Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The glory of the millennium

Thomas Ridgely, Body of Divinity

So far as scripture plainly gives countenance to the doctrine in general, that the administration of Christ's government, in this world, shall be attended with great glory, and shall abundantly tend to the advantage of his church, it is a subject of too great importance to be passed over with neglect, as if we had no manner of concern in it, or as if it were a matter of mere speculation; for certainly all scripture is written for our learning, and ought to be studied and improved by us, to the glory of God, and our own edification.

As to those texts which speak of Christ's government as exercised in this world, not only do they contain matters awful and sublime, but our having just ideas of these will be a direction to our faith, when we pray for the farther advancement of Christ's kingdom, as we are bound daily to do. We must take heed, however, that we do not give too great scope to our fancy, by framing imaginary schemes of our own, and then bringing in scripture, not without some violence offered to the sense of it, to give countenance to them. Nor ought we to acquiesce in such a sense of scripture, brought to support this doctrine, as is evidently contrary to other scriptures, or to the nature and spirituality of Christ's government. We must also take it for granted, that some of those scriptures which relate to this matter are hard to be understood, and that, therefore, a humble modesty becomes us in treating it, rather than to censure those who differ from us, as if they had departed from that faith which is founded on the most obvious and plain sense of scripture, especially if they maintain nothing which is derogatory to the glory of Christ. This rule we shall endeavour to observe, in what remains to be considered on this subject.

As most allow that there is a sense in which Christ's kingdom shall be attended with greater circumstances of glory than it is at present, we shall proceed to show how it shall be advanced, in this lower world, beyond what it is at present; and we shall show this in a way which agrees very well with the sense of several scriptures relating to the subject, without going into some extremes which many have run into who plead for Christ's personal reign on earth in a way in which it cannot easily be defended. We freely own, as what we think agreeable to scripture, that as Christ has, in all ages, displayed his glory as King of the church, so we have ground to conclude, from scripture, that the administration of his government in this world, before his coming to judgment, will be attended with greater magnificence, more visible marks of glory, and various occurrences of providence, which shall tend to the welfare and happiness of his church, in a greater degree than has been beheld or experienced by it, since it was planted by the ministry of the apostles after his ascension into heaven. This we think to be the sense, in general, of those scriptures, both in the Old and in the New Testament, which speak of the latter-day glory.

Some of the prophets seem to look farther than the first preaching of the gospel, and the glorious display of Christ's government which attended it. These were, in part, an accomplishment of some of their predictions, but they were not wholly so; for there are some expressions made use of by them which seem as yet not to have had their accomplishment. Of the former kind are the expressions of the prophet Isaiah, when he speaks of 'the glory of the Lord, as arising,' and being 'seen upon' the church, and of the 'Gentiles coming to this light,' and 'kings to the brightness of it;'' and many other things to the same purpose, which denote the glorious privileges that the gospel-church should enjoy. Though these, in a spiritual sense, may, in a great measure, be supposed to be already accomplished ; yet there are other things which he foretells concerning the church which do not yet appear to have had their accomplishment.

He says, for example,' Thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night,' as denoting the church's being perfectly free from all those afflictive dispensations of providence which should tend to hinder the preaching and success of the gospel. He says, also, ' Violence shall be no more heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; by which he intends the church's perfect freedom from all persecution. He says farther, 'The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.' This is so far from having been yet accomplished, that it seems to refer to the same thing which is mentioned concerning the New Jerusalem, and almost expressed in the same words: which, if it be not a metaphorical description of the heavenly state, has a peculiar reference to the latter-day glory. The prophet again adds, 'Thy people shall be all righteous,' denoting that holiness should almost universally obtain in the world, as much as iniquity has abounded in it,—an event which does not appear to have yet taken place. Again, when the prophet Micah speaks of ' the mountain of the house of the Lord being established in the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills,' and says, that 'people should flow unto it,' though this, and some other things which he there mentions, may refer to the first preaching of the gospel, and the success of it; yet the words which follow cannot be so understood: ' They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; and nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid.' This prophecy, so far as it may be taken otherwise than in a spiritual sense, seems to imply a greater degree of peace and tranquillity than the gospel-church has hitherto enjoyed. Hence, when he says that this shall be ' in the last days, 'we have reason to conclude that he does not mean merely the last or gospel-dispensation, which commenced on our Saviour's ascension into heaven, but the last period of that dispensation, or the time which we are now considering.

