Chapter 9 - Brief Summary of God's Ways

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We have now seen that the Old Testament prophecies, though sometimes receiving a striking application, have not their proper or perfect fulfillment, in the Church, but after the Church is taken; that the Church interval, is, as it has been aptly styled, “a parenthesis” in God's dealings with the earth; and that when it is ended, and believers, whether living or dead, have been caught up to meet the Lord in the air, the Divine purposes respecting the earth will be resumed, the Jews, who are now “enemies” as concerning the gospel, will be taken up again, according to election, as “beloved for the fathers' sakes,” and the gifts and calling of God will be proved to be without repentance. Then God's promises of blessing to the world will have their accomplishment, not in the first, but in the Second, man; the woman's Seed will crush the serpent's head; the “one” Seed of Abraham will come to bless all the families of the earth; the multitudinous seed, like the sand of the seashore innumerable, will inherit their promised land “for an everlasting possession,” and will occupy their appointed place as the foremost of the nations; and the Seed of David will be established on the throne of His kingdom forever.
The investigation of this subject has led us over a wide space, and though I have, as far as possible, avoided detail, it has been necessary, for the understanding of God's ways, to enter into some questions with considerable fullness. It may be helpful, therefore, to pause for a moment, and cast our eye back, gathering up the various truths which the Scriptures have unfolded to our gaze, and endeavoring to condense them into a brief but comprehensive summary.
Man after the flesh failed in every position in which God placed him. He fell under the power of Satan, and no seed of the woman arose to crush the one who had brought in the ruin. He filled the earth with corruption and violence, so that God repented He had made him, and destroyed “the world that then was “with a flood. He failed in government, till at last God confounded his plans of self-aggrandizement at Babel. Called out as a separate nation and entrusted with God's law, he failed again as signally as before, breaking the commandments ere ever, in their written form, they had entered the camp. Tried as a nation which should execute God's judgments, and tried again under sovereigns who should be the dispensers of God's righteousness, the same dreary story of failure, rebellion, and ruin was once more repeated. The nation proved as bad as the heathen by whom they were surrounded, and the descendants of David were the corrupters, instead of the righteous governors of the people.
The first man, therefore, had now been proved to the utmost, as to his power to carry out God's governmental purposes. Even in the promised line, the seed of Abraham and David had failed as disastrously as all others. It had been demonstrated that man in the flesh, whether in the line of promise or out of it, could not fulfill God's designs or bring in God's promises of blessing to the earth. He was, therefore, set aside, and the scheme of God's earthly government postponed until the Second Man, the One who gathers in His own person all the promises, and who alone is worthy and able to administer God's righteous government on the earth, is brought forth. First the chosen nation was divided; then the larger portion, ten out of the twelve tribes, were carried into captivity, from which they have never returned; and lastly, the two remaining tribes, with the royal line of David, were taken prisoners to Babylon.
As far as earthly government is concerned, the Jews were now given up until the Second Man is brought in. With this long abandonment of the Jews commenced “the times of the Gentiles,” that is, the period during which the scepter of earthly dominion is entrusted to the Gentiles, instead of Israel. These “times of the Gentiles “began with the kingdom of Babylon, the head of gold, in Nebuchadnezzar's prophetic dream. Then came the kingdom of the Medes and Persians symbolized by the breast and arms of silver; the Greek monarchy set forth in the belly and thighs of brass; and afterward the stronger and more enduring dominion of Rome, represented by the legs of iron. After this, “the times of the Gentiles” changed their nature; iron and clay mingled together, or, the rule was divided among kingdoms of various origin and character, though all connected with the dismembered Roman empire. Another vision shows us that in this last stage, the Roman dominion will revive in a federal form under the presidency of one specially energized by Satanic power. It is when it has reached this phase that judgment will descend, a stone cut out without hands falling on the Gentile powers and crushing them to pieces, after which it grows into a mountain that fills the whole earth; or, as interpreted by Daniel, “in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:4444And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. (Daniel 2:44)). Such is the history, prophetically traced, of the yet uncompleted “times of the Gentiles.”
While these are running their course, the Jews—that is, the two tribes forming the kingdom of Judah—fulfilled the seventy years of captivity foretold by the prophet Jeremiah. At the close of that period, the Babylonian kingdom having been destroyed, and the Persian established on its ruins, Cyrus issued a decree permitting the Jews of the captivity to return to Jerusalem, in virtue of which a small band, without political power or position, found their way back to the ruined city, and there rebuilt the temple. Nearly a century afterward, the same Gentile power gave a “commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem.” From this “commandment” dates Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks. It is divided into three parts, of seven weeks, of sixty-two weeks, and of one week. During the first part, of seven weeks, the city was rebuilt. The second part, of sixty-two weeks, comprehends the time from the completion of the city to the cutting off of the Messiah. The third part, of one week, which yet awaits its accomplishment, carries “the times of the Gentiles” to a close, “finishes the transgression” of the Jews, and brings in “everlasting righteousness,” the desolator being destroyed, and the Messiah's kingdom established.
