Satan. It is the dream of modern infidelity; not that there is any thought of Satan's power—it is ignored. One of the leading spirits of the day (V. Hugo) speaks grandiloquently of the coming century, when national barriers will be thrown down, and mankind, as one family, live together in peace; when government and priestcraft shall be driven from the earth, and there will be an universal republic of happy men Alas, in this forecast of man's future an important element is left out, namely, SIN. God, the Judge of sin, is unknown. Those who talk so hopefully of the future are willingly ignorant that man has been already, in that condition, when without the restraining power of the sword each one did that which was right in his own eyes, followed his own will. The result was universal violence and corruption, and the deluge.
The time is coming when there will be almost, if not quite, such a combination of men; not indeed a happy republic, but men under the fearful power and tyranny of Satan. The dragon will give great authority and power to the beast, bringing down the vials of God's wrath; tribulation and anguish, wars and rumors of wars. What a waking up for the world from its present dream of future peace! Then will be the rising up of all nations of the earth, of all save the elect, against the authority and rights of the Man of God's right hand, the Seed of the woman. “These shall make war with the Lamb.” Then nothing will be restrained from them; they will reach the climax of wickedness. But at this first attempt-the building of Babel-the earth was not ripe for that development of evil. God prepares the way first for the accomplishment of His purpose. After that He will permit for a brief hour the union of the west under Satan's rule.
Now at this second intervention of God in judgment they are dispersed abroad, and though violence and corruption may be somewhat kept in check by the sword, yet idolatry-a new form of evil-is added to the black catalog of their sins. It is a religious sin, if such an epithet may be used. It is the power of evil working upon the religious element of fallen nature. For man must have a religion of some sort. Whatever atheists may say, this is a necessity of his psychological nature. It may be asked why there is no record of idolatry before the flood. Because the instincts of mere human nature, fallen and strong in sin, and as ready for idolatry then as now, were over-weighted by the presence of a nature and a will stronger than their own. The religious element was not then (apparently) worked upon by Satan. Violence and corruption, not idolatry, filled the whole earth.
Then all were so much under demoniacal power-such as has never been known since—that Satan had no need to drag men, into the debasing systems of idolatry and world's religion. Now it is his most successful means of ruining souls. Man's religion is nothing but the embodiment of his own evil thoughts and imagination; and the reflex image of his gods, whether mental or material, falls upon his soul with a deeper darker dye. This faculty with which God endowed man, that he might be able to worship Him, became through sin and corruption the means of his greatest debasement. Man became a worshipper of idols, and so thoroughly ruined through this very faculty that now nothing less than the sovereign power of God in grace can bring him back to be a worshipper of God. His religion made him worse morally. The more religions, the more immoral. Before the flood Satan's power was seen in the universal corruption; after, in idolatry, Not that corruption ceased, but idolatry was added, and perhaps the more dominant.
The first moral lesson as to idols was given in Egypt. It was there that God first nationally judged idolatry. No system more debasing than theirs. The Egyptians were the first nation that rose to prominence, and there was the platform whereon God demonstrated His power against idolatry. Apart from His purpose of delivering Israel from Egyptian slavery, He would execute judgment upon all the gods of Egypt. (Ex. 12:22This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. (Exodus 12:2).) The first miracle was a striking proof. It was not so much a judgment upon the people as upon their gods. God revealed Himself by His servants Moses and Aaron as supreme. It was a word of warning, a call to forsake their evil worship and to acknowledge the true God. Else: His power, against which, their gods were nothing, would be exercised against them. But they had no heart to understand the mighty power of Him against whom they dared to rebel, and impiously challenged Jehovah to do His utmost. “Who is Jehovah?” said the haughty king. Pharaoh learned who He was, in the overflowing waters of the Red Sea. Then it was too late for him. But it was a solemn lesson for Israel,
The serpent was an object of greatest adoration among the Egyptians. God began with the serpent as the representative of their whole system. By His power when Moses cast down His rod in presence of the king and the magi, it became a serpent. The magicians accustomed to the power of Satan were not affrighted, and essayed the same with their rods. God permits that their rods should likewise become serpents. But the rods of the magicians becoming serpents proves the direct agency of Satan, who had a brief moment to show his power and to strengthen man in opposition to God. He put his power in direct antagonism to God. He dared to dispute with Jehovah the place of being the object of worship, and imitates the miracle which was to prove the sovereignty of God. Before the eyes of Pharaoh the powers of darkness came into collision with the true God, and in a manner perfectly intelligible to Pharaoh. It was well; it gave irrefragable evidence, and left him without excuse. There was but one rod on the side of God, there were many on Satan's aide. “But Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.” How conclusive this should have been to Pharaoh that the serpent which he worshipped was no god! There was demon power under its form. “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils.” (1 