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HOW THIS LOOKING TO THE PERSON AFFECTS OUR VIEWS OF DEATH AND OUR HOPE OF THE LORD'S SECOND COMING.
IN proportion as the soul advances in grace, its state coincides with that of the apostle, 'I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better; nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you' (Phil. i. 25). But at the same time that soul, if truly apostolic in its holiness, can add, 'Not that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life' (2 Cor. v. 4). It desires resurrection-bliss most of all, while, at the same time, it yearns after the lesser bliss of immediately passing into glory.
I. The main, and, indeed, the only, attraction of the intermediate state is this - there the redeemed see the Lord Jesus. He Himself is with them, and this is their heaven. In Rev. vi. 9, the 'souls under the altar' are, undoubtedly, in this state; they are not represented in the glory of their resurrection state, as chap. vii. 15, 16, 17, and some passages may seem to set forth. These souls are at the altar, where they have taken up their station in order to cry for justice being done on the earth, as well as in order to show that justice is satisfied as to themselves; and there they are met by one who gives them 'white robes,' and who tells them they are to 'rest for a season;' leading them away to recline in their white robes on those couches of rest of which Isaiah (lvii. 2) has told us. This is all we see of their outward bliss; but we cannot fail to notice that the 'rest' here, and in chap. xiv. 13, is the continuation of the same 'rest' that their Lord from the very first spoke of giving (Matt. xi. 28). It seems to be, like Lazarus in Abraham's bosom (Luke xvi. 22), a reclining with the Lord Jesus in view - reclining at a feast with the eye fixed on Jesus in the midst.
The moment a saint departs, he is 'with Christ.' This we read in Phil. i. 23, and, as we have already said, this 'being with Christ' is the essence of the bliss of that intermediate state, and is really all we know about it. The spirit of the departing one is received by Jesus (Acts vii. 59); angels may receive it as it leaves the body (Luke xvi. 22), but they are not long of delivering it safe to their Lord. In His presence it rests, the sum of all its employments and its enjoyments being the sight and fellowship of the Lord Jesus. Nothing more is told us; for it would appear to be the design of the Lord to keep our eye on the Person of the beloved Son, as much on entering that unseen world as while here, and as much when arrived there as at entering.
'Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.' They rest with Him, and see His face. They are gone to that 'mountain of myrrh and hill of frankincense'(Song iv. 6), where Jesus Himself sits - the right hand of the Father - and on the slopes of that hill they rest most pleasantly, beholding Him, and enjoying fellowship with Him, and waiting with Him for the daybreak and the flight of shadows. They are said to be 'in Paradise' (Luke xxiii. 43), the name appropriated to some part of the glorious heavens where the throne of God is seen - appropriated to it because of being the special spot where the children of the Second Adam are gathered together. As paradise was an inner part of Eden (Genesis ii. 8), so is this abode of the redeemed an inner part of heaven. Perhaps it is the same as New Jerusalem. (Rev. xxi. 10) But at any rate, does not that name tell us of a place where God, as before the Fall, once more communes with men? It seems to say that the happy souls that dwell there, in light and love, are like unfallen Adam in his paradise - their chiefest joy being to hear the voice of the Lord God, to hear Him who is The Word of God.
We infer, then, that love to the Person of Jesus, and delight therein, is the state of mind nearest to that of those who have departed and are with Him. We are never more in sympathy with the saints departed than when rapt in intense meditation on the Lord's Person - examining the unspeakable gift, even Him 'in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.' Never are we ourselves in a better frame for departing than when enabled by the spirit of wisdom and revelation to gaze on the Lord Jesus, and claim that Mercy-seat, and that Ark with all its contents, as our own. Never do we realise so well what it is to be separate from earth and enter the suburbs of heaven as when thus engrossed with Him who is our Plant of Renown, with all its fruit and foliage, freshness and fragrance, beauty and shade. Sitting, in such an hour, at the feet of Him who has 'the keys of death and the invisible world,' we are almost already ushered over the threshold.
II. But our attention is fixed more directly still upon the Person of the Lord Jesus, when we turn to the blessed hope, His Second Coming. The glories of that day are such, in themselves and in their influence on us, as to guide our eye to Him personally, and keep it resting on Him. When a believer is enabled to meditate much and often on 'that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of Him who is the Great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ,' his soul catches from afar something of the glory yet to be revealed - not unlike to what poetry has sung of the cheerful bird, 'the messenger of day,' which in the early dawn pours out its melody, soaring all the while higher and higher
-'until the unrisen sun
Gleams on its breast.'
The believer, rapt into the future in his earnest anticipations, catches beams of that Better Sun which is yet to rise with healing on his wings. If the redeemed may say at death, 'As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness' (Ps. xvii. 15), much more may they add, in hope of that resurrection day, 'I shall be satisfied when I wake with His likeness', as if the rays of that morning were already shining on them with transforming power.
