The Heavenly Hope: Part 2

John 14:1‑3  •  33 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Before entering on the examination of other testimony, I take the opportunity of noticing the blighting effect of the earthly or Jewish side of the Lord's coming on those who would thereby swamp the heavenly. A dear brother in the Lord from a distant land (whom I have no reason to consider heterodox, only one-sided and enthusiastic and exclusive in seeing nothing higher than the kingdom) broached, when pressed with the hope as set before us in John 14, that there is no future whatever in the opening verses of this chapter. He would have it that it reveals nothing to come, but only what we now enjoy as part of our Christian privilege. He laid stress on “many mansions,” or abiding places, and argued that we have all that is there adduced by our Lord to comfort the disciples fulfilled in the precious fact that we are already in Christ in the heavenlies.
To this one wholly demurs, insisting that the Lord spoke of their being with Him, “that where I am, ye also may be,” not at all here of being in Him. Of this we do hear in the quite different intimation of ver. 20 where, as He said, “In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” This beyond question is realized to-day; nor need anyone contest that so it is in the context both before and after, where the Lord says, “I will not leave you orphans (or desolate), I am coming unto you” (18), and, “If one love me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (23). But in ver. 3 there is distinctive care to preclude the confusion, as the word is “I am coming again, and will receive you unto myself.” It is not the spiritual coming of the Father and the Son to abide with the obedient saint here, but Christ's personal coming again, to receive us unto Himself, that where He is (that is, in His Father's house of many mansions, in which He even then speaks of Himself as in xvii. 11), we also may be.
Can one conceive of greater havoc done through Judaizing the hope than such an effect on one who sincerely and earnestly loves Christ's appearing? In an experience by no means short and with a heart I trust far from narrow toward the saints, poor or rich, lowly or noble, learned or unlettered in many lands, never have I known any truth as to which the least taught had more hearty communion with the most deeply instructed than in looking onward to be with Christ on high according to this promise of our Lord. What makes its denial more startling is that it came from an active partisan, though neither extreme nor virulent, of a prophetic school which more than most pleads the voice of early tradition for its shade of premillennialism, and certainly with more reason than the historicalists, such as even the late E. B. Elliott. But tradition is an echo of uncertain sound for the truth, and sure to betray its advocates into more or less of human accretion and divine loss. Both the O. T. and the N. T. revelations of God solemnly warn against the danger; as the new nature under the action of His Spirit assuredly repudiates aught but His word for our hope no less than our faith.
Nor did the mischief end with unbelief as to John 14:1-31Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:1‑3). It was equally marked when Zech. 14:55And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with thee. (Zechariah 14:5) was cited to show that the O. T. recognizes the coming of all the saints at Jehovah's advent and day. But, admitting that the holy angels will be there, it seems strange to question what is so distinctly taught in 1 Thess. 3:13; 4:14, 213To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. (1 Thessalonians 4:14)
2For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:2)
Thess. 1:10, Jude 1414And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, (Jude 14), Rev. 17:14; 19:1414These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. (Revelation 17:14)
14And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. (Revelation 19:14)
. in some of which texts the accompanying terms exclude angels, though elsewhere these may really be meant. Is it not sad to see how a partial apprehension of the truth works to obliterate what is heavenly? Yet Daniel the prophet does not fail to discriminate the saints of the high or heavenly places (vii. 18, 22, 25, to whom judgment was given as in Rev. 20:44And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4)), from their “people,” who have the greatness of the kingdom given them “under the whole heaven.”
It would however be altogether unfair to put this great defect on a level with a horrid delusion which has lately come to light in a work called “Parousia,” by Dr. J. Scott Russell, and cried up in the late Dr. R. Weymouth's Version of the N. T. in Common Speech, as well as in a volume of discourses entitled “Maranatha,” by the Rev. F. B. Proctor. Whether such strange doctrine prevails beyond a small admiring circle is not known. Mr. P.'s volume fell under my eyes quite recently, and the version named still more so. But they are evidence enough, that the supposed “great book” of Dr. R. is in truth a mischievous blunder, the revival in spirit of that early imposture of which the apostle speaks in 2 Tim. 2, “that the resurrection is passed already.” The assumption of these dreamers is: Christ came finally and so fully at the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, that all scripture about His “parousia” was then exhausted.