As to the account we have of this period in the New Testament, especially in many places in the Book of Revelation, which speak of' the kingdoms of the world becoming the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ,' and of his ' taking to himself his great power and reigning, and of the thousand years' reign; whatever be the sense of these passages, as to some circumstances of glory which shall attend this administration of the affairs of his kingdom, they certainly have not yet had their accomplishment; and they, therefore, lead us to expect that Christ's kingdom shall be attended with greater degrees of glory redounding to himself, which we call the latter-day glory.

When this period of greater glory shall arrive, many privileges will redound to the church. As Christ is said to reign on earth, so the saints are represented as reigning with him. They say,' Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth; and elsewhere, when the apostle speaks of Christ's reigning ' a thousand years,' he adds, that 'they shall reign with him.' This cannot be understood in any other sense than that of a spiritual reign, agreeably to the nature of Christ's kingdom, which is not of this world. We have, hence, sufficient ground to conclude, that, when these prophecies shall have their accomplishment, the interest of Christ shall be the prevailing interest in the world, which it has never yet been in all respects ; so that godliness shall be as much and as universally valued and esteemed, as it has hitherto been decried, and it shall be reckoned as great an honour to be a Christian, as it has, in the most degenerate age of the church, been matter of reproach. We may add, that the church shall have a perfect freedom from persecution in all parts of the world ; that a greater glory shall be put on the ordinances; and that more success shall attend them thau has hitherto been experienced. In short, there shall be, as it were, an universal spread of religion and holiness to the Lord, throughout the world.

When this glorious dispensation shall commence, we have sufficient ground to conclude, that, the anti-christian powers having been wholly subdued, the Jews shall be converted. This may be inferred from the order in which this event is foretold in the book of Revelation. The fall and utter ruin of Babylon are first predicted. Afterwards we read of 'the marriage of the Lamb being come,'of ' his wife having made herself ready,' and of others, who are styled 'blessed,' being 'called to tho marriage-supper.' This, as an ingenious and learned writer observes, seems to be a prediction of the call of the Jews, and of the saints and faithful, namelv, the gospel-church, who were converted before this time, being, together with the Jews, made partakers of the spiritual privileges of Christ's kingdom, and so invited to the marriage-supper. Accordingly, by 'the Lamb's wife,'is intended the converted Jews, who are considered as espoused to him. As their being ' ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, and not submitting themselves to the righteousness of God,'m occasioned their being rejected ; so, when they are converted, and their new espousals are celebrated, it is particularly observed that this righteousness shall be their greatest glory, the robe that they shall be adorned with. Hence, when the bride is said to have made herself ready, it is added, ' To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.'" This prophecy, being placed immediately before the account of the thousand years' reign, gives ground to conclude that the conversion of the Jews shall be before it, or an introduction to it.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

What do we pray for in saying Thy kingdom come?

In desiring that Christ's kingdom may come, we pray that the gospel may be propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, and the fulness of the Gentiles brought in.

When the gospel dispensation, which is Christ's kingdom, was first erected, the apostles, who were employed in the important work, were to fulfil the commission which he gave them, in preaching the gospel to all nations. This they accordingly did; and, by the extraordinary hand of God attending their ministry, the gospel was spread, in a short space of time, through a considerable part of the world. Many of the Jews were called,—among whom all that were ordained to eternal life believed: and as for the Gentiles, who formerly were unacquainted with the way of salvation, they had Christ preached to them, and many churches were gathered from among them. Thus the kingdom of Christ was advanced ; and a foundation was laid for the propagation and flourishing state of the gospel in all succeeding ages, the effects of which are experienced at this day. Hence, when the petition relating to the coming of Christ's kingdom was used by the first disciples, that which was principally intended by it, was that Christ might be preached to the Gentiles, and believed on in the world,—that the vail, or the face of the covering which was spread over all nations, might be taken away,—and that the way of salvation might be known by those who sat in the region and shadow of death. When, however, it is used by us, we signify our desire that the invaluable blessing of the gospel may be still continued, and that the promises relating to the greater success of it may have a more full accomplishment. The apostles, indeed, in executing their commission, are said to have preached the gospel to all nations, that is, to a very considerable part of the heathen world. It does not appear, however, that every individual nation in the world has yet been favoured with this privilege; so that what was foretold concerning the earth being 'full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea,' and other predictions to the same purpose, do not seem hitherto to have had their full accomplishment. It is very evident, too, that many nations, who had the gospel preached to them by the apostles, are now wholly destitute of it. And, though it is true a considerable number of the Jews at first believed iu Christ; yet the greatest part of that people were cast off, and all remain, at this day, strangers and enemies to him. Hence, we cannot but suppose that those prophecies which respect their conversion, in the latter day, together with the fulness of the Gentiles being brought in, shall be more eminently accomplished than they have hitherto been.

