Imagens da página
[ocr errors]

done and is doing we see indeed that “God is love," and "God is light." For myself I most surely believe that the dark problem of the universe will be so solved by Him in due time as to command the admiration, wonder, and gratitude of every created intelligence. I believe without difficulty, nay, in my case the difficulty would be not to believe it—that the time is coming when “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them,” will be heard saying, “ Blessing and honour and glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever (Rev. v. 13). Nor will this universal concert of adoration be the result of an all-commanding power which may no longer be resisted, or of an all-subduing authority which makes continued opposition fruitless madness, but the spontaneous utterance of intelligent conviction that a wisdom so profound deserves the highest tribute of admiration, and a love so strong the most fervent expressions of praise. For though all-commanding power, as we shall see shortly, will be put forth for a specific purpose, and for a brief period, when Divine right asserts itself against diabolic usurpation, yet the great law of constraining love, the normal principle which overcomes evil with good, will unquestionably retain its ascendancy to the last, so that the loyalty of creaturehood will ultimately be the result of the grace of the Godhead.

The economy under which we live is both a development and an initiation. It illustrates the dispensations that have preceded it; it suggests the essential character of those that are to follow. It is itself neither a first nor a last economy, but an interpretation of its predecessors and a herald of the ages to come.

It takes up man just as he is, a creature for whom law can do nothing, “in that it is weak through the flesh," and proposes to make him a new creature under the influence of Gospel, or good news from heaven. It finds him devil-possessed, and speaks of making him a temple of the Holy Spirit. It sees him wofully degraded, and utters in his ear words of deep significance concerning the formation in his heart of Christ the hope of glory. But from the indisputable fact that the mass of mankind are destitute, even under the reign of grace, of the character which results from the belief of the record, it is not too much to infer that the ages to come will witness fresh developments of the wisdom and love of God, yet all associated with and springing out of the priestly work and royal rights of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Some of the leading characteristics of the dispensation, which give it its peculiarity, may be briefly noted.

It is an age in which God deals with men as individuals. Nations are merged into the higher idea of a world, and social distinctions in the higher idea of humanity. Hence the Gospel of grace is preached alike, and on precisely the same terms, to Jew and Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free. There were saints

[ocr errors]

among the aristocracy of Cæsar's household ; there were elsewhere poor saints for whom it was necessary to collect the gifts of the charitable ; but the parties thus distinguished in worldly circumstances had been addressed as sinners needing mercy, when the Gospel was first preached to them. They had been spoken to, not as nobles in the one case, and as peasants in the other, but as men who, in common with the entire race, had come short of the glory of God," and salvation through Jesus by faith was set before them for acceptance. They did accept it, and thus became saints

-men separated, set apart from a common to a sacred use, delivered from the slavery of sin into the freedom with which Christ makes free.

And so it is still. Salvation is proclaimed on the same principle to all ranks, classes, and conditions of men. There is no refined aspect of it for the cultured, and a more common one for the untrained. It is a “common salvation ” for men who are altogether helpless without it. He who wields a sceptre and that handles the plough are invited to the same feast. The man who counts his gold by millions, and the ragged beggar, are equally welcome to the royal dainties of God's priceless banquet. The philosopher who has discovered and described the laws of nature, and the peasant who cannot read the alphabet, are urged to come, and take, and live for ever. Caste, tribe, parentage, position, rank, class, country, are all nothing. The sinner and the Saviour alone come before us on this broad field of Divine beneficence, and if these meet and speak to each other, all is well. Not, be it observed, that Christianity ignores social classifications. So far from that, it fully recognises them ; but its terms to every member of every class in society are precisely the same.

It is an age of toleration, that is, of Divine long-suffering and patience. The blasphemer is not stoned, the man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day is not put to death, and the unclean is not driven beyond the pale of society. God waits with men ; waits to be gracious; and bears long with the rejecters of His Son and the despisers of His grace. The overwhelming multitude are practical atheists. They are living without God in the world. He is to them as a Being who has no existence; and yet they are not smitten down by visible judgments, nor hurried away in His wrath. On the contrary, they are daily watched over and cared for by His bountiful providence. Their wants are supplied, their necessities are anticipated, their lot in life is arranged. To many of them He gives gold and grandeur, and much worldly influence. His sun shines upon, His showers soften their broad acres. But they return no love, feel no gratitude, express no thanks, and they continue from year to year turning a deaf ear to the message of reconciliation, resisting the Holy Spirit, and trampling on the blood of Christ. Still, however, He bears with them, and looks with unutterable complacency upon the Man of His right hand, who

[ocr errors]

continues to make intercession for the transgressors. This feature of the dispensation is very remarkable, and real Christians, but with limited views of the Divine arrangements, have often been startled by it.

But there is another aspect of this day of toleration, which, in some respects, is still more remarkably illustrative of the Divine forbearance. There are those who give Him the bended knee instead of prayer, and the words of sacred song upon the lips instead of praise; those who profess to seek a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God, but who are all the time wedded to their worldly lusts, and bent upon the things of time and sense as the highest good of human existence. They profess to be the followers of Christ; but they lie unto the Lord with their tongues, and mock Him by a miserable formalism, without heart or life. Yet our God bears with them too. How gracious He is, how slow to anger !

And then His own children must bear testimony to His patience. They feel that they cannot do otherwise, for they often wonder that He has borne so long with their deficiencies, shortcomings, errors, spots, and manifold follies.

Another important feature of this age is, that it is an elective dispensation. This fact is singularly significant. It has meanings which touch both God and man. So far as God is concerned, it sheds fresh glory upon His name; but it tells a dismal tale of blindness and stupidity on the part of men.