None need wonder that in this as in other systems of error, not a little truth, generally overlooked, is interspersed, so as to give a fair color to the lie. These men, like Hymenmus and Philetus of old, overthrow the faith of some; for no lie is of the truth. And this lie denies necessarily the resurrection of the body, the triumphant rapture of the saints to Christ, our future abiding place in the Father's house, no less than the awful judgment of the quick in the day of the Lord, when the Satanic trio condignly suffer, and the displayed world-kingdom of our Lord and His Christ shall come in power and glory, to the deliverance of the still groaning creation. Then the purpose of God shall be fulfilled for the administration of the fullness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens and those on the earth; in Him in whom also we were given inheritance as His joint-heirs.
Take this sample from p. 116. “We believe that a great wrong is done—because it misleads—when we speak of the church of Christ as a Bride mourning her absent Lord; as is done in some of our hymns. The fact is that He is not absent; He has come and is here—a Real Presence abiding with His church forever. We are bound to believe that the Lord did come in or about the year 70, and then fulfilled all His predictions and promises concerning the second coming.” Again, in p. 119, G. A. Smith on Isa. 7:1414Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14) is cited, “God with us is the one great fact in life,” with the comment, “We may add, it is the greatest fact in history. For what else has ever happened to be put in comparison with it?” [Yet the volume opens most inconsistently, with the admission that, not the Incarnation, but the atoning death on the cross, is the true central point, whereon all turns for God's glory, man's salvation, and the reconciliation of all things, though the last needs His future revelation with His saints to give it effect. For in the cross, not before, was sin judged by God on the holy and divine Savior]. “But if so much can be said of His first advent (which was but temporary!), how much is the fact intensified when we apply it to His second coming and abiding Presence, which took place within the life-time of a generation of people who heard Him speak? Which also the apostles constantly recurred to as to a point in history at which a new era would commence.”
But this show of truth is as false as Satan can make it. For the real bearing is that Christ is the power of resurrection and life in His person, as being the Son and God; He was therefore able to raise Lazarus there and then to life in the flesh, as He will at the due time raise the dead believers and change the living ones: had Martha this faith? In order to do so, at the last day, consistently with God's nature and our sins, He must Himself die and be raised again. For as John 12:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:24) tells us, “Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.” Life in resurrection power is to have life abundantly. Hence since He rose believers are now quickened, who were dead in offenses and sins, yea, quickened together with Christ, and raised up together and made to sit together in the heavenlies in Him.
This in no way supersedes but is rather the ground of our being changed, even our body of humiliation transformed into conformity with His body of glory, when He comes from the heavens as Savior in full, not of the soul only as now, but of the body also at that glorious hour. Life and resurrection are not inherent in the race. The believer has life, but it is in the Son. All depends on Him. We live because He lives; and the life as a believer I now live in flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:2020I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)). But though heavenly as of the Heavenly One, we still bear the image of Adam, the man of dust; when the body is raised in in-corruption, glory, and power at His still future coming, we shall bear the image of the Second man, the last Adam.
Thus the notion, that the second coming of Christ is come, is a dream which avails itself of truth unknown in the great or the small denominations, to destroy the truth of His next advent and of the resurrection from the dead, which flows from Christ's rising as the foundation of Christianity, and looks on to that bright consummation. The blessed hope is annulled. The kingdom no doubt is already set up in mystery; but their fond fancy, which makes what we now have to be all, annuls what we await. Satan shall then be crushed under our feet, and the power of the Lord so established that not an idol shall remain, nor a blade of grass that shall not flourish under His glory. For then God heads up all things in Christ, the things in the heavens, and the things on the earth; and we shall share with Him all the inheritance, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. It is a cruel cheat of the enemy, that the day of manifested power and glory is begun, or never to be. Though the Lord is received up in glory, He is hid in God; whereas then He will be manifested, and we too in glory. The world to come is not come, but is surely coming.