Cor. 10:2020But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. (1 Corinthians 10:20).) Man has stupidly bowed down to a creature lower than himself, and Satan clothes himself with that appearance. He did it in the garden of Eden to tempt, in Egypt to receive the homage of man. He succeeded in both. If the Egyptians could only have learned the lesson the forbearance of God was teaching! They worshipped the serpent-what was become of their god? Swallowed up. Only Aaron's rod left. Aaron put forth his hand to take his rod, the magicians had none to take. All this took place that the Egyptians might know that “I am Jehovah.” There was no form of idolatry, so widely spread, as that of the serpent. Can there be a more complete condemnation of the whole system than here in its representative? This first miracle stands by itself in this, that it was not a plague, it was simply Jehovah executing judgment upon the gods of Egypt. The last miracle, the destruction of Pharaoh's host in the Red Sea, was not so much judgment upon the false gods as upon their worshippers. The other miracles partake of both characters, that is, both judgment upon the gods of Egypt and a plague upon the Egyptians. A plague because the truth taught by the first miracle was not received, nor the command obeyed of Him whose supremacy had been so clearly proved. Israel was still retained in bondage. Yet, by Pharaoh's obstinacy, God was accomplishing His purpose of judgment against all the gods of Egypt. And to make His judgment more manifest, and man's persistency in opposition to the true God, the magicians were allowed to imitate the earlier miracles, until, no longer permitted to imitate, Satan's power stopped, the magicians exclaiming, “This is the finger of God.” It is Satan compelled to own God's supremacy; as afterward demons could not but own the Godhead of the Lord Jesus, forced to say, “The holy One of God.”
All their gods became a source of shame and misery.
Thus in the very first plague, we see the river become blood. They worshipped the Nile. The magicians did the same with their enchantments, so that if by them other water than the river became blood, they were but extending and intensifying the judgment of God. The river brings forth frogs; their god tormented them. At the fourth miracle the magicians attempted the same, but could not. At the fifth, God expressly severs His people from the Egyptians. This seems to imply that Israel suffered in common with them from the previous plagues. And if so, justly; for Joshua in later times tells them they had served the gods of Egypt. And they must learn experimentally the sin and folly of idolatry. But now having taught His people that the gods of Egypt were no gods, God puts a difference between them and their oppressors. They are not tormented with flies; they have light in their dwellings; their cattle died not; there was no hail in the land of Goshen. In the death of the first-born we see retributive judgment upon the Egyptians, whose king had sought to destroy all the male children of Israel by commanding them to be cast into the river. The measure they had meted is now re-meted to themselves. The angel of death passed through the land, and the cry from every house of Egypt told how the God of Israel took vengeance upon them and their cruel king.
An important moral lesson was also taught Israel-and us-besides being a judgment upon the Egyptians. God must judge sin, though in grace He provides a way of escape. But being grace it could not be confined to Israel. And so the means are appointed by which he who, believing, acted on it could keep the destroying angel from entering his dwelling. Judgment had just before put a difference between Israel and Egypt, but grace-God's delight-is unlimited.
Thus early did God foreshadow the way in which alone He can pass over sin. Whatever the love of God for poor lost sinners, the claims of righteousness must first be met. And the primary question for grace is how to keep the Judge outside. The yearnings of mercy can have no place till the righteous demands of a sin-avenging God are satisfactorily paid. There cannot be a passing over of sin without an atonement made by blood. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” And God's mercy does not set aside the irreversible sentence. Mercy in order to have its way must provide blood to meet the claims of justice, and to turn aside the sword from the guilty. God, the righteous Judge, turns His sword away from the guilty and repentant sinner, and bids it “Awake, against the man that is my fellow.” Himself provides a victim upon whom the whole cup of judgment was poured. And the believer is saved from the wrath to come. Here, in type, a lamb is killed, and the blood put upon the door post. Faith puts it there, and God answers to the faith. “When I see the blood I will pass over.” That is, God the Judge is kept outside, the sprinkled blood hinders His entering the house. This is the first need of the soul—to be sheltered from judgment. Not the feeding upon the roast lamb preserved alive the firstborn, but the blood sprinkled outside upon the doorpost ready to meet the eye of the avenger of God's righteousness. So, whatever our joy in feeding upon Christ, it does not secure us from judgment. Nothing but the blood as presented to God, making atonement, does that. God does not say, When I see you eating the lamb, but “when I see the blood I will pass over.” Israel feasted in peace and security because the blood was outside to meet the eye of God. Not the work of the Spirit in us makes us accepted. The Spirit's power working in us, producing fruit unto holiness, makes us acceptable, or well pleasing to God (we being believers), and so like Enoch of old God gives us the testimony that we please Him, for the Spirit leads us to walk with God: It is wondrous testimony to the grace of God, and to His power in us. But we are accepted in Christ before any fruit is produced pleasing to Him-accepted first, by the sprinkled blood, then made acceptable by the Spirit given to and working in us.