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THE GOSPEL, FROM THE FALL TO THE DAY OF THE APOSTLES,
WAS FOUND IN THE PERSON OF THE SAVIOUR.
In the New Testament, the name of "Mystery" is often attached to the truths that form the Gospel. The chief part of this mystery, or "truth hidden from eternity in God" (Eph. iii. 9), concerned the Person of the Saviour. When the real nature of this person was unfolded, other things which had been dark began forthwith to emerge from their obscurity and appear distinct. It could not but be plain now why blood should be the means of atonement, since the blood is the out-poured life, and the out-poured life is the life of Him who is the Son of God. The blood poured out in every sacrifice spoke of some one giving his life; but the nature of the effect of this blood-shedding could be understood only when the person, in his worth and dignity, became known.
Hence it was that all patriarchs and ancient saints were directed unceasingly to the Living One as the well-spring of their bliss. Their hands were every day fully employed in offering sacrifice, but yet all the while their eye was looking beyond that sacrifice for some one yet to come, who was to cast light on this service and make them "perfect as pertaining to the conscience" (Heb. ix. 9). Their thoughts (however confusedly) passed from the types of the work of Christ on to the expected Person of Christ. And hence Paul declares, the discovery of who this coming one was, to be the "making manifest of the mystery." When writing to the Romans (xvi. 23), he thus speaks, "According to my gospel, and the preaching of (i.e., proclamation concerning) the Lord Jesus Christ; according to the revelation of the mystery, which had been kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest."
It seems that ancient saints were aware that the Person of the Coming One was to cast light on all the ceremonials and ordinances which they were taught to observe. For Peter, in telling of "salvation," states that the prophets who inquired and searched diligently into it, bent their chief attention toward "the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow" (1 Pet. i. 10, 11). And the same is implied by the words of our Lord to His disciples in reference to His being now at length among them in the flesh, when turning to them He said, "Blessed are the eyes that see the things which ye see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them, and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (Luke x. 24).
Onward from the hour when first the announcement of a Saviour was made in the words, "The seed of the Woman shall bruise the head of the serpent," the anxious inquiries of all saints were directed toward this person, to know who and what He was to be. The case of the Old Testament believers was like that of exiles, who had got the promise of return from banishment, but who saw not the means by which they were to be transported homeward from their dreary island of captivity. At length one whose eye has looked through the telescope comes among them, points them to a speck in the distant horizon, telling them that yonder is the vessel sent to carry them home. They have had intimations of their sovereign's pardon and goodwill already, but this is the most satisfactory proof of it. Accordingly, hour after hour do they keep their eye fixed on that distant object, and their joy rises in proportion as they are able distinctly to discern that yonder speck is indeed a vessel, bearing colours that proclaim from what land it has come. Having in their possession letters sealed with the king's seal, which speak of actual deliverance to be brought them when such a vessel should touch their coasts, they reckon its arrival to be their grand hope, and expect to find therein everything needed for their immediate recall. This was the position of Old Testament saints: they were gazing on this speck in the distant ocean. The vessel was seen by Job a little more distinctly than by previous patriarchs, when he sang, "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He will stand on the earth at the latter day;" and yet more plainly by those who heard that He was to be "Abraham's seed," and "Shiloh" from the tribe of Judah, and "David's son," as well as "David's Lord."
A still clearer sight was gained when Isaiah stood and cried, "To us a child is born, to us a son is given, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God!" (Isa. ix. 6). And yet more, when Zechariah declared that he heard the Almighty call Him "The Man that is My Fellow!" (xiii. 7). The vessel was now seen with joyful distinctness, and the hope of the Lord's banished ones grew brighter and brighter, as Malachi (iii. 1) cried, "The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple."
In revealing salvation to men, in early ages, the Lord arranged His discoveries in such a way as necessarily led them to give the Person of the Redeemer a prominent place in all their thoughts. It was with them more the Redeemer than even redemption. They did not well know how this Noah was to save them, or how he was to guide the ark through floods, rushing from below and from above; and how, over these strange billows, he was finally to land it in the strange harbour of Ararat. But what of this, if they were really trusting themselves to this Noah, and were identified with him in his undertaking? He knew, and he would accomplish all.