This, therefore, is what we are to pray for when we say, ' Thy kingdom come.'
Thomas Ridgely, Body of Divinity

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Are we what the Law requires of us?

William Swan Plumer
Thy commandment is exceeding broad. — Psal. cxix. 96.

In the text God's commandment means God's law, that holy, just, and good law, which he gave on Mount Sinai. It is more fully explained in other  parts of Scripture. The text says that this commandment is broad. The meaning is that it covers a great deal of ground. It covers our whole case.

1 . It enjoins all duties — all duties which we owe  to God, to our neighbour, or to ourselves. It claims to control our thoughts, our feelings, our desires, our words, and our acts. No thought can pass in our minds, no wish spring up in our hearts, no word escape our lips, but this law notices it and pronounces it good or evil.

2. It forbids all sins. Men have been very cunning in finding out ways of doing wickedly, but they have found out no way of sinning that is not forbidden by the law of God. We have something like a hundred words in our language to denote wicked conduct. But the law comprehends all these forms of sinning. It is absolutely universal. Men make laws to govern a state. They pile statute upon statute. When a law works badly, they repeal it or  try to amend it, and then they amend the amendment. But here is a law which in ten short precepts does in spirit forbid all sin and require all duty.

3. God's law is one, and not many. It is a chain. If you break any link in it, you break the chain. He that offends in one point is guilty of all. The whole law is fulfilled in one word; and that word is Love.

4. This law is unbending. It can be broken, but it cannot be bent. It will not conform to us. We must conform to it.

5. It requires obedience to be rendered to God. We are not to keep it merely from accident, or for convenience, or for a reward of merit, or from a spirit of servility. Our obedience must be hearty, cheerful, affectionate. God's law must be within us. We must delight to do his will. His statutes must be the rejoicings of our hearts. If we could be as precise as Pharisees, it would do us no good. We must love God supremely and our neighbour as ourselves.

6. In this obedience we must persevere. "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" Gal. iii. 10. Past obedience was due; present obedience is due : and future obedience will be due for ever. This is right. A man may keep all the laws for fifty years. If he then commits murder, he is justly punished. A man may steal but once, yet that one act makes him a thief.

7. The law requires prompt, unhesitating obedience. When God commands and we know what he means, we must not linger, but go right forward.  When Abraham was required to sacrifice Isaac, and knew what God's will was, he arose very early the next morning, and started on the commanded journey. David says, " I made haste and delayed not to keep thy commandments," Ps. cxix. 60. Some children and servants, when required to do a thing and know what their duty is, ask questions, find fault, and even murmur. Their conduct is wicked. It is still more wicked to stand finding fault with God.

8. The obedience we owe to God is supreme. We must put his will above our own or that of any man or number of men. We owe great honour to our father and mother ; but if they call on us to do anything contrary to the law of God, we may not do it. Sometimes States and Kings make wicked laws, contrary to the known will of the Most High. In all such cases we must obey God rather than men. Sometimes churches make wicked rules, and wickedly enforce them. In such cases, we must bear expulsion from the church rather than sin against God. We owe him all. He is in all and through all and above all and over all.

9. God's law requires obedience perfect in all respects. The least failure is a sin; and against every sin God sets his face. He says, "Be ye holy, for I am holy." And he is right, and has a right to require all this. To give a license to sin once, or in the least, would be bringing sin into the world. It was for one sin that angels were hurled out of heaven. It was for one sin that Adam was driven from Paradise.

