"The faith of a true Christian is the same as that of Moses and the Prophets."
Letter 6. The Ascension of the Messiah
My Dear Benjamin,
Having shown that Messiah was to rise from the dead, and that Jesus Christ did rise, according to the Scriptures; I will now show that the Messiah was to ascend into heaven, as the second part of his exaltation; and that Jesus Christ has actually entered heaven, which is to be considered as an additional proof that he is the true Messiah. By the ascension of the Messiah, I mean not a metaphysical or figurative, but a real translation of his body and soul, after his resurrection from the dead, into heaven, the dwelling-place of Jehovah.
1. The ascension of the Messiah, like his resurrection, was both typified and predicted. We notice the translation of Enoch and Elijah. The one during the patriarchal period, before the giving of the law; the other in the days of the prophets, after the giving of the law, Enoch was a man that walked with God and held communion with him, and he was not on the earth, for God took him from thence to heaven, both in body and soul. Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind, in a chariot, on horses of fire, whilst he and Elisha were conversing together (Gen 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11).
The carrying of the ark from the house of Obed-Edom down unto the city of Zion, is another type of the ascension of the Messiah into heaven. In the Mosaic ritual, the ark was the most striking symbol of the Messiah. For, like him, it was the seat of Deity, the token of the divine presence, the appointed medium of maintaining intercourse with Jehovah, of approaching him, and of beholding his glory. The removing of this ark by David to the hill of Zion was an event of peculiar solemnity, and was celebrated with great fervor and devotion. Amongst the various Psalms of thanksgiving; composed and sung on that occasion, was most probably the 24th; but it rises far above the types, and points to the ascension of Messiah. "Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. Selah" (vv 7-10).
The high priest, entering within the veil into the most holy place, was a most instructive type of the ascension of the Messiah. You know, my dear brother, that our people consider the three different apartments of the tabernacle and the temple to have a typical representation; the first represented this present world; the second, the firmament; and the third, the most holy place, the heaven of heavens; therefore has the high priest, on the day of atonement, went into the most holy place, with the blood of the sin-offering; so was Messiah to enter heaven, the most holy place, with the blood of his own sacrifice.(10) 10. See Joseph, L. 5. c. 8.
2. It was also predicted, as well as typified, that Messiah should ascend into heaven. We have already shown that in Psalm 16:10, the resurrection of the Messiah was foretold; and in the next verse, David being a prophet, speaks of the ascension of the Messiah, saying, "thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy, and at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore."
The 47th Psalm, 5th verse, is another prediction of the same fact: "God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet." Both Kimchi and Aben Ezra apply the passage to the Messiah, and it has been fully fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as will be shown presently.
Another prediction of the kind is in Psalm 68:18; "Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive, thou hast received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell amongst them." This Psalm was occasioned by the removal of the ark into Solomon's temple. Jehovah is here described by his magnificent retinue; "even thousands of angels"; by his triumphant ascension into heaven, and by his being the author of salvation. The whole of this description is applicable to the Messiah, and to none else, and was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who made an end of sin, abolished death, spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly; and, having done so, went up and entered heaven as a triumphant conqueror, and sent down the Holy Spirit with all his gifts and powers. I would name another Psalm, viz. 110:1, "The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." In a former letter, it has been shown that our rabbins applied this prophecy to the Messiah, and I shall endeavor to show its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. It denotes the exaltation of the Messiah, his great power and authority, his being crowned as kings and priests are for their people, whom they govern, or for whom they intercede.
Another remarkable prediction, respecting the ascension of the Messiah, is Daniel 7:13, 14; "I saw in the night visions, and behold one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days; and they brought him near before him, and there were given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall never be destroyed." That the Messiah is here intended by the Son of Man, is acknowledged by many of the rabbins.(11) 11. Zohar. Gen. fol. 35:4. Yarchi, Saadiah Goan, in loco. R. Joshua in Ezra, in loco. Zeror Ham. Sanhed. Medrish Tillim, Ps. 21:7. Hence anani, which signifies clouds, is one of the names of the Messiah.(12) 12. Targum on 1 Chro. 3:24. Ber. Rab. Gen. 28:10.
I will name but one prediction more, viz. Micah 2:13; "The breaker is come up before them, they have broken up, and have passed through the gate, and are gone out by it, and their King shall pass before them, and the Lord on the head of them." Both our ancient and modern rabbins apply this passage to the Messiah.(13) 13. Avcoth Rochel, Mos. Haddarshan. Gen. 40:9. Ber. Rab. Gen. 44:18. Gal. de Arcam's, c. 5, b. 8, c. 23.