It was thus also, in great measure, with the disciples and followers of our Lord in the days of His flesh. They knew amazingly little of His work in its details, but truly they clung to His Person. Is there any hint of their loving any other as they loved Him? They rested on the Shepherd's shoulder, and in so doing were safe. They did not know how this Shepherd was to save them; how He was to deliver them from the lion and the bear, and carry them over the burning desert of wrath; but still, they were safe, because they rested on Him. They clung to the right person, and committed themselves to His wisdom, and power, and love.
Was this not the essence of old Simeon's hope of salvation? Was he not the traveller arrived at the sources of the Nile, surveying the fountain from which living waters had flowed, and were yet to flow, to fertilise the earth? When he took up the child Jesus in his arms, the aged saint exclaimed, "Now Thou art letting Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation" (Luke ii. 29, 30).
What else but a message about His Person was the gospel preached by the Angel at Bethlehem, which sent home the shepherds "glorifying and praising God"? The words were, "A Saviour is born, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke ii. 11). This is what the Angel calls "good tidings of great joy." Let wise men and shepherds, let Mary and Joseph, let Zechariah and Elizabeth, let Anna and Simeon, let all who hear this proclaimed, cling to this Person, and in Him they shall find salvation. They may not see in what manner, or by what process, He is to save them, but cling to this Person, and all shall be well.
The Baptist comes forth. His preaching is a constant pointing to "the Lamb of God." His finger is ever directing men to Him. All good news is yonder, and bliss is in that Person, "the Son of God," who stands among you. He saw the Spirit descend on Him, and ever after bare record that "He was THE SON OF GOD" (John i. 34).
"Herein is great joy for all people! The Person we cling to for salvation turns out to be 'SON OF GOD!' The promised Seed of Abraham, and the Seed of the Woman, in whom all our hope is treasured up, is none other than the SON OF GOD! What may we not expect of Him! How full may our cup now be!" Some such must have been the feelings of those who first saw the glorious truth, especially when the discovery burst fresh upon them.The news would fly from one to another - "The Messiah is none other than God! GOD is manifest in flesh" * (1 Tim. iii. 16).
* Even as saints still feel, when the Holy Ghost sets it very vividly before them. Howell Harris, in one of his letters, saith: "O the mystery! That this man is God! He wept. He travelled, bore cold, rain, hunger, and thirst; all reproach, shame, and all other sorrows for me. My loving, everlasting brother! Sure this Lord is my love! My soul within me is lost in wonder, and melts like wax. O this love! This mysterious, unfathomable love!"
And little as they knew of the mode of His working, or how He was to proceed in going forward to save them, they clung to His Person closer than ever. As their fathers followed the cloudy pillar, longing to see the face of Him who sat therein, so they followed Jesus, longing to see what He would yet reveal of Himself and of His ways.
And they were right in so clinging to Him. Peter was asked, along with his fellow-disciples, "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" (Matt. xvi. 13), obviously with the view of bringing out fully who this Saviour was who appeared under that form. And his reply, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God," drew forth the declaration, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona! Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven." So great was the discovery - He that is come to save is God! For such a one must be able to save. He cannot but bring full salvation - a salvation that will have length and breadth in it, height and depth, sufficient every way for a sinner.
It was thus also that Peter made a similar confession on another occasion (John vi. 69) with great emphasis: "We believe and are sure that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." He adheres to this Person; and yet so little does he understand the work which that Person is to perform, that on the mention of suffering, and reproach, and death (Matt. xvi. 21), "that He must suffer many things of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed," though followed by resurrection, he peremptorily insists that the idea was utterly inconsistent with his Lord's dignity and char- acter. We are ready to think that ignorance of, or mistake regarding, the work of Christ is as hurtful and dangerous as misunderstanding His Person. But the Lord Himself lays somewhat greater stress upon our not mistaking His Person. That Person is the mine; His work is one of the treasures which come to the surface when the mine is wrought.
