Abraham's Seed Ministering To Those "Out of the way."
But (and this concerns us) the Church is also Abraham's seed; for, as St. Paul says, "If you be Christ's you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Gal. 3:29) To the Church therefore belongs the same promise, as first-fruits with Christ, not to be blessed only, but to be a blessing, in its own heavenly and spiritual sphere. For if the Jew on earth shall be a "kingdom of priests," what is our hope but to be heavenly "kings and priests," (Rev. 1:6,10) as "kings," for the Lord shall say, "Be thou over five cities," to rule and order in the coming age what requires order; not only with Christ to "judge the world," (1 Cor. 6:2) but to be "equal unto the angels" and to "judge angels;" as "priests," for a priest is "for those out of the way," (Heb. 5:2) to minister to those who yet are out of the way. This is the Church's calling, to do Christ's works, as He said, "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also;" with Him to be both prophet, priest and king, and this, not here only in these bodies of humiliation, but when changed in His presence to bear His image and do His works with Him.
Fuller Dimensions Of Service
Christ barely entered on His priestly work till He had passed through death and judgment; (Heb. 4:14; 7:15-17; 8:4,6) so with those who are Christ's, their death and resurrection shall only introduce them to fuller and wider service to lost ones, over whom the Lord shall set them as priests and kings, until all things are restored and reconciled unto Him. It is, alas, too true that of the Church's sons, some like Esau shall sell their birthright for some present good thing, and that in this age as in the last some of the children of the kingdom shall be cast out, while others from the east and from the west press in and win the crown and kingdom; yet an elect first-born shall surely be preserved, who are sealed to this pre-eminence, to be priests to God and rulers of their brethren. To whom, I ask, shall the Church after death be priests? Shall it be to that great mass of our fellow men, who have departed hence in ignorance? Shall it be to "spirits in prison," such as those to whom after His death Christ Himself once preached:.....
1 Peter 3:18-20. This passage, I know, is called "difficult," that is, it is one which it is hard and even impossible fairly to reconcile with the views called Orthodox. The words, however, are not difficult. They distinctly assert that our Lord went and preached to the spirits in prison, who once had been disobedient in the days of Noah. The "difficulty" is the Protestant orthodoxy has decided that there can be no message of mercy to any after death. Protestant commentators therefore have attempted to evade the plain statements of this Scripture, and their forced and unnatural interpretations show how very strong the passage is against them. Any one who wishes to see a summary of these interpretations may find them collected in Alfred's Greek Testament, in loco. His own comment is as follows;--"I understand these words to say, that our Lord, in his disembodied state, did go to the place of detention of departed spirits, and did there announce His work of redemption, preach salvation, in fact, to the disembodied spirits of those who refused to obey the voice of God, when the judgement of the flood was hanging over them." The fact, that in the Prayer-book these verses are appointed to be read as the Epistle for Easter Even, that is for the day after the crucifixion, and before the resurrection of our Lord, shows plainly enough the judgment of the English Church as to the true sense and interpretation of this passage. The Early Fathers, almost without exception, understand it to speak of Christ's descent into Hades.
....Shall not His saints, made like Him, do the same works, still following Him, and with Him being priests to God? Will not their glory be to rule and feed and enlighten and clothe those who are committed to them, even as Christ has fed and clothed them? For He is "King of kings and Lord of lords," (1 Tim. 6:15) words which indicate the many kings and rulers under Him, of whom He is Head, and whom He makes heads to others.
The Lamb Redeems The Ass
I should perhaps be going beyond my measure were I to follow in detail all that the law says further as to the first-fruits and the first-born; but I may add here, that this same truth, that the first-blessed must save others, is set forth, though in a slightly different form, in the kindred law of redemption touching the firstlings of beasts, whether clean or unclean. The lamb redeems the ass. (Exodus 8:12,13) So it must be. The clean are called, and content, to be sacrifices. For the law of redemption, which is the law of love, if this, that they who are first redeemed and blessed must bless others. And this is their joy, to be like Christ, that is to be channels of blessing to viler, weaker souls. For all higher and elder beings serve the lower and younger. The first-born therefore must serve and save others. Their calling is to be, like Christ, channels of blessing and life to thousands of later-born.