The Lord Jesus Christ himself frequently spake of his ascension into heaven. When our people were offended with Christ, because he had said that his flesh was the true manna which came down from heaven, Jesus replied, "What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where he was before?" (John 6:62), i. e. will that convince you that I did not speak of my body literally? for that is not to be eaten, but must ascend on high. Again, he says, "I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father" (John 16:28). And on the day of his resurrection he said, "Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father, and your Father, and to my God, and your God" (John 20:17).
3. I shall now proceed to show, that Jesus Christ did ascend into heaven, agreeably to the foregoing types and predictions. This is evident from plain Scripture declarations. The ascension of Jesus is sometimes called going away (John 14:5); sometimes his being exalted (Acts 2:33); sometimes his being made higher than the heavens (Heb 7:26); and sometimes his entering within the veil (Heb 6:19,20); all which are but so many synonymous phrases, expressing his ascension, in a very pleasant variety.
The reality of the ascension of Christ is testified by credible witnesses. Many of the disciples of Jesus saw him ascending. The evangelist Luke says, "And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifted up his hands and blessed them; and it came to pass while he blessed them, be was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy" (24:50-52). Again, "When he had spoken these things, while they beheld he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven, as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:9-11). Thus Christ ascended in the presence of his disciples. Earthly monarchs display their glory before the eyes of as many as possible, and conceal disgrace. Christ, on the contrary, made all witnesses of his sufferings and ignominious death; but at his transfiguration he took only three of his disciples, and forbade to tell the rest. After his resurrection he appeared only to his disciples, and poured out his Spirit on the day of Pentecost on the disciples only. They did not see him when he rose, but they saw him when he ascended; because no eye-witness was necessary to the act of his resurrection, but it was necessary to the act of his ascension. It was sufficient that Christ showed himself to his apostles alive, after his sufferings, for they knew that he was dead, and now saw him alive, and therefore were sure that he must have risen. But as his sitting at the right hand of God was not designed to be visible on the earth, therefore it was necessary that they should be eye-witnesses of the act of his ascension. Whilst Stephen, the proto-martyr, was suffering, looking steadfastly to heaven, he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and at the same time declared to the Jews that he saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55,56).
4. We have also the testimony of holy angels, as we have just seen from Acts 1:10, 11. The disciples, although they saw him ascending, yet could not tell whether he had actually entered heaven; therefore, two of the heavenly inhabitants were dispatched to assure them that he actually had entered heaven. When God brought his first-born into the world, he said, "Let all the angels of God worship him" (Heb 1:6). Hence, at his birth, a multitude of angels were praising God, saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14). And when Jesus had finished the work of redemption, he returned again to his Father, with no less demonstration of joy amongst the blessed angels, agreeably to Psalm 47:5. Then also was fulfilled Daniel's prediction, when the Son of Man was introduced by the shouts of angels to the Ancient of Days, who, to express his welcome to Christ, gave him glory and a kingdom.
We have also the testimony of the Holy Spirit, who was expressly promised by Christ to be poured out for the purpose of testifying of him, as will be shown hereafter.
5. I might further observe, that the destruction of Jerusalem, and the consequent dispersion of our nation, is a standing-proof of the ascension of Jesus into heaven; for, on different occasions, Jesus foretold that this should follow his ascension. John 7:33, 34, "Then said Jesus unto them, yet a little while I am with you, and then I go unto him that sent me; ye shall seek me, and shall not find me." Again, chapter 8:21. But having already written largely on this subject in a former letter, I shall pass on to consider the act itself, viz.
6. The circumstances connected with the ascension of Christ.
With regard to the manner of Christ's ascension, I would observe, that it was not in appearance only, but in reality and truth, visibly and locally, a real removal of his body from earth to heaven, in a sudden, swift, glorious, and triumphant manner. Enoch was translated, but we have no account of the manner. Elijah was taken up in a fiery chariot, suited to the fiery dispensation under which he lived; but Christ was taken up in a bright cloud. A cloud is often used in Scripture in display of God's presence and glory.
7. The time of the ascension is expressly mentioned, Acts 1:3, "When also he showed himself alive, after his passion, by many infallible proofs; being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God." It was proper and necessary that he should remain some time with his disciples, both to give them full evidence of his resurrection, and farther particulars in the things belonging to the kingdom. As Hezekiah was to set his house in order before he died, so Christ would not ascend into heaven till he had set all at rights on earth. Christ would have his house well governed after his ascension, and therefore staid the required time to give full directions. Moses was forty days upon the mount, and his face shone; Elijah fasted forty days, and was taken up into heaven; and Christ was with his disciples forty days after his resurrection, and then ascended into heaven. We notice, the place from whence he ascended was mount Olivet, near to Bethany. He chose a high and convenient place, to convince his disciples of the truth and reality of his ascension. He had not withdrawn himself secretly, as at other times, but in open view. In the garden of Gethsemane, near to this mount, his pains and troubles began, and from thence he went to the cross, and from the same mount he ascended into glory. How often does the Lord make the place that has been the scene of sorrow, to be the first step to our rising and advancement.