It shall be the Lamb Himself that shall lead each believer up from his quiet grave : - ' The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God.' (John v. 25.) As in the hour of conversion, awakening from their wordly dreams, they saw that stupendous sight, the Son of Man lifted up on the cross (John iii. 3-14), so in the hour of the First Resurrection, they shall see His face again, not now marred, but become the seat of majesty, glory, beauty, as well as holy love. The Lamb Himself shall then lead them to living fountains and feed them as a shepherd (Rev. vii. 17); and this will keep the thoughts of the glorified for ever on Himself. He is still their sun, whence beam forth light, and life, and joy - light, life, joy, worthy of the sore travail of His soul, worthy of His strong cries, worthy of His endless merits.
Why is it that we hope for That Day ? Let John reply, 'When He shall appear we shall be like Him (1 John iii. 2), for we shall see Him as He is.' Or let Paul tell how he, and Clement, and Epaphroditus, and the saints of Caesar's household, and all the believers whom he knew, anticipated that day. He says that it was the Lord Himself they delighted to look for. It was not so much the triumphs of that day, nor its palms, and crowns, and white robes, and shouts of Hallelujah over sorrows for ever vanished; but it was the thought of the Lord Himself being there that made that day so joyful. 'Our conversation is in heaven, whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ' (Phil. iii. 21). And when they associated their own blessedness with these anticipations, it was in this form - 'We shall be LIKE HIM.' 'He shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned LIKE UNTO HIS GLORIOUS BODY!'
What is this that Isaiah promises? 'The Lord shall be unto her an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory!' (Isa. lx. 19). No stretch of thought can conceive the amount of honour and bliss expressed in these few words. And what is this that the same prophet promises to each one that now walks with God? He says, happy soul, 'Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty' (Isa. xxxm 17). This is the highest hope He can hold out to thee; this is the greatest of His rewards; this is His best joy. Thine eyes shall see, and not be dim ; thine eyes shall see, and not be dazzled into blindness; thine eyes shall see, and gaze with calm and constant delight on 'the King in His beauty' This is a promise of a true Transfiguration-day to thee. What was it that led the astonished multitude at the foot of the hill to run the Son of Man as He descended from the scene of His brief Transfiguration? (Mark. ix. 15). What caused that assembly to salute Him with such reverence? Was it not the impression produced on them by even a few lingering beams of glory, that hung on His form as the brightness did on Moses after his forty days' interview with God ? And if that were so then, while He was seen under the returning clouds of sorrow, and while they who saw had not been fully anointed with the eye-salve that they might discern His real beauty, what may we not expect to enjoy on that day when the prophet's words are realised, 'Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty!'
Are you a disciple whose eyes are often wistfully turned to the heavens, like the men of Galilee on the day of His ascension? You shall not always gaze in vain: 'Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty.' Thou shalt see Him who is 'The fellow of the Almighty,' and yet also 'Man' (Zech. xiii. 7); who can tell of 'men being His fellows' at the very moment that the Father proclaims him 'God' (Heb. i. 9); whose human countenance, lighted up now with the 'joy unspeakable and full of glory,' tells what ecstasy is found in the Father's love; who is the brightness of the Father's glory, the express image of His person, revealing Godhead to the very sense of the creature, in a manner so attractive and heart-satisfying that the song of rapturous delight never has a pause.
Art thou a weary pilgrim? Walk on a little longer with thine eye still toward the Right Hand of the Majesty on high; for soon thou shalt see 'the King in His beauty.' Hast thou been vexed, like righteous Lot, from day to day, in seeing and learning earth's wickedness? hast thou been saddened by witnessing death ravaging families, and removing some of thine own dearest ones? hast thou but dimly descried amid thy tears the form of Him who walked on the sea at midnight to reassure His dejected and trembling disciples? hast thou often been disappointed when thou didst think thou hadst got a look of things within the veil that would for ever turn thine eyes from beholding vanity ? - be of good cheer, ' Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty.' Thy heaven shall consist in seeing Him as He is - knowing Him as He knoweth thee.
Among all the rewards offered to those who overcome, by the Captain of Salvation (when, after a sixty years' absence, He visited His suffering disciple in Patmos face to face), none is so magnificent, none so soul-filling, as that wherein He offers Himself in His glory. In this promised reward He may be said to offer us to Himself at the time when all His own reward has been bestowed, and when Himself has been anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows. He writes, 'To him that overcometh and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers, even as I received of My Father.' Is not this enough? No, not yet; one thing more and better still by far, 'And I will give him the Morning Star' (Rev. ii. 28). That is, I will give him Myself at the time I appear as 'Bright and Morning Star' (Rev. xxii. 16), rising in our sky after a night of gloom, the harbinger of an endless day. The great bliss of that day is this, the gift of Christ Himself at a time when joy, peace, love, and glory, and the holiness, wisdom, power, and majesty of Godhead, are the beams that radiate from His person, and bathe those on whom He shines.