His Glorious Reach Of Redemption
Such glories are in store, to be revealed when the two leavened cakes of first-fruits, then completed, shall together be offered up, in that great coming Pentecost, of which the fiery tongues of old, and the rushing wind, in the upper room were but the type and earnest; when the elect, Christ's mystic body, being raised with Him, the Head not born alone, but all the members with it, the Spirit shall be poured out upon all flesh, and, the first-fruits being safe, the harvest, already sanctified by the first-fruits, shall all begin to be gathered in. Oh glorious day, when our Lord and Head shall give of His treasure to His first-born, that they may with Him redeem all lands and all brethren; (Lev. 25:25, 47,48) when with Him they shall judge their captive brethren, who through their unbelief have lost their own inheritance. Then shall the laver be multiplied into "ten lavers," (compare Exod. 30:18, which speaks of the wilderness, with 1 Kings 7:38,39 which describes the far larger provision made for cleansing in the glorious reign of the Man of Peace, the true Son of David.) till the water of life become a "sea of crystal," large enough even for Babylon the great to sink into it, and to be found no more at all for ever. Then shall the elect "run to and fro as sparks among the stubble;" (Wisdom 3:7,8) and as all sparks or seeds of light, though they may come forth at long intervals from one another, are yet congenial, if they have come out of a common root,--as they can not only mingle rays with rays and embrace each other, but in virtue of a common nature have the same power of consuming and purifying that they come in contact with,--so shall Christ's members judge the world with Him, and consume the evil with that same fire which Christ came to cast into the earth, and with which He is yet pledged to baptize all nations. For our Lord, who gave Himself, with Himself will give us all things, grudging His children nothing of that inheritance He has obtained for them.
The Dispensation Of The Fulness Of Times
Here then is the key to one part of the apparent contradiction between "mercy for all," and yet "the election" of a "little flock;" between "all the kindreds of the earth blessed in Christ," and yet a "strait and narrow way" and "few finding it." Here is the answer to the question, "Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise thee? Shall thy loving-kindness be declared in the grave, or thy faithfulness in destruction? Shall thy wonders be known in the dark, and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?" (Psl. 139:1-12) The first-born and first-fruits are the "few" and "little flock;" but these, though first delivered from the curse, have a relation to the whole creation, which shall be saved in the appointed times by the first-born seed, that is by Christ and His body, through those appointed baptisms, whether by fire or water, which are required to bring about "the restitution of all things." St. Paul expressly declares this when He says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,...that in the dispensation of the fulness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are in the earth, even in Him." (Eph. 1:3-10...the same doctrine is stated in almost the same words in Eph. 2:4-7)
The Church Is Itself A Great Sacrament
The Church, like Christ its Head, is itself a great sacrament; "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto men; ordained by God Himself, as a means whereby they may receive the same, and a pledge to assure them thereof;" and "blessing" of the elect, "with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ," is but the means and pledge, as the Apostle says, of wider blessing; the means by which "in the dispensation of the fulness of times" God designs to "gather together in one all things in Christ, whether they be things which are in heaven or which are in earth, even in Him;" and the pledge that He both can and will do it, as He has already done it in some of the weakest and worst; for "God hath chosen the base things of the world, yea and things which are not;" to show to all that there are none so weak but He can save, and none so vile, but He can change and cleanse them.