As on a mount he frequently preached and prayed, was transfigured and crucified, so at last he ascended from a mount. This is the place which he had so often honored, in the days of his humiliation; and it was not unfit, therefore, that his exaltation should commence there also. The place to which he ascended was the heaven of heavens, the innermost sanctuary of the Divine Majesty. The flight was to the house of God, to the seat of bliss and consummate glory. See the following passages of Scripture, 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:14, 7:26, 9:8, 9, 24, 10:19, 20.
8. Another circumstance connected with the ascension of Christ, is his employment at the time, which is described by the evangelist Luke in the words just quoted. Whilst Jesus was in the very act of blessing his disciples, he was parted from them. It is the privilege of the righteous, not only to die blessed, but even whilst blessing others. Both dying Jacob, and dying Moses, blessed the ten tribes of Israel; so Christ, when he left his disciples, blessed them. "Having loved his own, he loved them to the end" (John 13:1). As the great design of our Savior's coming into the world was to be a public blessing to his people, so blessing was the last thing he did for them, and that either by conferring blessedness upon them, as a divine person, or else by praying for a blessing for them, as man; whereby he gave them a specimen of the work in which he is engaged in heaven, where he ever lives to make intercession for them. It is further noticed, that "he lifted up his hands and blessed them" (Luke 24:50). The ancient manner of blessing others, was sometimes by the laying on of the hands, as Jacob did when he blessed the sons of Joseph (Gen 48:14); at other times, when many persons were to be blessed, it was by lifting up hands, as Aaron is said "to lift up his hands towards the people, and bless them" (Lev 9:22). So Christ, the High Priest of our profession, blessed his apostles with uplifted hands.
9. I will now proceed, my dear Benjamin, to point out the design of Christ's ascension. We may consider it as a testimony of his Messiahship and the acceptance of his work. We have already seen that it was both typified and predicted that Messiah was to ascend into heaven; it was therefore necessary for Jesus Christ to ascend into heaven, as well as to have died and risen from the dead, according to the Scriptures. It also proved the perfection and acceptance of his work; as the discharge of the debtor from prison, proves that the creditor is satisfied, so Christ's resurrection was a proof that the law of God was perfectly satisfied, and God well pleased; and his ascension gives a further degree of assurance. Had Christ been an unfaithful servant, and not done his work to the perfect satisfaction of his Father, the justice of God would not have permitted him to be taken out of the grave, much less to be exalted to heaven and glory.
10. The infinite wisdom of God would never have entrusted him with all power in heaven and on earth, to act as the Mediator in heaven, if he had not been faithful in the management of what had been before committed to him; because, if he had been unfaithful in one, there was no ground to think that he would be faithful in the other. But it is a strong argument that he will be exact in the glorious part of his charge in heaven, since he has been exact in the ignominious part of his work on earth. It is because he is a faithful Witness, that he is the "Prince of the kings of the earth" (Rev 1:5). It is this argument the Spirit uses to convince the world of the righteousness of his person, and the righteousness of his mediation, that there is a full expiation of sin, because he is received and entertained by the Father (John 16:10).
11. It was expedient that Christ should be rewarded for his humiliation. Reason as well as revelation would teach us, that Christ, in order to perform the engagements and bear the heavy loads appertaining to the work of redemption, would need more than common support. The difficulties he had to encounter required a joy to be set before him, and a joy which should not be at a remote distance, but placed immediately in view; something which should succor him in the day of salvation, and afford the certainty that he should have "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isa 61:3). All this was to be derived from the prospect of an immediate victory over death, and the full possession of life and glory; he was to receive all power in heaven and on earth, and reign as Lord of all. It is evident from the Holy Scripture that he derived support from this source, David as a prophet having foretold the resurrection of the Messiah, continues to speak of his ascension also, saying, "Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore" (Psa 16:11).
The apostle, in exhorting Christians to run their spiritual race, directed them, to imitate the example of Christ, saying, "Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb 12:2).
12. Another end to be answered by the ascension of Christ, was to triumph over his enemies. My dear Benjamin will remember, that in the prediction contained in Psalm 68, it is said that Messiah should lead "captivity captive" (v 18): and the apostle assures us this was fulfilled at the ascension of Jesus: in his epistle to the Ephesians 4:8, and in writings to the Colossians, he says, "Having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col 2:15). In these words there is evidently an allusion to the solemn triumphs of princes: after having obtained some remarkable and complete victory, they made a public triumphal show, rode through the streets in the greatest state, and had all their spoils carried before them, and the kings and nobles whom they had taken they tied to their chariots, and led them as captives. In like manner, Christ spoiled his enemies on the cross, conquered them at his resurrection, and openly triumphed over them at his ascension. He overcame the world, bound the devil, and spoiled hell, weakened sin, destroyed death, and triumphed over the grave.