It is all well to quote John 5:2525Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:25), “Verily, verily, I say to you, The hour cometh and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that have heard shall live.” This is not what He wanted in Martha; but it is the faith that must be now, if souls are to be quickened and not perish. But why is not the further truth added of verses 28, 29? “Wonder not at this; for an hour is coming [which now is not] in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth: those that have done good unto a resurrection of life; and those that have done ill unto a resurrection of judgment.” Here in the same context is the truth to which the Lord attaches the same solemn mark of divine truth; He affirms the absolute certainty of that which this spurious Parousia school audaciously denies.
It is not that any rise again independently of Christ; for as He is the giver of life eternal, God also gives to Him the prerogative of all judgment, as the despised but glorious Son of man. It is His voice that expressly calls for what is here sneeringly called “a graveyard resurrection;” for “all that are in the tombs shall hear His voice,” just or unjust, well-doers or evil-doers. Hence there are to be two resurrections bodily, as we read prophetically in Rev. 20:4-64And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. 6Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:4‑6), and 11-15: a resurrection of life and reigning with Christ; and a resurrection of judgment and endless woe. We need not wonder at the quickening of the spiritually dead, when the Lord will call from their tombs the actually dead to come forth, the godly and believing who have life in Him now unto a resurrection of life, and the worthless unbelievers unto a resurrection of judgment issuing in the lake of fire.
No wonder that for free thinkers “a translation of translations” should be sometimes preferred to a faithful and close version. No wonder that the Christian's belief in the apostle's warning of ever-growing failure and ruin, till Christ personally arrive for heavenly glory and earthly judgment, is treated as “pessimism,” and as “the Christian's worst enemy.” Christ is not on His own throne to reign yet, but as the world's despised and crucified on the Father's throne. “In the world ye have tribulation,” said the Lord; not a special one, as retributively for Jews and Gentiles at the end of the age, but ever and anon in our pilgrimage, the very apostles the last, though in the church the first, a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. It was the volatile and worldly-minded Corinthian brethren who took the place of filled, and rich, and reigning “without us” (the apostles): “and would that ye did reign, that we might reign with you,” said the large-hearted Paul. But it was a mere delusion.
If we died together with Christ, we shall also live together; if we endure (or suffer patiently), we shall also reign together. As Christians we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. “For I reckon that the sufferings of the now time are not worthy to be compared with the glory about to be revealed to usward.” Christ is not reigning yet, still less is He administering the affairs of the world. It is a falsehood which these theorizers share with the Papacy on the one hand, and the Mormons on the other, who both seek, and not they only, present power and glory. Even the last time or hour (1 John 2:18-2718Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 20But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. 21I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. 22Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 23Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. 24Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. 25And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. 26These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. 27But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him. (1 John 2:18‑27)) is marked by the prevalence, not of Christ but of many antichrists, the sad harbingers of the Antichrist, whom the Lord Jesus shall appear to destroy, as 2 Thess. 2:88And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: (2 Thessalonians 2:8) tells us. The Father's kingdom will not arrive for the heavens, nor the Son of man's for the earth, till He shall come to judge the quick, and all lawless ones be cast out of His kingdom into the furnace of fire, and the righteous shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
One may not value the tradition through Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, and may incomparably prefer the living and gracious light of the inspired scriptures. But those western chiefs did not destroy either the foundations, or the hope, like these strange fanatics of the misbelieved and perverted “Parousia.” For theirs is an utter misuse of precious truth which leaves nothing but decomposed fruit, the ashes of death, instead of the life, of which they write so glibly and unspiritually and unholily, without a single atom of truth rightly understood or applied. Unbelief of the truth is blind and bad; but how much worse is faith in a lie of Satan that supplants God's mind for faith and hope?
