CHAPTER II THE STABILITY OF THE AGES TO COME
THE night of weeping passes off; the Morning-star gleams out from amid the relics of the departing storm; “the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.” Peace has taken possession of earth, and joy looks down from heaven. Creation has been delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the Sons of God. It is the May-morning of the universe.
The Church has “fought the good fight,” and finished her course. As the conqueror—the more than conqueror—she has at length received the crown and throne. Having, as the “beloved of the Father,” the “apple of his eye,” been “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,” she has pressed onward through the rough defiles that lay between Egypt and Canaan; and, in spite of “manifold temptations,” she has reached the inheritance, and been “presented faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.” The REST has been entered on at last, and she has “ceased from her labours as God did from his” (Heb. 4:10). It is no longer from the hills of Moab that she sees the goodly tents of Israel, and the land flowing with milk and honey; but, sitting peacefully under its spreading olives, or climbing its green slopes, she luxuriates amid its endless fruitfulnes and beauty.
It is now singing, not weeping; for “the ransomed of the Lord have returned, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads.” It is now light, not darkness, for the Day-star has risen, and the fresh burst of morning over the celestial hills has made the gloom of the long night to be forgotten, or remembered as a strange tale of other times. The time of fasting is ended, and the day of feasting has arrived; for the Bridegroom has come, and in his presence there can be nothing save song and festival.
The first hour of resurrection-glory has compensated for all their shame, and made them feel how true was the song they sung so often in the land of strangers, and by the rivers of Babylon: “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Then in their full compass they take up Israel’s, or more truly Messiah’s words, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation; he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness; as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Is. 61:10).
Blessed dawn! Long-deferred, but come at last! True morning of joy, making up for the darkness of the heavy night, and realising the hope of ages! What a time of restitution! What a day of refreshing! What an earnest of yet brighter hours and skies!
“The winter is past;
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of song is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs,
And the vines, with the tender grapes, give forth their fragrance.”
But will the day be as fair as the dawn; or will it pass again into cloud and tempest? and is eternity to be a repetition, on a mightier scale, of the changes and reverses of time? Will the old mists revisit us, throwing their vapours across the fair heavens, or coming down upon the hills to blot out their clear outline and make their sunniest slopes look bleak, as in mornings gone by? When the Day-star has risen, will it set or put on sackcloth again? Will the azure of the new heavens grow wan, or the verdure of the new earth fall into the sere and yellow leaf? Or is not the inheritance on which we enter, in the day of our Lord’s appearing, “incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading”? And of those who possess it, is it not written, “He that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still”?
There are two periods spoken of in Scripture,—“the age to come,” or millennial age (Mark 10:30); and the “ages to come,” or “ages of ages” (Eph. 2:7, & 3:21), which we call “eternity.”
In so far as those who “have part in the first resurrection” are concerned, there will be no change. Seated with Christ upon his throne, they are beyond the reach of all that is variable here. From the moment that they went up to meet their Lord in the air, they were raised above the influence of evils and reverses. Though their connexion with earth is not to cease—for they are associated with Christ as its kings, and therefore, though not actually resident in its dwellings made with hands, are yet reigning over it, dwelling in the pavilion of the Lord—still they are exempt from whatever of change may be passing beneath them.
But as to the earth itself and the dwellers on its surface, there is a change, even after the glory of the latter day has covered it. At the close of the millennial age, Satan is let loose, and the darkness once more gathers thickly over earth, as if a second fall, with its long ages of sin and death, were again threatening the restored creation. The axle of the globe has snapped again. It is a vast revolt, led on once more by him who led the first. It looks sadly ominous of evil, seeming to say, that neither grace nor power—neither wrath nor love—no, not even the presence of the King, even more gloriously than in the pillar-cloud—can keep man from sinning. As if sprung out of the ground, a mighty host pours in from the four quarters of the earth, in numbers like the sands of the sea (Rev. 20:8). Right towards the spot where, under the overhanging glory of the New Jerusalem, the rebuilt Jerusalem stands; right towards “the camp of the Saints,” and “the beloved city,” the rebel host advances, like the old array of the Armageddon multitude.
But in one hour their judgment comes. They only muster in order to be utterly swept away. Fire comes down from God out of heaven, and devours them. “The wicked are cut off from the earth, and the transgressors are rooted out of it” (Prov. 2:22). The devil that deceived them is “cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:10). The last storm that shall ever vex the universe is hushed. The last relic of evil disappears. The last cloud passes off. The last vestige of the mighty curse is gone. The perfection of eternity has begun; “the AGE to come” is ended; and “the AGES to come” have commenced their unending courses.
From that hour when earth’s last shadow took flight, all trace of night, all relics even of twilight, fled away. The Morning-star has brightened into the Sun of noon. Oh! well with earth, and well with heaven! Now have “all things been reconciled” unto God, “whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20). The foundation-stone of the universe is the INCARNATE WORD. The key-stone of its infinite arch is the INCARNATE WORD. The Reconciler, the “Upholder of all things” above and below,—the King of “the kingdom which cannot be moved,” is Jesus of Nazareth, the wearer of the crown of thorns.
But can the night not return? No, it cannot. God’s purpose has secured an eternity of day. May there not be the ebbings and flowings of evil, the fallings and rises of the races of God’s creatures? May sin not enter the second paradise? No. It may not. God’s mode of banishing it has made its return impossible. This is one of the great things contained in the work of the Incarnate Son, which we are too ready to overlook. It is not merely that God has purposed that evil shall not invade the new creation; nor is it that he has bound the great deceiver; nor is it that he has closed the gates of hell: but he has done a work, which of itself prevents another fall—which carries in its own bosom, as one of its directest results, the eternal stability of the new creation. God’s object in that work of reconciliation was—not merely to subdue and bind the tempter—not merely to get rid of a certain amount of sin by washing away so much of it, and then shutting up the rest in hell; but to get rid of it in such a way, as to prevent even the possibility of another invasion.