13. To carry on the work of Mediator, was another end of Christ's ascension into heaven, both as it respects his priestly and kingly office, for he was to be a "priest upon his throne" (Zech 6:13). Respecting his kingly office, I shall write to you in a future letter, my present observation relates to his priestly office only. I have observed in the commencement of this letter, that the Levitical high priest, entering the most holy place with the blood of atonement, sprinkling it on the mercy seat, was typical of Messiah's entering into heaven with the blood of his own sacrifice; and this was fulfilled at the ascension of Christ: "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us" (Heb 9:24). As the high priest entered on the behalf of the people, with the names of the twelve tribes on his breast and shoulders, so Christ has entered heaven in behalf of all his people, bearing the memorial of every saint on his heart.
Had Christ remained on earth, he would not have done the whole work of a high priest. It was not enough for the legal high priest to slay and pour out the blood of the sacrifice in the outward tabernacle, and offer it upon the altar on the day of expiation; but he was to pass within the veil, to present the blood of the victim to the Lord, and sprinkle it towards the mercy-seat, and upon his return to publish the atonement and reconciliation to the people; so that there would have been no analogy between the type and the antitype, if our Savior, after his oblation on earth, had not, in the quality of a priest, passed into the heavens, as through the veil which separated the heavenly sanctuary from the outward court. The legal priest was also to burn incense; by incense, in Scripture, is frequently meant prayer; this also made it necessary for Christ to ascend up into heaven. Intercession is a great part of his priestly office, as will be shown hereafter, and could no more have been performed except in heaven, than the oblation, the first part of his office, could have been performed any where but on earth.
14. The descent of the Holy Ghost, with all his gifts and graces, was another great end and design of Christ's ascension into heaven. We have already seen that it was predicted that Messiah was to ascend, that he "might receive gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell amongst them" (Psa 68:18). The same was foretold by the prophets (Isa 32:15; 44:3; Joel 2:28,32). I have also shown, that the Lord Jesus Christ repeatedly told his disciples that it was necessary for him to return to his Father, else the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would not descend; and after his resurrection he again said to them, "Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). Accordingly, on the day of Pentecost, the Spirit of the Lord descended, in a most copious manner, upon the disciples, enduing them with miraculous powers, and communicating remarkable gifts and graces to the believers in general. The apostle, speaking on the subject, says, "When he ascended up on high he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:8-11).
The giving of the Spirit depended on the glorification of Christ as Jesus, a Savior. "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the Scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified") (John 7:37-39). The Spirit was not given in that eminency and fullness of gifts and graces till the glorification of Christ, wherein he absolutely received the keys of all the treasures of his Father, as well as the keys of hell and death. God would reserve those gifts for the triumphal coronation of his Son, as an evidence of the peace which was made by him, by the effusion of the richest treasures of God. Thus, when Christ had taken our flesh to heaven, he sent his Spirit, as an earnest of our glory (2 Cor 5:5). God never taketh any thing away from his children, but he sendeth them a better thing in the room of it.
15. I would further observe, in the words of Jesus himself, that it was expedient that he should go to the Father, to prepare places for his people. Heaven was prepared from the foundation of the world, by the decree of the Father (Matt 25:34); but, because we are to hold heaven not only by gift but by purchase, Christ came from heaven to procure it, and went to heaven again to prepare it. As our head, he went to seize upon it in our right; as our legal head, he possesses heaven in our name, as a guardian takes up lands for the heir. And as our mystical head and author of grace, he dispenseth the Spirit and maketh us fit for that place; and making intercession for us, "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me" (John 17:24); Christ speaks as if he were not content without his people. The apostle, in writing to the Hebrews, informs them that Christ has entered heaven as our "Fore-runner," to make way for usas our harbinger, to take up rooms and lodging for us. He is gone to fit all things for our entertainment, as Joseph was sent into Egypt to prepare for his father Jacob. His ascension is a pledge of ours. It is the meritorious, efficient cause and example of our ascension into heaven.