It was not enough that a Jew confessed Jesus to be the Christ - the Messiah. He might do this and yet be ignorant of the Saviour. He must know Messiah to be SON OF GOD, if he was to know true salvation. For what could Messiah do for sinners if (like the Christ of Socinians) He were only a superior, though extraordinary man - and what could a Messiah do for such sinners as we are, if He were (like the Christ of Arians) only at the top of the angelic scale? We needed a Messiah who could "save to the uttermost," and none other than the SON OF GOD could stretch the cords of salvation thus far. It is on this account that our Lord Himself says most solemnly in John viii. 24, "If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins." He had declared Himself "from above" (ver. 23), and "not of this world," and had said, "I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me" (ver. 16). And now, turning to the cavilling crowd of Pharisees, He looked them in the face, and with awful seriousness and majesty in His tone, assured them, "If ye believe not I am He (the Person whom I have said I am), ye shall die in your sins."
But did not the disciples falter oftentimes in their views of His Person? And did not the ancient saints fall short of knowing the Promised Seed to be GOD THE SON? So far this is true. But at least they expected a Saviour from the Lord Jehovah, and were ready to welcome this Person without faltering or hesitation. Perhaps there were none of those saints who had not some idea, however dim, of God being somehow in the salvation promised; and never certainly did any saved men, in any age, deny or slight the Godhead of the Saviour, when revealed to his astonished gaze. Every saved soul has been too glad to find God Himself the Saviour; "Behold God is my salvation," - and seeing Him has said, "I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation. Therefore with joy will we draw water out of the wells of salvation" (Isa. xii. 2, 3).
"Hidden from all ages past
Was the Cross's mystery;
Death a while a veil had cast
O'er that first dear family;
But they saw Him and believed,
And as Lord and God received."
The saints' hopes have, in every age, revolved around "Him that cometh in the name of the Lord." To have the heart fixed on the Lord, and on Him whom He was to send, is the heart and kernel of ancient faith. It is the Old Testament form of our Gospel that we hear when, in the "song of songs," the Spouse dwells upon the Beloved, and repeats and reiterates His praises. Who this Beloved is seems scarcely known; He has a veil on His Person; but, nevertheless, there is a mysterious strength of feeling between this Beloved and those who sing of Him, arising from the secret fact that GOD THE SON is the Beloved under the veil.
"Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved" (Song viii. 5). This surely is a sketch of Patriarchal and Jewish faith - just as the figure of the "Sheep on the Shepherd's shoulder," so often appearing on the tombs in the catacombs at Rome, is the symbol of the same faith in New Testament times.
When the Apostle John, in his first Epistle, thus writes (chap. v. 20) to the saints: "And we know that the SON OF GOD is come!" he unquestionably is uttering, and intending to utter, the full gospel-privileges of believers. He says that this distinguished them from the world - viz., they know that the promised Seed had come, and that He was the Son of God. By that time the Church had arrived at clearer light; for John in his gospel (vi. 69) tells of Peter's glowing animation as he confessed, Thou art Messiah, the Son of the living God; and of Martha's unhesitating declaration, that, as a matter of course, she, a disciple of the Lord Jesus, believed that He was "The Messiah, the Son of God, who should come into the world." Nor was it otherwise when disciples were able to give more precise details of the Person, as we see in the Ethiopian eunuch's joyful confession, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God!" We may conceive his feelings - he had journeyed far, many a hundred miles - risking the favour of his queen, and caring little for his place of rank. He had sought rest for his awakened soul in vain, even in Jerusalem at their solemn feasts. But a stranger, a true evangelist, is sent to him, as his chariot rolls lazily and silently over the sandy desert-road towards Gaza, and finds him reading in the fifty-third of Isaiah concerning one "led as a Lamb to the slaughter." The stranger tells him who this was, and how, and why, and when He had been led to death; and proclaims the tidings, that "this Lamb was Son of God!" What a flash of amazement and delight passes over the Ethiopian's countenance! He is under the teaching of the Holy Ghost (for it was He who was hovering over him, v. 29-39), and saw in a moment what that fact implied. Here is room for my soul now! Here my burdened spirit may repose.*
* "If you ask why I believe on the Son of God - if you intend what is the formal reason, ground, and warranty, whereon I thus believe in Him, or place my confidence in Him - I say it is only this, that He is over all, God blessed for ever.' And were He not so, I could not believe in Him. The divine nature is the reason of it, but His divine Person is the object of it" (OWEN).