If these things are so, how stands your case with God? Do you take him to be the only living and
true God, and your God? Do you love anything more than you love God ? Are you more distressed when God is dishonoured than when you are reproached? Do you put anything above God's favour? Do you tempt God? Are you lukewarm or dead in the things of God ? Do you make any man or set of men the lords of your faith and conscience ? Do you slight the Saviour ? Do you resist or grieve God's Spirit ? Do you delight yourself in the Lord ? Do you worship God with a pure heart ? Do you pay your vows ? Do you honour God with your lips when your heart is far from him ? Do you speak of God's name, or word, or worship in a vain or profane manner? Do you ever jest with sacred things ? Do you ever oppose God's truth or grace or ways? Do you love the Sabbath-day and keep it holy? Or are you weary of its duties? Do you omit any honour or love due to your parents, teachers, guardians, or rulers ? Do you indulge envy, scorn, or malice towards them ? Do you pray for them ? Are you careful of your own life and the life of others ? Do you indulge excessive passions and needless cares ? Do you strike, or wound, or quarrel, or oppress ? Are you cruel to brutes ? Do you cherish all chaste and pure thoughts, looks, and words ? Is your behaviour light or impudent? Are you guilty of excess in eating, drinking, or sleeping? Have you made a covenant with your eyes and your ears ? Do you steal from rich or poor ? Do you beg when you might earn your bread ? Do you borrow when you could do without the things borrowed? Do you always speak the truth in your heart ? As far as you can, do you speak well of all men ? Do you hate lying, slander, backbiting, talebearing, whispering, flattery, scoffing, reviling, vain boasting ? Do you listen to false reports ? Do you patiently hear a just defence ? Are you not sometimes silent when you ought to speak ? Do you not sometimes speak when you ought to be silent ? Are you a brawler ? Do you keep your word? Is your promise as good as your bond ? Are you contented with your lot ?
Do you envy your more prosperous neighbour ? Are you glad when others have good success ? Can you truly say, I hate every false way, but I love thy law, God?


1 . How many kinds of sins there are ! Some are secret, and some are open. Some are on the spur of the moment, and some have long been thought over before they are committed. Some are against ourselves, some against our neighbours, and all against God. If God would contend with us, we cannot answer him for one of a thousand of our sins. Job ix. 3. All good men count their sins by the thousand, or else say that they are like a thick cloud, that they are innumerable, that they are like the great mountains.

2. How vain is the pretence of men to sinless perfection. The Bible is clear that " there is no man that liveth and sinneth not," 1 Kings viii. 46; 2 Chron. vi. 36. Yea more, " there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not," Ecc.vii. 20. The whole verse from which the text is taken reads ; " I have seen an end of all perfection: but thy commandment is exceeding broad."

3. It is very foolish in us to expect to be justified by the deeds of the law. The law justifies only sinless creatures, and we are all sinful creatures. By the law is the knowledge of sin, not the pardon of sin. The law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, not to bring us to God. Christ must bring us before his holy majesty. The law pours only curses on sinners. It has no mercy, because it is law, and unbending.

4. How kind and glorious is the gospel. It brings help to the needy, mercy to the guilty, salvation to the lost. One of my friends, with a company of travellers, was crossing the Alps, when there came up a great snow-storm. The clouds were very heavy. The paths soon became covered. The snow fell fast. They could see but a little way before them. By-and-by their guide sadly said to them, " I know not where we are." It was very cold. The prospect before them was very dismal. The guide went a little way to the one side, and there he found one of the guide-boards, which were in the shape of a cross; and he returned with great joy in his countenance, shouting, " The cross, the cross ! " Their hearts were indeed glad. They soon took the road, and went on their way rejoicing. So we are all lost. We are out of the way. We know not how to come before the Almighty. We are in a perishing condition. Our only hope is the cross of Christ — not the wood on which he hung, nor an image of it ; but Christ's death which he there suffered, Christ's blood which he there shed. Will you not say, — " My faith, would lay her hand On that dear head of thine ; While like a penitent I stand, And there confess my sin."

No man needs any sacrifice but that of Calvary, any atonement but that of Christ. His work is perfect. His death is all-sufficient. O look to him — to him alone.