16. Another end of Christ's ascension was to open a new source of encouragement to the penitent sinner, and of consolation and support to the people of God. What greater encouragement could possibly be given to the poor, trembling, penitent sinner, who inquires what to do to be saved, than to direct him to Jesus, "whom God has exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31). If, when nailed to the accursed tree, he was able to save the penitent thief, how much more now, seeing that he ever liveth to make intercession for us. "Wherefore," saith the apostle, "he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25). The ascension of Christ ought to be the great solace of the people of God, in all the distresses of the present evil world. It ought to be so to us, because we are encouraged by Christ's example to endure with patience whatever is afflictive to us. We have heard of the patience and sufferings, the bitter agony and passion of our Lord; and we have seen the end of the Lord; we know what was the issue and event of those dreadful things which he endured. Affliction was his passage to glory. His humiliation and abasement ushered in his advancement and exaltation. From this consideration we may be encouraged to banish all despair, and not be dejected in the lowest condition. Poverty may make way for our promotion, sickness and disease for a happy state of body, disgrace may be designed to enhance our future felicity, and make our crown of glory more massy and weighty; for the apostle assures us that "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17). Whilst in this world, and surrounded by enemies, how consoling the thought of having a friend and advocate in heaven. Christ is gone to disannul all Satan's accusations. The sacrifice was slain without but the intercession was made by the high priest in the most holy place. ''If any man sin," says the apostle, "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). Take away the intercession of Christ and you starve the hope of the saints. Christ is our friend at the court of heaven, on purpose to transact all our affairs, and as a surety for the peace between God and us. Having detained you already so long, my dear Benjamin, I will notice but one more end or design of Christ's ascension; viz.
17. To draw the affections of his people from earth to heaven. When Christ was speaking of his death, he said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me" (John 12:32). If these words were true of his crucifixion, how powerful ought they to be in reference to his ascension. When the Lord would take Elijah up into heaven, Elisha said unto him, "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee" (2 Kings 2:2). When Christ is ascended up on high, we must follow him with the wings of our meditation and the chariots of our affections. Hence, says the apostle, "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, and not on things on earth" (Col 3:1,2). Let us no longer grovel upon the earth, but mount upward and soar aloft in devout contemplation and fruition of our ascended Lord. Where our treasure is; where our head, our bridegroom, our Savior is: there let our hearts be also. We ought to make every place a mount Olivet; every where, by pious thoughts and ejaculations, raise up ourselves to heaven, and to hold correspondence with the glorious Redeemer, and with "the spirits of the just made perfect" (Heb 12:23).
Now, my dear Benjamin, from what has been said respecting the ascension of Christ, you will easily perceive the privilege of being united to him by faith, as the members are united to the body, and the body to the head. The sure hope of being with Christ at death is sufficient to support us under all afflictions. Now, when a child of God dieth, he dies but to go to his Father in heaven; for Christ and believers have the same relation. "I ascend to my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God" (John 20:17). As Christ was the Son of God by nature, they are the sons of God by grace; and when they die they go to their heavenly Father, to a sweet rest, to the bosom of God. The same entertainment which Christ has, we shall have; a joyful entertainment, a sweet welcome, when we come to heaven, conducted thither by holy angels. The beggar died, and was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. God will take us, as it were, by the hand, saying, "Well done, good and faithful servants; ye have been faithful over a few things, I will make you rulers over many things: enter ye into the joy of your Lord" (Matt 25:21). May this be our happy lot, and the glory be unto Him who "bore our sins in his own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24), but is now exalted above all praise, honor and glory. Amen. Farewell.
Letter 7. The Intercession of the Messiah
Dear Brother Benjamin,
Permit me to invite your attention to the intercession of the Messiah as the third step of his exaltation.
1. That the Messiah was to make intercession for his people was taught emblematically, typically, and prophetically; Abel's blood speaking after his death, Melchizedeck blessing Abraham, Abraham interceding for Sodom, Joseph for his brethren, and Moses for Israel, were so many emblems of Messiah interceding for his people.
The entrance of the high priest into the most holy place on the day of atonement, was an eminent type of the Messiah's entering into heaven to intercede for his people. As the high priest was to kill the sacrifice, then enter the most holy place with its blood, and sprinkle it on the mercy-seat, and kindle the incense; so the Messiah was first to offer himself a sacrifice, then to enter heaven, to present his precious blood and kindle the incense of his prayer, as our intercessor, and thus complete the atonement. With respect to the high priest, thus saith the Lord: "Then shall he kill the goat of the sin-offering that is for the people, and bring his blood within the veil, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy-seat, and before the mercy-seat. And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goes in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation" (Lev 16:15,17).
It was also taught prophetically; for thus it is written, Psalm 2:8, "Ask of me and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession." And Isaiah saith, 53:12, "He made intercession for the transgressors."
2. That Jesus Christ also made intercession, is declared by the apostles in many places. Two or three may suffice. "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Rom 8:34). "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25). "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1).
3. With respect to the nature of Christ's intercession, I would observe,
1st. That he appears in heaven for us (Heb 9:24); as a public person, in his own nature and in ours; as Mediator and surety; as Judah did for Benjamin, and Paul for Onesimus. His very presence in heaven as our Head and Redeemer, is a strong plea in our behalf. It shows that God is fully satisfied with his performance, and therefore has exalted him to the honor and reward promised in the covenant of redemption.