It is not here bridesmaids outside with their torches going forth to meet the bridegroom, but servants within the house with their lamps alight. “Let your loins be girded about, and lamps burning, and yourselves like men waiting for their own lord whenever he may leave (or return from) the wedding, that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open to him. Blessed those bondmen whom the Lord on coming shall find on the watch. Verily I say to you, that he will gird himself about, and make these recline, and coming up will serve them.” Believing merely in His second coming in no way meets what our Lord here impresses on His bondmen, but their hearts fixed on His return as the first of their duties. Watching on their part His heart craves. Servants are not unused to seek their pleasure when their lord is away forever so little, some without, others in distant parts of a great house. But He in the most earnest way lays it on them to be as men that wait for their own Master whenever He may return from the nuptial feast, that when He comes and knocks they may without delay open to Him. No delay, no hurry to reach this post, but on the look-out, by the door as it were, that, when His knock is heard, they may forthwith open to Him. “Ye,” yourselves, waiting for Him, characterizes their whole outlook.
On all sides it is eminently in keeping with the place assigned by the Spirit to Luke; who, as he conveys the grace in Christ, demands also the becoming answer of the heart in the saints. The return from the wedding-feast was the best possible figure on the Lord's part, the sympathetic occasion of festive joy, yet when the night might be more or less spent. His return from the wedding as a prophetic event suits not the marriage of the Lamb on high, still less the day when Zion shall be called Hephzibah, and the land Beulah. But as a figure, expressive of a duty suitable to His loving fellowship, filled with bright joy, and excluding all associations of judgment and sadness, what so appropriate? What could so well call out the warm affections of the bondmen to their own Lord? If words were to put the saints into the constancy of waiting for the coming of Christ, surely none could more powerfully set that hope as the proximate and immediate object before their hearts.
But there is more. What could strengthen it so much as the wondrous grace in the assurance He solemnly adds, what no other lord would think of? He shall gird Himself about—yes, in the glory of heaven, and make them recline at its feast, and come up and serve them. It was the humiliation of love we only conceive faintly, that He, who subsisting in God's form deemed it no object of seizure to be on equality with God, emptied Himself when He took a slave's form and came in likeness of men. Yet He went farther, as love's need required; and when found in fashion as man, He humbled Himself in becoming obedient as far as death (and what must it have been to Him?) yea, death of the cross. It was in that divine love which would secure God's glory and man's blessing at all cost. Now glorified in heaven He continues the work of a slave in the intercession for us, which was symbolized by the washing of the defiled feet of the disciples. But here again His love is to assume a renewed form when we are there glorified when, as His mark of honor for His bondmen that have watched for Him, He will cause them to recline at the heavenly feast, and come up to serve them.
And then let us consider the joy it is, that this the apostolic hope is ours now no less than the apostolic faith and fellowship, if one has ears to hear. “And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third, and find [them] so, blessed are those.” It is thus evident that expecting the Lord certainly at a distant and defined moment is not in the least what He impresses. A prophecy has its own definite character, if not at a fixed time like the Seventy Weeks, and many others of less moment, yet marked by distinct circumstances which shut it up to a well understood time or season. Here it is expressly otherwise. Of purpose it is as uncertain when, as it is certainly to be; and the object is that His bondmen should be always on the watch.
If now the teaching of the apostles is sought, none can find a more direct supply than in the two Epistles to the Thessalonians. From 1 Thess. 1 we learn that the great apostle of the Gentiles instructed those saints from their conversion to God, not only to serve Him as a living and true God, but to await His Son from the heavens whom He raised from out of the dead, Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath. This waiting is no doubt quite general; and it was wisely so as a first outline for souls just brought out of heathenism. Enough it was for them from the start to be put into this happy condition of waiting for Him who so loved them and had wrought so efficaciously for them now and forever. Details they would have in due time; and not a little in these early letters.