The Person who is the Lamb is Son of God! Here is not a narrow point of a rock, rising above the surrounding water, but no more than barely sufficient for one to stand upon: here is a broad continent to which the eye sees no limit! With what exultation is he filled in confessing, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God!"
We are wrong, in our day, when we speak more of the work of Christ than of His person - directing more attention to the shadow afforded by the great Rock than to the Rock itself. This is not done in the Apostolic Epistles - there the work is not separated from the worker, but ever kept beside him, and He beside the work.*
* As Augustine (Confess., Book v. 1) says of the other works of God, "The soul bending over the things thou hast made, and passing on to Thee who hast made them, there finds its refreshment and true strength."
In Romans iii. 22, the righteousness is said to be, not "by faith in the work" of Christ, but "by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe." And again in verse 24, "Justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood." Again, in chap. v. 1, "We have peace through our Lord Jesus Christ by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand." Again, in chap. vi. 4, "We are buried with Him," or, verse 8, "we are dead with Him."
Union to Him, as our representative, is the very heart of the argument. Or, if the Apostle is writing freely about Christian blessings, as in Eph. chap. i., we are told of being "blessed with all spiritual blessings, in heavenly places, in Christ;" and (verses 6, 7) of being "accepted in the Beloved, in whom we have redemption."
These men of God, whom the Holy Spirit inspired, lead the sinner to the shade of the Plant of Renown; but all the while they are occupying his attention by pointing out the Plant itself - its majestic form, and glorious growth, and ever green foliage, and the immense sweep of its branches; and while they are thus engaged, the traveller is refreshed tenfold more effectually than if he had been content merely to stretch himself along in motionless repose beneath the spreading boughs. "We have boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus," says the apostle; but forthwith he adds, "Having an High Priest over the House of God" (Heb. x. 19, 21).
The Lord's Supper also, if it be rightly understood, cannot fail to fix our eye on the Person. No doubt it speaks of the death, and of the New Covenant ratified by that death, and so of pardon and holiness, and all other connected benefits. But who can overlook the Benefactor amid his benefits? Are we not led directly, at that holy ordinance, to His Person, inasmuch as union to Him is the truth most remarkably exhibited therein? Union to Him who gives us His blood to ratify the New Covenant, and who gives us Himself as the food of our souls, is surely the very essence of the Lord's Supper. We show His "death," with our eye on "Him who died." We show His sufferings of body and of soul, with our eye on the suffering one. We think of our sins requiring such a remedy - our wounds needing such balm - but still with our eye fixed on the Person whose stripes heal us. "Till He come" fixes yet again our eye on Himself, so that its gaze passes from the day of His agony onward to the day of His glory, and looks out for the "King in His beauty," as well as looks back on His marred form.
The Holy Ghost delights in the Person of Christ. It was to honour not only His work, but Himself, that He descended on the day of His baptism. It is not merely the work, but the doer of it, that He delights to honour. The expressions, "He will glorify Me" (John xvi. 14), and "He shall testify of Me" (xv. 26), do not, of course, exclude His work; they necessarily imply it; only they do not mean His work apart from Himself. The Holy Ghost will ever honour the setting forth. of the Person who has given glory to God in the highest, and is Himself God over all. We may expect Him to bless us most when we are rather dwelling on the benefits as so many proofs of the Benefactor's heart, than stopping short at these benefits, seeking no more than how to make them our own. The hospital, with its ample accommodation, and its stores of medicine and nourishment, and its supply of all that the sick, however many, can require, with access free to all, at every hour of night or day, this is one thing - but how much better, when besides, we have the presence of the founder and Physician Himself, passing through every room - bending over every sick-bed - uttering words and beaming forth looks of sympathy. Would you commend the place, and forget the physician? And will the Holy Ghost commend the Saviour's benefits, if thereby you are to be led to overlook Himself?