The Son of God took flesh and died, “the just for the unjust,” not merely to carry away a certain amount of committed sin, but to hinder its future commission; not merely to undo the past effects of the fall, but to make another fall impossible, either among those who are thus redeemed, or among any other order of beings that might in coming ages be created by God. For let it always be remembered, that we are but “the first-fruits of his creatures” (Jas. 1:18). We know not what is yet in reserve for our universe; nor with what new tribes of happy being God means to people the as yet unpeopled regions of illimitable space. Most needful is it, then, for the stability and holy integrity of all the manifold orders of future being, that the Head into which all things are gathered up,* the King who is to have the sovereignty of all creaturehood committed to him, should be “the Lamb that was slain,” and that the partner of his throne and “bride, the Lamb’s wife,” should be one bought back out of the prisons of the lost—his Church, for whom he gave himself in everlasting love.
The creation—both that which is, and that which shall be—has thus been made proof against sin in all coming ages, by the incarnation and propitiatory work of him whose designation is, “the Christ of God.” So terrible has been the expiation of the sin; so costly the ransom of the sinner; so glorious has been the vindication of the dishonoured law; so infinite the display of God’s hatred of sin, even when found (though but by imputation) upon the highest of Beings—his equal, his own Son; so closely has the link been fastened between the creature and its Creator, between the universe and its God, by the Son becoming “bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh,”—that the lapse of the new creation is not within the utmost range of things that might ever be. The foundation-stone of that new creation—as also of creation in general, has been too deeply and strongly laid to be shaken in time to come. The two pillars of heaven and earth—the Jachin and Boaz of the universe—rest, the one on Bethlehem, the other on Golgotha. On the one is inscribed, “The Word was made flesh,” and on the other, “Christ died for our sins;” while on the arch which springs from both are these words written, “It is finished.” On these two pillars, which no craft nor power of hell can undermine, rests the stability of God’s handiwork in the ages of ages.
How grateful the thought, how welcome the prospect of everlasting stability—of perfection throughout these ages! For do not many of time’s sadnesses arise from the uncertainties that overshadow our future, the mutabilities that toss us to and fro? We are flung from surge to surge, or from rock to rock, and find no haven but the tomb! Even the closet, with its precious solitude, is but a transient lull, a brief hour’s shelter. The calm of to-day is no security against to-morrow’s storm. Life is made up of changes; and unrest is the law of time. To hope, and then to fear; to meet, and then to part; to bloom, and then to fade—such is our lot: “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away” (1 Pet. 1:24). It is this that so often calls up the longing—
“O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
Lo, I would wander far off;
I would remain in the wilderness,
I would hasten my escape
From the windy storm and tempest.”
But in these promised ages—these cycles of cycles—forming one everlasting chain of blessed being, there are no uncertainties. To be “careful for nothing” will be then no hard struggle for faith, for then there will be nothing to be careful for, when we know that no messenger of evil tidings can ever come to us, and that no to-morrow can bring with it anything save a new sunrise of gladness.
To be done with changings and ebbings—how comforting the very thought to the spirit even here, on this side of the unchangeable and the unebbing! To feel that the night of weeping, with its fickle starlight and fitful gusts, shall have no successor but the unchanging day, and the unsetting, the unsmting sun (Ps. 121:6; Rev. 7:16)—how soothing to those whose path, though onward and upward, has still been one of toil and dimness! To be assured that, whatever uncertainty may hang over the few years of our shaded future here, there rests none over the eternal life-time—how satisfying to the soul in hours of anxious thought which we may be striving in vain to banish! When entering into, or even when emerging from, some thick cloud here, have we not often said to ourselves, What if this be but the preparation for a thicker, seeing we know not what a day may bring forth?
But then we shall have no such threatening reverses—no “slippery turns”—no dreaded treacheries, no faithless promises, no hollow counterfeits, no alternations of the hope and the fear, no buoyancy of sanguine confidence to be succeeded by the stagnancy of helpless depression! We shall then know what the day is to bring forth, and that its birth can be nothing but an increase of blessedness. Ought not all this to lift up the hands which hang down, and to comfort the weary spirit, burdened with care, oppressed with pent-up feelings and unspoken thoughts, pained with its “thorns in the flesh,” and disquieted with its forebodings of the morrow?
Child of faith, cast your eye forward into these ages yet to come, and see your portion! It is an immutable portion, founded upon “immutable counsels.” Dost thou not know that “God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the IMMUTABILITY of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath; that by two IMMUTABLE things in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us; which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil”? (Heb. 6:17.)
Man of earth—child of unbelief—are thy prospects bright? Is it to be well with thee in the ages to come? Would it not be well to have some certainty of hope—some stability of prospect for thy endless being? To drift upon the sea of time without ought to hold thy vessel fast, is sad enough; but it will be far sadder to toss upon the eternal ocean, without an anchorage, and with this as thy one certainty, that no calm shall ever visit thee, nor any lull of the tempest ease thy labouring vessel.
Within the veil the Son of God has fastened the eternal anchor, and he asks thee to moor thy vessel to that anchor. Thousands have already done so, and have ridden out the storm, and entered the inner haven. They received the divine testimony regarding that anchor, and that at once connected them with it. So do thou! Receive that testimony, and thou too shalt in a moment find thy vessel brought to anchorage—an anchorage too “sure and steadfast” to admit of being shaken or broken, till thou shalt reach the sea of glass, which no storm disturbs, and from whose shore no tidings of shipwreck can ever come.
Horatius Bonar, The Eternal Day, (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1854), 17–34.