2d. He presents himself before God as Mediator, with body and soul which he offered upon the cross; with the marks in his hands, feet, and side (Heb 12:24; Rev 5:6). His blood is of constant efficacy, a continual intercession. Our fathers were obliged to renew their sacrifices continually, to obtain fresh blood to present it to God; but the blood of Christ is ever the same, ever fresh and new, and will never lose its value and efficacy (Heb 9:25,26, 10:10-12).
3d. Christ declares it to be his will that the blessings of his purchase shall be conferred on his people. Of this he has given us a specimen and pledge in his prayer, recorded John 17:24, "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me." Christ here pleads that his people may be put in full possession of all the blessings which were purchased for them by the shedding of his blood. He reminds his Father, as it were, of the mutual covenant agreementof his having performed the condition required on his part; and claims the performance of his Father's promise, as a debt due to his meritorious obedience even unto death.
4. The foundation of Christ's intercession is the atonement which he made for sin. As the high priest went into the most holy place with the blood of the sacrifice, so Christ first offered the sacrifice, then pleads it. There could be no intercession without a sacrifice going before. The condition of his covenant was his death; by it the blessings were procured, and now he pleads that they may be conferred. Propitiation is the payment, intercession is the plea; the one by his death, the other by his life; the one on earth, the other in heaven. The connection of the intercession and death of Christ, like that of the superstructure and the foundation, is beautifully described by the apostle Paul: "Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such a high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's; for this he did once, when he offered up himself" (Heb 7:25-27).
5. The objects of Christ's intercession are the same for whom he made satisfaction. He intercedes for all his people, for all who do now believe in him, and love him, and all that shall believe in him hereafter. John 17:9, 20; "I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word."
6. The blessings for which Christ intercedes, are the same that he has procured by his obedience and sufferings even unto death, that their persons and services might be accepted; Ephesians 1:6, "accepted in the beloved"; Genesis 4:4, "God had respect unto Abel." To be justified freely, i. e. to be treated as if they had never sinned, and therefore not punished; and as if they had kept the whole law, and therefore receive eternal life as the "free gift of God, through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jer 23:6; Rom 6:23, 8:33,34; 2 Cor 5:21). As if Christ had said, "Lord, these are the persons for whom I lived and died, deal with them as if they had not sinned, but obeyed." He also intercedes that their services may be accepted, and their prayers heard. While the high priest was offering incense, the people prayed without (Luke 1:10). This was typical of Christ's intercession. His pleading gives efficacy to his people's prayers (John 16:26,27; 1 Peter 2:5; Rev 8:3). Those who made their addresses to king Admetus, brought the prince with them in their arms. As Joseph charged his brethren that they should not see his face unless they brought Benjamin their brother with them, so we cannot see God's face unless we bring Jesus, our elder brother, with us. When Herod was displeased with the men of Tyre, they made Blastus, the king's chamberlain, their friend (Acts 12:20). My dear Benjamin. I wish I could make you feel the importance of this particular. Prayer is to the soul what food is to the body. Christ's intercession is our greatest encouragement to come to a throne of grace (Heb 4:14-16). Christ not only presents his own prayer, but as it were prays over our prayers. Revelation 8:3, "Another angel came, having a golden censer," &c. This angel was Christ. He takes the golden censer of his merits and puts our prayers into it, and with incense of his intercession makes our prayers ascend into heaven, as a sweet perfume. It is said, Leviticus 16:16, "Aaron shall make atonement for the holy place." This was typical, to show that our holy duties need an atonement. Our best services, as they come from us, are mixed with corruption, as wine that tastes of the cask (Isa 64:6). But Christ purifies and sweetens them, mixing the sweet odor of his intercession with them, and thus God accepts and crowns them. As the fan winnows the chaff from the wheat, so Christ's intercession separates the chaff that mixes with our prayers. As the mother that takes from her child the nosegay designed for the father, and separates the nettles from the flowers, so Christ separates the imperfections from our prayers and services. Another part of Christ's intercession is,
7. That all necessary blessings may be bestowed, such as pardon and peace (John 14:13). We often think it too much boldness to approach God. What! such sinners as we to come for pardon! we shall be denied. This is a sinful modesty. Did we come in our own name, it would indeed be presumption; but Christ intercedes for us in the force and efficacy of his own blood; therefore, now to be afraid to come to God in prayer, would be a dishonor to Christ's intercession (Heb 4:14-16).