Nor was it less on Paul's side (ii.), who, as he wished no selfish advantage nor present power nor worldly honor, but to be the ready servant of Christ's love and will, looked for his reward in no thing of earth's vain glory. “For what is our hope or joy, or crown of boasting? Are not ye, too, before our Lord Jesus at His coming? for ye are our glory and joy.” But he also most carefully (iii.) urged them to love toward one another and toward all, as was his own affection toward them; in order to confirm their hearts unblameable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. The proud unbelieving fancy of any members of Christ being absent then he would thus efface from every heart.
Disallowing another old fancy, that a saint's death is Christ's coming for him, the apostle seals on the scene of bereavement the joyful certainty (iv.), that God will bring with Christ those put to sleep through Jesus. And he explains, as a new revelation, that the Lord Himself will come for His saints, the dead in Christ, and ourselves then alive and remaining, in order to be all thenceforth forever with Him.
He also points out (v.) the awful character of His day, when sudden destruction comes on the sons of night and darkness whom that day shall overtake as a thief. Every Christian ought to see the distinctness of the Lord's coming to gather His own unto Himself above, from His day of judicial dealing with His and their adversaries: the one a quite fresh revelation of sovereign grace in its triumphant close, the other a well-known theme of all prophecy.
The second Epistle follows up the same truth, but particularly to guard from the delusion, which some palmed on the saints, that the day of the Lord had actually come. Hence it is shown them that the persecution, which seems to have been thus perverted, is not at all the feature of that day. For then the Lord shall be revealed from heaven, awarding both tribulation to their troublers, and rest to His saints. It will be His vengeance in flaming fire on the evil; while He shall have come, not to receive the saints to Himself for the Father's house, but to be glorified in His saints and wondered at in all that believed, before the world. Therefore in chap. 2 he begs them, for the sake of (or by) His coming and their gathering together to Him, not to be shaken by the false cry that the day of the Lord was present. For before that day (not before His coming for us) two fearful evils must be: the apostasy, and the man of sin revealed who is to be annulled by the appearing of His coming in that day. Lastly, in chap. iii. he prays the Lord to direct their hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ. He waits patiently; and so should we, instead of the idle selfish folly of some.
We may see how the blessed hope is meant to cheer, elevate, and strengthen all the practical life; as the other Epistles still more apply it! No wonder Satan labors incessantly to dim, weaken, and destroy its light and power. Take 1 Corinthians as an instance. Thus in chap. 1:7 we have in strict propriety not exactly the “coming” but the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in ver. 8 “the day “; because only then will be manifested how the saints acquitted themselves as to the use of each gift of grace entrusted to their charge. Whereas in the Lord's Supper (chap. 11:26) they were to announce His death until He come, bringing the affections into the deepest play between the termini of Christian existence and pilgrimage, Christ's death and His coming.
Nor should we omit to note the words of another apostle, bearing on our theme, especially as they are generally and utterly misunderstood. The scene on the holy mount Peter counts as confirming “the prophetic word, to which ye do well in taking heed, as to a lamp shining in a squalid place, until day dawn and [the] day-star arise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:1919We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: (2 Peter 1:19)). “Ye” were the same Christian Jews of the dispersion whom he had addressed in his first Epistle, already familiar with the law. They did well in paying attention to the prophetic word, which he compares to a lamp shining in a squalid place (as this world truly is), over which hang the unsparing judgments of God soon to fall. Like the Hebrews to whom Paul wrote, they were slow in appropriating the fuller light and better hope of Christianity. Who can wonder that can intelligently estimate the less excusable shortcoming of Christians in this respect among (not Romanists, Greeks, Lutherans and Anglicans only, but) the boastful “Free Churches” of Protestants in Britain or the U. S. of America?
How few know of themselves, that “the worshippers once purged have no more conscience of sins”! How many premillennialists feel, as the late distinguished E B Elliott wrote to me a little before his death, that, if he believed the Lord was coming to-morrow, he himself would be much tried to-night. Where then the constant joyful hope? How fallen from grace and truth are even such leaders as that evangelical man! The apostle accordingly adds, “until day dawn and the day-star arise in your hearts “; i.e. till in your hearts shall have dawned heavenly gospel light, and Christ as morning star arisen there in hope, as now made known by the apostles.
