THE Bible has suffered more from Christian exponents than from infidel assailants. The prophets of Israel, "moved by the Holy Spirit," spoke with united voice of a time when righteousness and peace would triumph and rule upon the earth; but "old-fashioned orthodoxy" interpreted their glowing periods much as an American crowd interprets the rhodomontade of political stump orators at election times! And thus the sublime words of the Hebrew Scriptures are supposed to find their fulfillment in the history of Christendom. They are read as referring to us and to our own age. And after us, the deluge! What wonder is it that sensible men of the world are skeptical both about the past predictions and the coming deluge! On this system of exegesis, for example, the sublime flights of Isaiah, when reduced to sober prose, find their realization - I repeat the phrase - in a pandemonium and a bonfire! This nightmare system of interpreting Holy Scripture makes the sacred pages seem to unbelief a hopeless maze of mysticism.
As we open the New Testament narrative we read that "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." And "when John was cast into prison," the Lord Himself took up this same testimony, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:1, 2; 4:17) Now the only meaning these words can bear, is that the time was at hand when heaven would rule upon earth,1 a hope which, as the inspired Apostle declared at Pentecost, was the burden of Hebrew prophecy. But, as we have seen, the fulfillment of that hope has been postponed owing to the apostasy and sin of the Covenant people. And, because of its postponement, it has dropped out of the creed of Christendom; albeit Christendom, million-mouthed, daily recites the words the Lord Himself has given us with which to pray for its fulfillment - "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven." With the vast majority of Christians that prayer is merely a pious incantation; but the words are His own, and they shall be realized to the full. And yet, "in our covert atheism" - to borrow a phrase from Charles Kingsley - those who cherish this belief are commonly regarded as fanatics.
Indeed the skeptical crusade which masquerades as "Higher Criticism" began with the assumption that God must be a cipher in the world which He Himself created; and so every book of Scripture which records any immediate Divine intervention in human affairs had to be got rid of. But the atheist, who is more intelligent and logical than these "Christian" pundits, triumphantly points to the absence of all such intervention as proof that there is no God at all And the majority even of real Christians are quite indifferent to the amazing mystery of a silent heaven. "The mystery of God" it is called in Scripture; and the time is foretold when "the mystery of God shall be finished." {Revelation 10:7) And, as the Seer declares, when that time comes, "great voices in heaven" will proclaim that "the sovereignty of this world is become the sovereignty of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign." And God will then do that which the thoughtful wonder He does not do now and always, "He will give their reward to His servants and to His saints and to all that fear His name, and He will destroy them that destroy the earth." (Revelation 11:15-18) The first act in that awful judgment drama will include the doom of the professing Church on earth. (Revelation 19:2) And when a mighty voice proclaims that "God hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand" - the unnumbered myriads of the martyrs - all heaven raises its hallelujah. And the Seer adds: "I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." (Revelation 19:6)
But both the judgment of the Harlot and the restoration of the Covenant people await the close of the reign of grace. For, as we have seen, so long as grace is reigning, not only can there be no punitive action against human sin, but there can be no distinction made between one class of sinners and another. "There is no difference, for all have sinned": (Romans 3:22, 23) "There is no difference, for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon Him." (Romans 10:12, 13) These are the principles of the reign of grace.
But did not the Lord Himself declare that "salvation is of the Jews "? And did He not say, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel"? How, then, can we reconcile statements so conflicting? This question has been already answered on a preceding page. Grace in its fullness is a "mystery" truth that could not be revealed until the Covenant people had lost their vantage-ground of privilege. But the same Scripture which records their "fall" declares with explicit definiteness that the economy resulting from that fall is abnormal and temporary; and that when the Divine purposes relating to this present age have been fulfilled, the covenant people shall be restored and "all Israel shall be saved." (Romans 11)2
It is as clear as light, therefore, that this Christian dispensation differs as essentially from the future as it does from the past. I have sought to pillory the belief that earth is merely a recruiting-ground for heaven; but in a sense this characterizes the present age, marked, as it is, by failure and apostasy, and ending, as it will, in judgment. But it was not a forecast of "Christendom religion" that evoked the outburst of praise with which the dispensational chapters of Romans end. As the Apostle’s spiritual vision became filled with the truth of a glorious heavenly purpose which God would accomplish in spite of sin and failure, he exclaimed, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!"
And that purpose is revealed in "the mystery of Christ," which finds its fullest unfolding in the "Captivity Epistles"3 - "the mystery which from all ages hath been hid in God" - namely, that sinners of earth are called to the highest glory of heaven in the closest possible relationship with Christ. The bridal relationship and glory of the heavenly election from the earthly people of the covenant might well seem the acme of everything to which redeemed humanity could ever rise; but this crowning "mystery" of the Christian revelation speaks of a bond more intimate and a glory more transcendent. The figure of the Bride betokens the closest union, but absolute oneness is implied in the figure of the Body.
Some people regard the Old Testament as entirely superseded by the New, forgetting that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable. And others again regard the New as merely an unfolding of the Old, forgetting that it reveals distinctively Christian truths of which no trace can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures. And in this category is "the mystery of Christ." The Apostle’s words could not be more explicit: "By revelation He made known unto me the mystery which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men." (Ephesians 3:3, 5)
This amazing climax of the New Testament revelation of grace is dragged into the mire by the Church of Rome, trading as it always does on the teaching of the Latin Fathers, who claimed for the professing Church all that pertains to the true and heavenly Church. The Body of Christ is a truth of practical import for the Christian, profoundly influencing his personal life on earth, and his relationships with his fellow Christians. But yet "the Church which is His body" is not on earth, nor can it have a corporate existence until all the members are brought in, and the Divine purpose respecting it is accomplished.
The parallel of the bridal relationship of the heavenly election out of Israel may teach us a lesson here. For it is not until the future age of the Apocalyptic visions that the Bride is displayed, and her marriage takes place.4 In like manner the consummation and display of the Body relationship awaits the coming of the Lord. For in the Divine purpose it is entirely for the glory of our Lord and Saviour that these elect companies of the redeemed are given positions of special nearness; and therefore the element of display has prominence.