He also intercedes for our sanctification. His language in heaven is like his prayer while on earth; "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth" (John 17:17). This is the work and fruit of the Spirit, and therefore Christ promised to send him as soon as he should have ascended to the Father; and this unspeakable gift he bestows on all his children. Hence, saith the apostle, "ye have an unction from the Holy One" (1 John 2:20). By this unction they are made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). What is said falsely of the philosopher's stone, that the metal it touches is changed into gold, is perfectly true of this unction. Every soul it touches is changed, and made partaker of the divine nature; becomes holy, and resembles God. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor 5:17).
Comfort and support under affliction are other purchased blessings he pleads for.
The Spirit was not promised as a sanctifier only, but also as a comforter (John 14:16). O how refreshing the consolations of the Spirit!sweeter than honey that drops from the comb! It is the manna in the golden pot. A drop of this heavenly comfort is enough to sweeten a sea of worldly sorrow. It is called "the earnest of the Spirit" (2 Cor 1:22); an earnest to assure us of the whole sum. A taste of heavenly joy and peace is an assurance of the full fruition in glory. Christ further intercedes,
8. That their accuser may be silenced, their enemies overcome, and they themselves kept from evil. Christ pleads for the saints, as queen Esther did for her people, the Jews, when Haman had determined on their destruction. "Let my people," said she, "be given me at my request" (Esth 7:3). When Satan shows the blackness of their sins, Christ shows the redness of his wounds. Many charges are brought against believers by their enemies, but Christ answers all their accusations. If true, he pleads his own merits, that they may obtain remission of sin: if false, he vindicates them (Zech 3:1,5; Rom 8:33,34). Christ intercedes for every sin. Under the law, there were some sins for which the high priest was neither allowed to offer sacrifice nor to intercede. Hence, said David, "Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt-offerings" (Psa 51:16). But Christ, by his intercession, procures the pardon of every sin. Hence, saith the apostle, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
9. Christ also intercedes for his people, that they may be enabled to persevere unto the end. We can no more keep ourselves in the spiritual life, than we can in the natural. It is God that must keep us alive, both naturally and spiritually, although we must use the means in both, as if all were dependent on us, 1 Peter 1:5, "who are kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation." Our perseverance is in answer to Christ's intercession (John 17:24). The prayer of Christ for Peter is a copy of his intercession in heaven for every individual in his flock; "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not" (Luke 22:32). The saints persevere in believing, because Christ perseveres in interceding. Christ will never cease to intercede till all his chosen people are brought to glory. The immediate end of Christ's death was our reconciliation, and the immediate end of his intercession our glorification (John 17:24; Rom 5:10).
10. Properties of Christ's intercession.
Christ pleads the cause of his people with infinite skill and wisdom. He knows every person's case, and all his wants. He knows what blessings they need, and how they are to be conveyed. He is perfectly acquainted with the laws and constitution of heaven, and is perfectly familiar with, the best arguments to be used.
11. He also pleads with great tenderness and compassion. Aaron had the names of the twelve tribes on the breastplate when he went into the most holy place to plead for the people (Exo 28:29). But Christ has the name of every individual of his people engraven upon his heart. Hence, saith the apostle, "In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself has suffered, being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted" (Heb 2:17,18).
Christ pleads feelingly. Not like an ordinary lawyer or advocate, who is not influenced so much by feelings of sympathy and affection as by self-interest. But Christ pleads his own cause and interest. He has shed his own blood to purchase life and salvation for his people, and if they should not be saved, he would lose his purchase. As a tenderhearted mother would plead with the judge for her son ready to be condemned, so Christ intercedes with the strongest feelings of sympathy and compassion. Christ had compassion on Israel in their temporal bondage, and therefore delivered them (Isa 63:9). And his compassion was not lessened by his assumption of our nature. He became a man of sorrows, that he might be a man of compassion. By a reflection upon his own condition in the world, he is able to move our cause with such a tender feeling of it as if he had the smart of it present in his own heart and bowels. The greatest pity must reside in him, since he endured the greatest misery in our nature (Heb 4:15, 16). With what affection and compassion did he intercede for his disciples whilst here on earth, and the glory of heaven has made no change in his judgment and affections. As the glory which he had with the Father, before the foundation of the world, did not prevent him from pitying our condition in dying in our stead, so the glory which he has received will not prevent him from being a compassionate intercessor.
12. Christ is a righteous and faithful advocate (1 John 2:1). His intercession is founded upon truth and justice. He is righteous in his person and in his cause. As he could not have been a priest or sacrifice if there had been any unrighteousness in his person or life, so there could be no efficacy in his intercession if there were unrighteousness in his cause. He is also true and faithful. He never betrays the cause of his clients, either by sloth or negligence. When Stephen the martyr needed aid, he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55).