If God has adopted the principle of election in a dispensation of grace-grace within grace, so to speak-you may be sure that there are most weighty reasons for it. But that He has adopted that principle is beyond dispute. Various views are taken of New Testament election by the different theological schools ; but that the doctrine is there no one dreams of denying. I have no wish, at this time, to disturb either the Arminian or the Calvinistic theory of election ; although I accept neither as usually presented : my object being, first, to state a demonstrable fact, and then to look at the weighty lessons it suggests. I say demonstrable fact, for do we not see the visible evidence of it around us daily? We are witnesses that God is taking out of the nations a people for His name. sonally, intimately acquainted with men who love God and delight in His service. We also know men who cannot bear to think of Him, and whose whole lives are spent in opposition to His will. But, remember, the dispensation of grace has preached salvation full and free to all. Whence then this marked distinction ? The answer, so far as the fact is concerned, is, some have believed the truth, and some have not; and the answer, so far as the doctrine which lies behind the fact is concerned, is, had not God chosen, and, in consequence of choice, drawn to Himself a certain number, none would have believed. To prevent the defeat of the great purpose of love, God chose His people in Christ from before the foundation

We are per

[ocr errors]


of the world, and we now live under an elective dispensation, during the progress of which they are gathered. On the one side of this. great fact we see the darkness into which the human race had fallen, and the enmity of theii hearts against God, which would have universally hindered their reception of the Gospel : and, on the other side, we see God, as usual, making sure of every part of His great plan of wisdom and grace.

An elective principle at the heart of a dispensation of grace, teaches two things of supreme importance. First, that such a dispensation cannot be final; and, secondly, that the elective principle, instead of proving that none but the elect will be saved, proves just the contrary. Simeon hath declared,” said James, at the conference of apostles and elders, on the question of compelling Christians to keep the law of Moses, "how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name.” This is the election of the present dispensation ; but what follows ? A quotation from the prophet Amos, “that afterward the residue of men will seek after the Lord” (Acts xv. 13-17). But it is clearer still in the following words: “Of His own will begat He us, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures” (Jas. i. 18). Surely the first-fruits are not the entire produce of the harvest field, but the pledge and proof of the abundance that is to follow. We have also a vision of those who stand on Mount Sion with the Lamb, and concerning them we are told, “ These were redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God and the Lamb.” And it is after this, when the Church is completed in glory, that John saw" Another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and people, and tongue" (Rev. xiv. 6). And still further, it is after the vision of the Holy City that we are told that the nations shall walk in the light of it.

The sublime truth is that election is of the Church, to constitute that peculiarly honoured assembly, the body of Christ, the nature of which is clearly described in Scripture. The action of election ceases when the Church is completed, which it will be at the close of the present dispensation. The multitudes that will be saved afterwards, will not be included in the peculiar body called "the Church of the Firstborn." All the dark shadows which have been supposed to fall from election, have actually fallen from a misapprehension of its place in the councils of heaven and the dispensation of grace. It is a glory and a joy as the harbinger of the vast harvests of happy men that are to follow. It secures the Church, which is the body of Christ; but to say that none are to have peace and joy but the Church, is to say what Scripture contradicts. The entire mistake has sprung from the groundless assumption that this is the final dispensation. Besides, every careful student of the New Testament must see that the dispensa

tion of grace comes to an end while the majority of men are still strangers to God; it follows, therefore, that the introduction of the elective principle during this age is in pursuance of some great purpose to be developed in the next dispensation. All nations are to be blessed in the Messiah, and to call Him blessed (Ps. lxxii). This principle, therefore, is a bright light thrown forward to give us joy concerning future generations in our world, when we, if members of Christ's Church, shall be with the King in His celestial palace, not in the character of subjects—though that we shall gladly own -- but as His fellow heirs, Xis body. To look upon this peculiarly honoured assembly of the redeemed, therefore, as including all that shall be made happy in the Lord in future ages, is as absurd as to say that the first sheaf is the entire harvest, or that no one shares in the privileges and honours of British citizenship, except the Privy Council and the members of Her Majesty's Household.

Finally, it is the dispensation of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, by the application of the truth concerning Jesus, convinces, regenerates, enlightens the mind, leads the believer onward, comforts amidst trouble, waters the graces He has himself implanted in the heart, nourishes the fruits of righteousness, which are to the glory of God, draws us into communion with the Lord and with one another, and in many other ways nurtures the new life, and makes us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. In the personal absence of our Lord, waiting the time appointed of the Father for entering on His kingly rights, the Holy Spirit is with the Church, according to His promise, “And I will pray the Father, and He

shall give you another comforter, that He may abide with you for ever (John xiv. 16), that is, during the age, or dispensation; which exactly corresponds with the last words in Matthew's Gospel, Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world ; where the same Greek word is used, meaning, not the end of the material world but the end of the present dispensation. The Spirit of the Lord is with His people, and has been so ever since the day of Pentecost; and, therefore, when men tell us that the second coming of the Lord means a spiritual coming, they speak unwisely, for in this sense, blessed be His name ! our Saviour has never left us.

I have said that the present age is the dispensation of the Spirit; but I do not mean by that that His agency will cease to be employed on earth when He has completed the Church and seen it safe in the glory, “without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing." The work of the Holy Spirit, like that of the Father and the Son, continues through periods long after the completion of the number of saved ones that constitute that heavenly assembly, the Church. The time comes when God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh; a type and pledge of which was given on the Day of Pentecost, when a few unlettered Galileans were miraculously qualified to speak of the wonderful works of God in a number of languages, of which

« AnteriorContinuar »