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Concerning the Consummation of the glorious Reign of Grace.
As divine Grace is glorious in itself, and infinitely superior to all that is denominated free favour among men, as the way in which it reigns is absolutely without a parallel, and such as will render it for ever dear to all the disciples of Christ; so the end of its benign government is equally glorious: for it is eternal life. Reviving, ravishing thought ! This, in subordination to his own glory, is the great design of God in every gracious dispensation toward his people. The emphatical phrase is used in scripture to signify, An everlasting state of complete holiness, and consummate happiness, in the presence and fruition of God, in all his Persons and perfections. To this blissful state, Grace, as a sovereign, infallibly brings her subjects, through the Person and work of Immanuel.
To assist our feeble and contracted minds in forming some faint ideas of celestial blessedness, and to inform us by whom it shall be enjoyed, it is compared by sacred writers to the most delightful and glorious things that come under our notice in the present world. For instance: To denote its superabounding delights, it is called paradise, in allusion to the garden of Eden: for at God's right hand are pleasures for evermore.—To signify its grandeur,
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magnificence, and glory, it is called a crown and a kingdom. As a crown, it is unfading and incorruptible. To intimate that none shall enjoy it, except in virtue of the Redeemer's obedience, it is denominated a crown of righteousnes. It is also called a crown of life, and a crown of glory. As a kingdom, it was prepared for believers before the foundation of the world, and is the kingdom of their Father, who bestows it upon them here, in right to possess; hereafter in perfect enjoyment. To ascertain its perpetuity, it is called an everlasting Kingdom; and those that enjoy it are called kings, are said to sit upon thrones and to reign in life.—To inform us who shall posses it, and on what ground, it is called an inheritance. Plainly denoting, that none but the children of God shall enjoy it: for a servant, considered as such, cannot inherit. We must therefore be the sons of the Highest, by adoption and regeneration, before we can justly hope to enjoy the heavenly patrimony. For however diligent the sons of God may be in keeping his commands and in performing his will; they shall not possess it under the notion of a reward of duty, or as wages for work; but under the idea of a testamentary gift. Yes; it is a gift by way of legacy, and is bequeathed to them in the everlasting testament of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to those words, I appoint, by testament, unto you a kingdom.* The kingdom is most glorious, the inheritance most free to the children of God, and absolutely unalienable.
* Luke xxii. 29. Thus the celebrated WITsius renders and interprets the passage, OEcon. l. iii. c. x. sect. 28. To the same effect, BEzA and CASTALIo translate the words.
Nor are the heirs of this boundless bliss without some joyful foretastes of it in this life. Faith being, as the apostle defines it, the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen ; they anticipate, in some degree, the joys of the upper world. In the present state, they receive the earnest of their future inheritance, and rejoice in hope of the full fruition. Nay, at some bright intervals, they rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. For he that believeth hath everlasting life, in the promise, and in the earnest of it. Having fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before them ; those two immutable things, the promise and the oath of God, in either of which it is impossible for him to lie; afford them strong consolation respecting their final preservation and eternal happiness. Living by faith on the dying, the ascended Redeemer, as their surety and sacrifice, their righteousness, and advocate; and viewing the stability of the promise, the covenant, the oath of Jehovah, they have the greatest assurance that, when Christ who is their life shall appear, they also shall appear with him in glory.
The future happiness of believers may be considered, either as it is enjoyed by the separate spirit, before the resurrection and the last judgment, or by the soul and body united, after that awful period is come, and those grand events have taken place.— That the separate spirits of the saints are possessed of thought and consciousness, and that they enjoy ineffable bliss in communion with Jesus their exalted Head, are truths manifestly contained in the unerring word. Soon as that mysterious union, which subsists between soul and body in the present state, is dissolved by death; the soul, being made
perfectly free from the being of sin, immediately enters into glory. Death, to the saints, far from being a penal evil, is numbered among their privileges, and makes one article in their comprehensive inventory of divine blessings. 1 Cor. iii. 22. Death is the gate by which they enter those heavenly mansions prepared for them; in the possession of which they enjoy delights that could not be experienced in this mortal state. The knowledge of that sublime blessedness, and of an interest in it, made Paul desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better; infinitely preferable to all that can be enjoyed in this world. The same incomparable man and infallible teacher says, Whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; at the same time declaring, that it was far more eligible to him and his pious cotemporaries, to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. Now if the apostle's words have any sense, and if their meaning be at all intelligible, we cannot suppose him to have imagined, that his immortal soul, when separated from the body, would lie in a sleepy, unconscious, inactive state, till the sound of the archangel's trumpet should awaken it; which notion is by some warmly espoused. For, in such a state of absolute insensibility he could not, with any propriety, be said to be with Christ, or to enjoy the presence of God. Before the dissolution of his body he rejoiced in the light of Jehovah's countenance, and had much communion with his God; was indulged with bright manifestations of divine favour, and exulted in the certain prospect of a blissful immortality: all which, according to the sleeping scheme, he instantly lost by death. Under the deprivation of which he must continue for a long series of years; even till the voice of the Omnipotent, and the alarming crash of a falling world, shall rally his dissipated, and awaken his drowsy powers into act; and so bring him into a second enjoyment of himself, and of his God. How uncomfortable such an idea to the real Christian | That the departing spirits of the children of God enter immediately into happiness, might be proved from a great variety of divine testimonies. Among which there are few more apposite, than that which contains the remarkable and gracious answer of Jesus to the converted thief when they were both on the verge of the unseen world. Verily, I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.— These words include a particular answer to the request of the expiring penitent, who prayed that Christ would remember him. As if our Lord had said, ‘I will not only remember thee, as absent: for, verily, thou shalt be with me in the everlasting mansions to behold my glory.” As the dying petitioner desired his request might be granted, when the bleeding Jesus should enter into his kingdom: the suffering Saviour certified him, not only of the place where he was to reign, which he calls paradise, but also of the time when he was to enter on the possession of his kingdom, signified by to-day. Nor is it unworthy of notice, that when this promise was made the day was half elapsed; for it was about the sixth hour. Yet Christ promised him the joys of paradise before that very day concluded ; knowing that, in the interim, they should both make their exit. As the gracious promise to this thief was very extraordinary; and as the person to whom it was