Beyond The Reach? Subdued & Reconciled
Thus when "He comes with ten thousands of His saints," He will not only by them "convince all ungodly sinners of all their hard speeches, which they have spoken against Him;" (Jude 14,15)--for if the thief be saved, and the Magdalene changed, who shall dare to say that the lost are uncared for or beyond the reach of God's salvation;--but He will by them also, as His royal priests, joint-heirs with Christ, fulfill all that priestly work of judgement and purification by fire, which must be accomplished that all may be "subdued" (1 Cor. 15:28) and "reconciled." (Col.1:20) To say that God saves only the first-born would be, if it may be said, to make Him worse than even Moloch, whose slaves devoted only their first-born to the flames, founding this dreadful rite upon the true tradition that the sacrifice of a first-born should redeem the rest; a requirement, tender, as compared with that which some ascribe to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who, according to their view, accepts the elect or first-born only, and leaves the rest to torments endless and most agonizing. The gospel of God tells us of better things, of a sacrifice indeed, even of God's Only-Begotten Son, who because we were dead, came into our death to quicken us, who took on Him the darkness, and death, and curse, which bound and would have forever held us, and broke through it in the power of His eternal life, not only reconciling us by His blood, but also showing us by His death the way out of the bondage of sin and this world, and who having thus in His own person, as Man, broken through death, gives Himself now to as many as will receive and follow Him, that in and by His life they also in the same path may come forth as first-fruits and first-born from the dead with Him. But Scripture never says that these only shall be saved, but rather that "in this seed," whose portion as the first-born is double, (Deut. 21:17) "all kindreds of the earth shall be blessed."
All Saints Day...All Souls Day
I fear that the elect, instead of bearing this witness, have too often ignored and even contradicted it. And yet the fact, that the Church for many hundred years has had an All-Souls Day as well as an All-Saints Day in her calendar is itself a witness that she may have been teaching far more than some of her sons as yet have learnt from her. For why did the Church ordain a celebration for All-Souls as well as for All-Saints, but because, spite of her children's contradictions, she believed that like her Lord she is truly linked to all, and with Him is ordained at last to gather all. And why does All-Souls Day follow All-Saints, (Nov. 1 is All-Saints Day; Nov. 2nd, All-Souls) but to declare that All-Saints should reach All-Souls, going before them indeed, yet going before to be a blessing to them. For indeed All Saints are to All Souls as the first-born to their younger brethren, elect to be both kings and priests to them; or as the first-fruits to the harvest, the pledge of what is to come, if not also the means to bring it about in due season. I know of course, that, through the abuse of masses for the dead, All-Souls Day has since the Reformation been dropped out of the calendar of our English Church. I neither judge nor defend our Reformers for what they did in a time of very great difficulty. I only say that the truth once taught by All-Souls Day, if ever a truth, must be a truth for all generations. And I thank God that the Church had, and yet has, such a day; and that, if not with English saints now living, yet "with all saints," as the Apostle says, "we may be able to comprehend the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that we may be filled with (or unto) all the fulness of God." And in faith of that love and fulness I look for the day when All-Souls shall become the inheritance and prize and glory of All-Saints, who by grace have gone before them.
Lambs For The Slaughter
Our knowledge however of this or any other mystery will serve us nothing, yea be far worse than nothing, if, instead of running for the prize which the Gospel sets before us, we sit down content merely to understand how the apparent contradictions of Scripture can be reconciled. Not so do the first-born win the prize. Christ has shown the way, and there is no other. He died to live--He suffered to reign--He humbled Himself; therefore God hath greatly exalted Him. If we be dead with Him, we shall live with Him,--joint-heirs with Christ, if so be we suffer with Him, that we may be glorified together. (Rom. 8:17) Only by the cross can the change be wrought in us, which conforms us to Christ and His image,--which makes us, like Him, lambs for the slaughter, and as such fitted to bless and serve others. And as corn does not grow by any thinking of the process; as gold is not melted by any speculation of the nature of the fire, but by being cast into it; so the change required is only wrought in us through the baptism of fire, which is so sharp that even the blessed Paul could say, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable," (1 Cor. 15:19) a trial very different from that of the mass of professors, who suffer no more than the common lot of humanity. And indeed so narrow is the way, and so strait is the gate, that leadeth to the life and glory of the first-born, who "follow the Lamb withersover He goeth; (Rev. 14:4) so entire is the loss and renunciation of the things dear to the old man, whose will is entranced by the things that are seen and temporal; so bitter is the cross that few can bear it, and pass willingly through the fires which must be passed to win that "high calling." (Phil. 3:8-14) Here is the patience of the saints, to bear that fire in and by which the old Adam is dissolved and slain, out of which they rise, through "blood and fire and pillars of smoke," that is the Pentecostal offering, (Acts 2:19) as sacrifices to God, to stand as kings and priests before Him.