If, believer, you love much that Person of whom we have all along in these pages been speaking, then press on to the day of His coming, for then it is you are to get Him in His fullest glory. Then it is you are to get as your Redemption Him who has been your Wisdom, your Righteousness, your Sanctification. That 'Tower of David' was long ago gifted to you, with all its armoury; but your time for entering on the possession of it is now when it is furnished with whatever is magnificent, and royal, and heavenly, and divine; creation's riches being stored up therein. You shall see the Lord Jesus as yours at a time when His own and the Father's glory, and the glory of His angels, all combine to set forth His person. 'And your look that day shall be (says one) that of an owner, not the shy gaze of a passer-by.' That Christ, on yonder throne, is mine! With all His glory He is mine! That King of Kings, that Lord of Lords in His royal apparel, is mine! That beloved Son, whom the Father delighteth to honour for evermore, is mine! All that He is, all that He has, is mine!
Does not this prospect make a present life seem dull? It pours contempt on earth's fairest scenes! It mocks ambition. It makes coveteousness appear folly and infatuation. It renders trial light and duty easy! Christ Himself ours! ours on that day when 'His peace' and 'His joy' are at their height! Our life is discovered to be 'Christ' (Col. iii. 4). Oh what a Christ that day reveals! The more intently we pore over what is to arrive on that day, we do the more intently gaze on the Person of the Son of God. We are kept in the very posture in which the Gospel of His First Coming placed us. On the one hand, we find that His coming to die and overcome death sends us forward to the coming again of Him who so overcame ; but on the other, no sooner are we in His presence, amid His own and the Father's glory, than, in grateful remembrance, we go back to him as He appeared to us in His low estate - these two views of Him so act and react on each other, combining to keep us ever in the attitude of beholding Himself.
There is to be no new Gospel for ever; and can there be need of any? The coming of the Lord shall fully unveil His Person, in whom all the Gospel is stored up. The feast of fat things full of marrow, in Isa. xxvi. 6, is the visible, as well as inward, discovery of His matchless person, in the day of His glory, when the pure canopy of the New Heavens, and the beauty shed over a Restored Creation, with all the teeming luxuriance of its hills and plains, and the melody of attendant harpers harping on the harps of heaven, shall be all but forgotten, because of the presence of the 'King in His beauty.' Called in from the hedges and highways (Matt. xxii. 1-10), we feast even at present on fragments of this greater feast; but we get as yet little more than the crumbs - for little indeed do we see of the real glory of the Lord.
The Holy Spirit then, even as now, will continue to glorify Christ. There will be a fully unveiled Christ before us, and also there will be in us the Holy Spirit (unresisted by us and no longer grieved), springing up to eternal life, showing us His beauty. One difference only will there be - at present He gives us but drops, then He will pour upon us the horn of oil; and so shall we enter into the full joy of the Lord, not a scale left on our eye, nor one film left of the earthly mist that used to prevent our seeing Him who is the Image of God. The days of eternity shall pass on, and our eye shall never weary of looking on Him, but 'shall gaze upon His glories, as the eagle is said to do upon the meridian sun.' Ages upon ages pass, and still He is to us all in all. We admit the light from His Person freely now; never did Moses so eagerly survey the goodly land from Pisgah, as we now survey the glories of the Lamb. We get looks into that heart where love has dwelt from everlasting, and where love shall dwell to everlasting. Eternity is in its full course! Long, long ago, we lost sight of the shores of time, and still He is the unexhausted and inexhaustible fountain to us of 'Good tidings of Great Joy!' Eternity only serves to let in upon our souls the fulness of the blessing given to us in the day when we received Him, and began to have fellowship in His Gospel. The Gospel is still 'THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL;' for Christ is its substance; Christ is its essence; Christ is its Alpha and Omega; and the life it has brought us is out of 'Christ our life,' and must be 'Life Everlasting.'
Henceforth, then, this one thing I do: 'I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord. I do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and that I may know Him. I follow after if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. I forget those things which are behind, and reach forth unto those things which are before - I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God, in Christ Jesus' (Phil. iii. 8, 9, 10, 12, 14). Dr. Owen spent some of the best years of his life in writing the 'Treatise on the Person of Christ,' and some of his last days in preparing for the press his 'Meditations on the Glory of Christ.' On the very day he died, a friend came to tell him that his book was now in the press, at which he expressed satisfaction. 'But, O Brother,' said he, 'the long looked for day is come at last, in which I will see that glory in another manner than I have ever done yet, or was capable of doing in this world !'
O Holy Spirit, grant that all of us may be found by the Lord when He calls, or when He comes, thus occupied in meditation on His Person and Glory, ready to start up at the call, saying to one another, 'O Brother, the looked for day is come at last !'