The Principles Displayed in the Ways of God Compared With His Ultimate Dealings: Part 1

 •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 12
It seems to me that the examination of the great principles, which God has brought out in His ways in the history given us in the Bible, would facilitate the intelligence of His ultimate dealings with men and the understanding of their prophetic announcements, the accomplishment of which will be the establishment in power of the principles which God has already displayed and taught historically in His dealings of old. I send you, therefore, some thoughts upon the progressive development of these principles. In the very outset of creation we have one of the last importance, which also gives in figure the ultimate results of God's ways in His dispensations towards men, a kind of exhibition of ἀρχὴ τῆς θεωρίας, which is to be τέλος τῆς πράξεως.
Adam was created in the image of God, and was set to rule over the works of God's hands, the center of a vast system subordinated to him, and over which he had universal dominion. He was, says the apostle, the image of Him that was to come; and the same apostle takes the eighth Psalm,1 which, in the letter of its application there, would be limited to the first Adam, and applies the universality of its terms to the full dominion of the Second. No doubt the dominion of the Second Man is far more extensive than that of the first, because, having Himself created all things, He is to inherit all He has created. But it is not the less true that the first Adam, as image of God, as center of the system in which he was placed, as having dominion over the creation by which he was surrounded, was the image or type of the Lord Jesus, Son of man, head over all things. Other accessories enlarge this resemblance. Eve, partaker of a lordship to which she had no right of her own, but which she enjoyed as one with Adam, is the liveliest picture of the church, and so used beautifully by the apostle in Eph. 5. According to Rom. 5, we have also in Adam fallen, the head of a race involved in his sin and all its consequences, as in the Last Adam, when righteousness was accomplished, the head of a brotherhood or family which participates in all that He is as the head of it in the presence and sight of God.
I pass over the time before the flood, whose general character offers a sad contrast to the time when righteousness dwells in the new heavens and the new earth, without a government to maintain it and make it good against the opposition of an adverse nation or the weakness of a failing one. Neither the one nor the other can properly be called “dispensation.” They are both another world from that in which we live.
With Noah we begin the course of dispensations, or of the manifestations of the ways of God for the final bringing out of the full glory of Christ. These ways regard the earth and are founded, so far as they are conferred blessing, on the sacrifice of Christ. Enoch indeed had been taken out of the midst of a corrupt world and had a heavenly portion, while he testified of the judgment of the world, out of which he was called, by the coming of the Lord with His saints, a very remarkable anticipation of our portion in Christ. But Noah was preserved through the deluge, to begin a new world, of which he was the head and chief.
The name Noah is expressive of the rest of the earth, comfort concerning the work of men's hands, because of the ground which Jehovah had cursed. Three especial features accompany and characterize this position: the sacrifice which turned aside the curse; the restraint of evil; and the pledge of secured blessing to creation while earth lasted. But, as regards dispensation, Noah was the head of a new system where evil was, but where evil was to be restrained, and the curse relieved under which the earth groaned.
The next important principle brought out is calling and election. The earth was not only now corrupt and violent—it had departed from God. It had not liked to retain God in its knowledge, and served other gods. God, in sovereign election, calls Abram to follow Him apart from the world; and separation from the world, for the enjoyment of promise by faith, becomes the divine principle of blessing. Abraham is the father of all them that believe. He has to quit all on the supreme claim of Jehovah—country, kindred, and father's house, for a land only in promise, which God would show him. Brought there, he has still to walk by faith in patience, not yet inheriting the promises. When in possession of them in pledge, in Isaac he has to give them all up, as held in the present life of Isaac, by unquestioning confidence in God, to receive them in the power of One Who raises the dead.
We have election, call, promises, by which the believer is a stranger in a world departed from God. To this we may add the distinct principle of receiving the promises by the power of God in resurrection. This special position made Abraham to be in a peculiar manner, the father of the faithful, of all them that believe; the father of many nations before God, in Whom he believed, the heir of the world. The detail of the promises, whether of the blessings of the nations, only given in Gen. 12, and confirmed to Isaac in Gen. 22, or of a numerous seed according to the flesh, and of the land of Canaan,2 are not properly our subject here.
The latter leads, however, to the next important step in the ways of God, the formation and deliverance of a people from the power of their enemies by judgments and an out-stretched arm, by which they were set apart as a people of dilection to God on the earth. Israel's coming up out of Egypt is, I need not say, the event in which this was prefigured. Long subject to hostile and oppressive Gentiles, and particularly at the close, when God was about to deliver them, His arm (Who had already given the blood of the Lamb as the safeguard against His righteous judgment) delivered the people with a power which none could dispute, executing judgment on the proud enemies who oppressed them, and defied His majesty. Joseph and his Egyptian wife had given meanwhile the remarkable type of a rejected Christ exalted on high and his Gentile bride, who had made him to forget all his affliction and his father's house.