The believing Jews were prone to rest satisfied with “the word of the beginning of Christ” —that Jesus in truth was the Messiah, God's Anointed. They believed the fact of His death, resurrection, ascension, and return; but they feebly apprehended the blessed results both for God and man, and especially for the saints. They were truly born of God and converted; but how little they entered, if at all, by the new and living way into their own nearness, far beyond that even of the Aaronic priesthood! How slow also to cry Abba, Father! With the light of day in the gospel goes also the hope of Christ as morning-star; it is not merely His rising in the day of Jehovah with healing in His wings for Israel, and with treading down as ashes for the wicked.
Here it is the hearts of the saints receiving fully heavenly light as well as the proper Christian hope. But men, and none more than Israelites, were proud of the old wine and unwilling to believe in the superior value of the new; they said, “The old is good.” Hence (as this was a serious wrong to Him who was infinitely more than Messiah, and fresh grace was henceforth brought into the view of faith after His people's rejection of Him) the painstaking by the apostles to lead them onward from the elements into the depths of God now revealed; by Paul elaborately in the Epistle to the Hebrews; by John in the mystic way of his Gospel and the Revelation; and by Peter in the fervent appeals of both his Epistles.
Many dear Christians unconsciously betray their total misapprehension of the apostle's drift by stopping short of what he says, and quoting only “until the day dawn, and the day-star arise,” as if the words “in our hearts” had never been written, or had no meaning, whereas they are essential to the true sense. For the apostle does not here speak of the day of glory come for the earth, and especially Zion's light arrived. On the contrary he desires for the believing remnant of Jews to whom he writes again, that they should not rest content with the lamp of prophecy, good as it is for the squalid place of a world under judgment with divine wrath impending, but have gospel daylight dawning, and the morning-star arising, in their hearts. For this is the special Christian privilege, as to which they might be quite unexercised, like too many saints in our day and for many centuries, who never rise in their anticipations beyond the kingdom and reigning with Christ. It is the realization in their hearts of what Christ entitles to, both as regards present standing and the hope of His coming, which he could not take for granted, but urges on them. If any were possessed of this privilege already, they would know the vantage ground it gave them; if not, he would have them seek it from Him who blesses by faith according to the word of His grace.
It was the lack of understanding the apostle, which led two men of learning in our day to subject his language to a violence repudiated by all the versions ancient and modern of any worth at all known. Both boldly strove to cut the connection of the words which have been specified as giving the true force, but each in a different way: one, by a parenthesis, so as to bring “ye take heed” into line with “in your hearts “; the other, by joining “in your hearts” with “knowing this first.” There is no need to expose particularly the absurdity of either device, which most readers of intelligence will not fail to judge as equally unfounded, as they are due to inability in their authors to enter into the mind of the Spirit in the passage. Nor was that inability confined to those who invented their respective beds of Procrustes for torturing the text into the sense of their preference. One has only to glance over the conflict of opinion among the commentators of note to convince any enquirer that the key was quickly lost; and that neither hoary tradition nor modern pretension offers any satisfactory solution. Loss of the distinctive hope of the Christian was yet wider and more rapid than of the faith; and who can wonder at this who knows the heart, so easily slipping from the marvelous light of God, so dull to suspect its loss, so slow to return with humiliation of spirit to the unfailing source?
A confirmation of no little weight appears in other references. Thus Rev. 2:2828And I will give him the morning star. (Revelation 2:28) holds out to the overcomer the precious promise of the Lord Jesus, “I will give to him the morning star.” It is presented with the most marked distinctness from the authority the Lord will also give to him over the nations, “and he shall tend them with an iron rod; as vessels of pottery are they broken in pieces, as I also received of my Father.” On the one hand there is the public display of association with Christ when the nations are shattered like potter's ware; on the other our receiving from Him the privilege of having Him before that day of glory breaks, when He is compared to the star that precedes the dawn, and none see save those that wait for Him and watch in the night before the morn.