The Jews, as we have seen, had been politically discarded till the Messiah should come. In process of time He did come, heralded by John the Baptist, and the kingdom was offered to the nation on condition of repentance. But man in the flesh proved no less incompetent to repent, to receive the Messiah, or to obtain blessing through Him presented as a sovereign, than he had before shown himself to carry out God's purposes in his own strength. God manifest in the flesh only drew out the enmity of his heart in more fearful display. The Jews, instead of receiving Him as their anointed King, crucified Him between two thieves. The effect of this rejection was twofold.
The blood they shed was designed, according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, to be the means by which He could righteously reconcile all things to Himself, by which He could blot out sin, and thus lay the foundation of all true blessing to both Jew and Gentile. But the immediate effect of the crime, so far as the Jews were concerned, was that their house was left to them desolate until they should say — “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; “and that the kingdom, instead of taking the manifested, prophetic shape in which the Jews should be the head of the nations, assumed, until the time of Israel's repentance, a mysterious hidden form connected with Christ in heaven, and in which the Gentiles were the special objects of God's favor.
The first summons, then, after Christ's resurrection, was addressed to the Jews, calling on them to repent, and thus to receive the kingdom in manifested glory. On their refusal, the kingdom definitely assumed the mysterious form, the natural branches being broken out of the olive tree, and the “wild olive tree,” or Gentiles, being graffed in. “Blindness in part happened to Israel,” which will continue “until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” There was, indeed, “a remnant according to the election of grace “even out of partially blinded Israel, but the nation as a whole was cut off while the Gentiles took for a time the place of pre-eminence in God's thoughts.
The political displacement of the Jews brought in “the times of the Gentiles.” The moral or religious displacement of the Jews makes way for “the coming in of the Gentiles.” It was only when this took place that Israel really became “Lo-ammi,” not My people, though they had long ceased to be the center of God's government on earth. During the coming in of the Gentiles, God's purposes of earthly blessings are suspended. The stream of prophetic time ceases to run. It stagnated, so to speak, after the sixty-ninth week, when Messiah was cut off, and will not again begin to flow till after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and God once more takes up the thread of His purposes concerning the earth.
Meanwhile the Gentiles brought into the vacant place of privilege and responsibility to God, under Christianity, have failed as signally as the Jews did under the law. The greater part have never accepted Christ even in name; Christendom, the portion of the world which has nominally owned Jesus as Lord, has become a leavened mass, corrupt to its very core. The small handful of true believers in its midst have themselves ceased to present any corporate testimony, are rent into a hundred conflicting sects, have given up the “blessed hope” of the Lord's return for His saints, and as a consequence are often hardly distinguishable from the world around them in their objects, their pursuits, and the character of their walk. But though the Lord “is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish,” He “is not slack concerning His promise,” and in a little while “the trumpet shall sound, and the dead (believers) shall be raised incorruptible, and we (the living believers) shall all be changed.” This is the un-dated, ever-present hope for the Church. When this “coming of the Lord” for His saints has happened, Christendom, the remaining branches graffed into the olive tree, having failed to continue in the goodness of God, will be cut off. The fullness of the Gentiles having come in, the corrupt mass of false professors left behind will be dealt with by God in righteous judgment. Judicial blindness will overtake them, “because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; and for this cause, God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:10-1210And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:10‑12)).
When the Church has been taken, and the Gentiles, the olive branches graffed in contrary to nature, have been cut off, the natural branches will be “graffed in, for God is able to graff them in again.” The Church interval being over, time once more begins to run, and the unfulfilled week of Daniel's prophecy is told out to its completion. In this week commence the judgments which precede the “day of the Lord,” or the establishment of Messiah's kingdom. These judgments may be broadly divided into four different classes.
FIRST, The Jews and the rest of the Israelites will be restored, but only after fearful troubles, from which but a portion will escape. The Jews, who rejected the Christ, will receive the Antichrist, will enter into league with “the prince that shall come,” the last phase of Gentile power, and will worship his image, “the abomination of desolation “set up in the holy place. The remnant of faithful ones who refuse to have part in these last scenes of wickedness and lawlessness, will be persecuted with fearful persistency and malignity, many of them killed, the rest driven into exile. The time will be one of untold tribulation, so that, but for its shortness, no flesh could be saved. Then the Lord Himself will appear in power and great glory, destroying with the sword out of His mouth the followers of the Antichrist, easing Him of His adversaries and avenging Him of His enemies. The effect on the nation will be “like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap.” Those who “abide the day of His coming,” the purged remnant who “come out of the great tribulation,” having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb,” shall be a holy people, their dross purged away, their judges restored as at the first, and their counselors as at the beginning, and Jerusalem shall be “called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” Thus shall Zion “be redeemed with judgments and her converts with righteousness,” while “the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake Jehovah shall be consumed.” The elect remnant of Israel also will be brought back, and made to inhabit the land.
SECOND, But besides the purging judgments referred to, there will be other acts of righteous government and retribution reserved for that dreadful period. Babylon, especially, the corrupt carcass of Christendom, will come into remembrance. The blood shed and the crimes committed in the name of Christ will then be righteously avenged. The beast and his confederates, themselves following a still more fearful delusion, will hate the whore and make her desolate; the very power which has supported her will turn against her; and the cup which she hath filled shall be filled to her double.