But Israel's deliverance gave occasion to the introduction of an entirely new principle, not the prefiguring the ways of God, but the putting of man to the proof on the revealed principles of what he ought to be, and that, when thus delivered and brought near to God, as a favored people guarded of Him, with every motive and means for walking before Him Who had thus borne him on eagle's wings, and brought him to Himself. In a word, the law came in. Immediately broken, Israel is anew, through intercession, placed under it as a condition, with the added revelation of all the graciousness and goodness of the character of Him under Whose government he was placed, and Who would act in that government on the principles thus revealed. Still he was placed under law, and held the blessings under the condition of his own obedience. This, as the apostle states, came in by the bye, added because of transgression, till the Seed should come to Whom the promise was made. The law in itself could do nothing but convict man of his incompetency. But it gave in general the principle of a rule of God's will, to be written afterward in the heart of His earthly people; in obedience to which, maintained in their hearts by God, they would enjoy the blessing conferred by Him on His people on the earth. But on the principles of government declared by God to Moses, and announced in Exodus, the people were placed on the mediation of the priesthood under the immediate government of God. The priesthood was there to maintain the blessing if there was failure (where it was not departure from God or sinning with a high hand); and Israel, in obedience, would have had their peace flow like a river.
But Israel, incapable of walking by faith and trusting God even when the blessings were immediately consequent on obedience, prefers being like the nations, and demands a king, when God was his king. However, this gave occasion to the revelation of another principle of God's ways with men, the establishment of royalty in Zion, a royalty whose sway should extend much farther, and in which the Gentiles should trust. However, royalty is established and in Zion, and that by grace, after the failure and ruin of the people, through disobedience to God, under His immediate government. The priesthood itself loses its place, and the faithful priest is to stand before God's anointed. The king is now the anointed of God. The principle of this royalty is on one side the throne of Jehovah (Solomon is said to sit “on the throne of Jehovah”), and on the other, it is strength out of weakness. See Hannah's song. It is the reestablishment of Israel in blessing, when hopelessly ruined, by the means of the rejected, but God-fearing, King, Who delivers them from their enemies and subdues the heathen. This re-establishment by royalty has a double bearing, the blessing of the people after their ruin, by the deliverance wrought, and their re-establishment in accepted worship after the guilt—the temple after Shiloh—and that in a peculiar manner in grace, after the numbering of the people. There were three stages to this royalty: when rejected entirely in Israel; when the ark was placed by David on Mount Zion—the energy of victory in connection with the assured covenant, but not yet the blessing of peace: after this the third state, which was Solomon's. Christ, I doubt not, has filled up, or will fill up, all these: the rejected, the victorious, and the peaceful King. In general, we have the important additional principle of a human, ordained king, in a royalty established by God over His people, said to be seated too on Jehovah's throne. This, as we know, in man's hands failed, like all the rest, and gave rise to another and large modification of the principle of royalty, the confiding the power of universal dominion, wherever the children of men dwell, to man on the earth. This was sovereignly conferred beyond the limits of Jewish promise and dominion, acquired by no faithful service in suffering, but divinely bestowed by the God of heaven. This also fell, and more than fell. Substituted for the Jewish royalty, it united with the Jews and their ecclesiastical rulers in the rejection of the Son of God and King of the Jews, one of which titles,3 in its lowest acceptation, is the character in which, above all descent from David, though that be at the same time true, Christ is to have the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession, and the other of which expresses evidently His title among the Jews as the anointed, the Son of David. We have thus far all these features:
Adam, center of the earthly system under God. Noah, head of the earth blessed after the curse, restraining evil.
Abraham, called by election out of the world, to which promise was annexed.
A people redeemed and formed as such, as belonging to God on the earth.
The law, the rule of the people so formed, and the path of blessing as the will of God.
The royalty of Israel in the family of David. And the royalty of the Gentile world, sovereignly conferred by the God of heaven.
All these will be made good in Christ, in person, or for His people. He is the Second Adam, the head of the earth restraining evil after the curse, the chosen one separate from the world in Whom all the promises are Yea and Amen; the head and uniter of redeemed Israel, the true vine, the son called out of Egypt, the one in whom the law was magnified.
These two facts will also have their accomplishment hereafter in His people: the Son of David; and the head of the Gentile world established such by the sovereignty of God.
Hence all this progress of development closed with the rejection of Him in Whom all was to be accomplished.
(To be continued, D.V.)