It is of the more interest when we view the context more closely. For it occurs in what was written to the angel of the assembly in Thyatira, the first of the letters which speak of the Lord's coming again, and therefore in principle go on till then. Here it is that the change takes place when “He that hath ear,” instead of preceding the promise, follows it, and thus gives the more emphasis to the individual that overcomes. In what is written here one cannot but discern the prefiguration of the mediaeval state, not only the adulterous and haughty iniquity of Jezebel, or extreme Popery with its claim of infallibility (“who calleth herself prophetess”), but others also of wholly different mind, “My servants,” whom she misled into uncleanness and communion with idol sacrifices, as notably the worship of the host, &c. There is also the striking intimation of a distinct remnant, “to you I say, the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, such as know not the depths of Satan as they say,” that seem to designate witnesses of the pre-Reformation era, like the Waldenses remarkable for their endurance and works of faith: a people singularly simple, devoted, and suffering.
Can we not discern the fitness of such a quasi-prophetic picture drawn by Him who knew the end from the beginning '? The great corruptress, with her children, that sat a queen and should in no wise see grief, is to be cast into a bed, and with her the paramours into great tribulation, to be killed with death. She, by the claim of His name falsely and flagitiously, usurped authority over the nations in His absence, and reigned where and when the true church was called to suffer, yea unto blood, wrestling against sin. For faith follows Christ as He walked here, content and bound to wait till He takes His world-kingdom (Rev. 11:1515And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15)) and it refuses, as He did, Satan's offer of the habitable world, the reward of paying him homage, and of waiting to share all with Him at His coming. For it is not only that she will reign with Him over the earth, but that He will come to have her with Himself, before (as the sun of righteousness) He shall arise with healing in His wings for those that fear His name, when as an oven the day comes to burn the proud and the wicked as stubble, and leave them neither root nor branch. This honor in a certain sense have all His saints, the risen reigning with Him, those on earth reigned over.
But for the overcomer that keeps His works to the end there is another privilege yet more precious, if not such a display of power. “And I will give to him the morning star.” It is actual association with Himself on high before that day. What else renders definite the meaning of His giving to His own the morning star? It is quite an advance on what the apostle desired in his second epistle (i. 19) for the Christian Jews of the Dispersion. There he distinguishes the lamp of prophecy shining in the world's squalid place, over which judgments impend, from the superior day-light of the gospel, and the morning star of Christ as the heavenly hope arising within. It was well to heed that lamp; but they should not rest satisfied till they had what was far better even now in their hearts. In Rev. 2 it is not merely realizing the Christian hope as in 2 Peter 1 but the positively imparted promise, when Christ will “give” the morning star. Then shall we that watch be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is; and so also shall it be manifested in due time. But as yet the world will slumber and sleep, for it is still night; and they that sleep sleep by night, and they that drink drink by night. But we being of day, let us watch and be sober.
In the last chapter of the same book is another application of the same figure when a similar distinction reappears with great power and plainness in the closing words of our Lord. “I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify these things to you in the churches.” For it is our privilege to have the Spirit reporting to us what is coming, as well as what glorifies Christ now both here and on high, guiding us in short into all the truth. “I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star.” Here we have the witness of His twofold glory. The O. T. bears clear witness as in Isa. 9; 11, &c., that He is the Root and the Offspring of David, the Mighty God, and the child born, the son given. The N. T. alone tells us of Him, whether in hope or in possession, as the Morning star. It is not the sun rising and calling the sons of men to their functions in the day when all shall be ordered aright under the great King, Israel at the head of the nations, and they in their place of subjection as Jehovah ordains for the world to come whereof we speak, no more men that know not God or His designs for peace, and righteousness, and glory here below.
(Continued.)