The First-Born Blesses The Latter-Born
(2) I pass on to show that God's purpose, by the first-born from the dead to bless the later-born,--as it is written, "So in Christ shall all be made alive,"--is fulfilled in successive worlds or ages, or to use the language of St. Paul, "according to the purpose of the ages," (Eph. 3:2) so that the dead are raised, not all together, but "Every man in his own order--Christ the first-fruits--afterwards they that are Christ's at His coming;" (1 Cor. 15:23) which latter resurrection, though after Christ's, is yet called "the resurrection from among the dead," (Phil. 3:2), or "the first resurrection." (Rev. 20:5).
Now it is simply a matter of fact, that Christ, the first of the first-fruits, through whom all blessing reaches us, rose from the dead eighteen hundred years ago, while the Church of the first-born, who are also called first-fruits, (James 1:18..Rev. 14:4) will not be gathered till the great Pentecost. Some are therefore freed from death before others; and even of the first-fruits, the Head of the body, as in every proper birth, is freed before the other members. So far it is clear that this purpose of God is wrought, not at once, but through successive ages. But this fact gives a hint of further mysteries, and some key to the "ages of ages," which we read of in the New Testament, during which the lost are yet held by or under death and judgment, while the saints share Christ's glory, as heirs of God, in subduing all things unto Him. The fall here gives us some shadow of the restoration. For just as in Adam, all do not come out of him or die at once, but descend from or through each other, and die generation after generation, though all fell and died, as part of him, and therefore partakers of his sad inheritance; so in Christ, though all have been made alive in Him by His resurrection, all are not personally brought into His life and light at once, but one after another, and the first-born before the later-born, according to God's good pleasure and eternal purpose.
The Feast Of Ingathering
The key here as elsewhere is to be found in the details of that law, of which "no jot or tittle shall pass till all be fulfilled;" (Matt. 5:18) the appointed "times and seasons" of which, one and all, are the types or figures of the "ages" of the New Testament; for there is nothing in the gospel, the figure of which is not in the law, nor anything in the law, the substance of which may not be found under the gospel; God's once oppressed and captive Israel being the vessel, in and by which He would show out His purpose of grace and truth to other lost ones.
Observe, then, not only that the first-fruits are gathered, some at the feast of the Passover, and others not till Pentecost, while the "feast of ingathering," is not held until the seventh month, "in the end of the year, when thou hast gathered in thy labours out of the field;" but how no less distinctly both cleansing and redemption are ordained to take effect at different times and seasons. I refer to those mystic periods of "seven days," "seven weeks," "seven months," "seven years," and the "seven times seven years," which last complete the Jubilee, which are all different times for cleansing and blessing men,--the former of which are figures of "the ages," the last, of "the ages of ages," in the New Testament; under which last blessed appointment all those who had lost their inheritance, and could not go free, as some did, at the Sabbatic year of rest, might at length, after the "times of times," that is the "seven times seven years," regain what had been lost, and find full deliverance.
Liberty Proclaimed To All The Land
For in the Sabbatic year the release was for Israel only, not for foreigners; (Deut. 15:1.5) while in the Jubilee, liberty was to be proclaimed to all the inhabitants of the land. (Lev. 25:10) What is there in the ordinary gospel of this day, which in the least explains or fulfills these various periods, in and through which were wrought successive cleansings and redemptions, not of persons only, but of their lost inheritance? And if in the gospel, as now preached, no truth is found corresponding with these figures of the Law, is it not a proof that something is at least overlooked? God knows how much is overlooked from neglect of those Scriptures, which Saint Paul tells us are needed, "to make the man of God perfect," (2 Tim. 3:16,17) but which by others are openly despised, and by others are neglected, as the useless shadows of a by-gone dispensation. In them is the key, under a veil perhaps, of those "ages" and "ages of ages," during which so many are debtors and bondsmen under judgment, without their true inheritance. And though indeed it is true, that "it is not for us to know the times and the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power," it is yet given us to know that there are such times and seasons, and in knowing it to gain still wider views of the "manifold wisdom of God," and of the "unsearchable riches of Christ," our Saviour and Lord.
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