THIRD, The fall of Babylon shows the doom of that soulless profession of Christ, and that lifeless ecclesiastical organization which will survive when all true believers have been removed to the Father's house. But by whom is this apostate, corrupt system destroyed? By the beast and his coadjutors, that is, by that wicked head of the Gentile powers whose pride and blasphemy will at length draw down the lightnings of God's avenging wrath-the impious chief of those kings of the earth who shall “take counsel together against Jehovah, and against His Anointed.' This associated Gentile dominion is the third class dealt with in the judgments of the last week. The confederacy, headed by the prince and energized by Satan, will form a league with the mass of the Jews and their false Christ, and will gather together their forces to battle; when Christ will appear in His glory, followed by the armies of heaven, take the beast and the false prophet and cast them alive into the lake of fire, and afterward destroy their followers with the sword that proceedeth out of His mouth. So end “the times of the Gentiles,” that period during which the scepter of government was entrusted to their hands because of the failure of Israel.
FOURTH, But there is another class of judgments. The Gentiles who successively held the right of government as a trust from God do not include the whole body of the peoples of the earth. This scepter passed from the Babylonian to the Persian, from the Persian to the Greek, from the Greek to the Roman, and at length to the wicked king whose doom we have just seen. But the confederacy between the Jews and the Roman dominion will be directed against a power which at that time threatens Jerusalem with destruction. This power, which God uses, like the Assyrian of old, as a scourge to the unfaithful Jews, will, when the hour for judgment comes, itself also be visited. When half the city has been carried off, Christ will appear for its deliverance, the besieging host will be cut off, and the remnant of the people saved.
This will close the preliminary judgments. The nation having been purged, Babylon consumed, the last Satanic form of Gentile dominion overthrown, and the enemies who sought to destroy Jerusalem scattered, Christ's kingdom will be established on earth. The saints, who have come purged out of the great tribulation, will receive dominion under Him. The rest of the Gentiles will be divided into two classes, and rewarded or punished according to their treatment of “these My brethren,” the feeble remnant of saints harassed and wasted by the persecution of the beast and false prophet. But the great feature will be the fulfillment of all God's earthly counsels in the person of the Second Man, the Lord from heaven, who alone is worthy to receive the dominion, and who alone can exercise it for God's glory, or for man's blessing. Satan will be cast into the bottomless pit, while the Bride, the Lamb's wife, seen in figure as the New Jerusalem, will reign with Christ a thousand years.
It is a solemn thing to trace the incurable hatred of the human heart to God. A thousand years' experience of Christ's righteous and blessed rule will not suffice to change the nature of man. No sooner is Satan loosed from his imprisonment than the nations rebel, but only to be at once destroyed with devouring fire from heaven. This last outbreak of human wickedness brings the world's history to a close. The earth is burnt up, the elements melt with fervent heat, and no place is found for them. Then the dead, who had no part in the first resurrection, are raised, are judged according to their works, and are cast into the lake of fire. Satan, death, and Hades are all similarly destroyed. And now, the last enemy having been vanquished, the work of reconciliation, founded on the blood of the cross, is completed; a new heaven and a new earth are created, in which righteousness not only reigns, as during the thousand years, but permanently dwells; Christ, having ruled “till He hath put all enemies under His feet,” delivers up the kingdom to God, even the Father; and God, being now all in all, and no longer estranged by human guilt, makes His tabernacle with man.
Such, as traced out in the Word of the living God, is the prospect before the world. Are these the things which Christians are looking for? Amidst all the talk of modern progress, all the straining after improvement and education, all the boast of the bright future in store for the world, have they grasped the truth that God's judgment is looming over the whole scene? In the intoxication of this world-banquet do they heed the fingers of the hand tracing on the wall the fateful words, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN “—or are they blind to the warning which God has given? Nay, are they not even fostering the false hopes of the world against which they should be protesting, and eagerly floating along the stream of modern progress, ignorant that it is sweeping them down its fatal rapids to the crash and roar of impending judgment? Soon —we know not how soon—the trumpet will sound, the shout will be heard, and all true believers will be “forever with the Lord.” What will then become of modern progress? What will then be the fruit of all the organizations and associations for making something out of that nature which Scripture declares to be enmity against God, something out of that world which has rejected and crucified its rightful Lord? The boasted ecclesiastical organization, bereft of believers, will be nothing save a putrid corpse, hateful to the nations, which will burn it to ashes. The noisy party of progress, turning from this ghastly mimicry of Christianity to the latest novelty of the day, will be given up to “strong delusion that they should believe a lie.” Have we God's thoughts about what is passing? Are we “minding earthly things,” as those “whose end is destruction,” despising the warnings of Scripture, and seeking to improve what God pronounces beyond remedy? Or have we given up the first man, and sided with Him whom the world has rejected, waiting with Him for the hour when the world's real improvement shall be brought about by Himself as the Second Man, the Lord from heaven, the only One who can carry out God's purposes of blessing, or establish God's rule of righteousness, on the earth?