13. Christ intercedes with power and authority. It differs from that of one friend for another. It is his office to which he was appointed; he has a commission for it, and a command to discharge it. He is as much bound to intercede as he was to sacrifice; for the one belongs as much to his priestly office as the other does (Psa 2:8, 89:26; Heb 5:5). Christ is "a priest upon his throne." He has a right to demand. As he taught as one having authority, so he intercedes as one having authority. His intercession in heaven is not properly a begging, but pursuing a right, by arguments drawn from justice and equality. In this sense he is called an advocate, which differs from an orator. An orator uses rhetoric, to persuade and entreat the judge to show mercy to another; but an advocate produces the law. Thus, when justice demands the life of the sinner, Christ opens the book of the law which he fulfilled. When divine justice, the holy law, Satan, or our own conscience accuses us, Christ shows the merits of his death, or the marks of his crucifixion on his human nature.
14. Christ pleads with great zeal and fervency. The burning coals which the high priest carried into the most holy place, denoted the affection and fervor of the intercession of our great High Priest and Advocate. The names of the twelve tribes of Israel were not only to be on the shoulders of the high priest, but also on the breastplate. Christ has engaged his heart to approach unto God (Jer 30:21). His language is, "O Lord, how long!" (Zech 1:12). When Christ prayed for himself, he said, "Father, if it be thy will"; but for his people he saith, "Father, I will"; more as a judge than an advocate. Christ was not more desirous to suffer, than he is to obtain the fruits of his sufferings. No man is more solicitous to increase the honors and grandeur of his family, than Christ is to secure the happiness of his people. Our prayers for ourselves, when, presented with the greatest affection, cannot be so fervent as his pleas for our souls are at the right hand of his Father.
We further observe that,
15. Christ's intercession is most prevalent and successful. This may be argued from his dignity and nearness to God, and the perfection of his work. If Jacob, as a prince, had power with God, how much more Christ, the Son of God. Christ never lost any cause he pleaded; he was never non-suited. If the prayer of the righteous avail much with God, how much more must that of God's own Son! When Moses prayed for Israel, God said, "Let me alone," as if his prayer had bound God's hand. By prayer, Elijah had power to open and shut heaven. God has commanded us to hear Jesus, because he is the Son of God, with whom the Father is well pleased, and for the same reason God will hear him too. If it were possible for God to forget the priestly office of Christ, yet he would not forget the relation in which he stands to him as his Son, "the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person" (Heb 1:3). Besides, Christ's will in asking, is one and the same as the Father's in giving. Our sanctification is the will of the Father: and Christ prays, "Holy Father, sanctify them." Nor does Christ ask for any thing but what he has purchasedwhat the Father has actually put into his hands"all power in heaven and on earth."
16. Christ's intercession is constant and perpetual. As soon as Christ entered heaven, his intercession commenced in all its glory, and will continue for ever (Heb 7:17,24). Christ is never out of the way when the cause should be heard. He always sits at the right hand of the Father, who is the Judge of the world, and is never out of his presence (Acts 7:55; Heb 4:16). The people of God, whilst here below, need a constant advocate in heaven; not only because Satan, the accuser of the brethren, is constantly engaged, but because they give constant occasion for their heavenly Father to be offended with them: this brings guilt upon their conscience, disturbs their peace, darkens their evidences, and lays them open to fatherly chastisement. Under such circumstances our only consolation is, "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). When the wrath of God began to break out upon Israel, Aaron presently steps in with his censer and offers incense; and so the plague was stayed (Num 16:46). In like manner, when a child of God offends, and he is angry, Christ immediately steps in and intercedes; "Father, it is my child that has offended; though he has forgotten his duty, thou hast not lost thy compassion. O pity him, and let thine anger be turned away from him."
17. In closing this part of the subject, I would observe, that Christ is the one only mediator and intercessor. As he trod the wine-press alone, and none of the people was with him, so he alone intercedes in heaven. As he alone is the propitiation for our sins, so he alone intercedes with the Father (1 Tim 2:8). Guilt prevents us from pleading our own cause, nor can one intercede for another, for all have sinned and are condemned, and none can make atonement. As neither saints nor angels could make satisfaction for us, therefore they cannot intercede for us.
18. With respect to the reason or designs of Christ's intercession, I would merely observe, that it is not to inform God the Father, for he knows all our wants; nor to make him willing to do us all the good we need, for the Father himself loveth us. Though there may be many reasons we are ignorant of, yet God never does or appoints any thing without reasons perfectly known to himself, and perfectly consistent with his nature and government. Thus much we know, that it is exceedingly useful and instructive to us. I will point out a few of these instructions.
19. The intercession of Christ teaches,
The majesty, holiness, and justice of God. Plato says that God has no immediate intercourse with men but by means of demons or angels. When Israel was round Sinai, a boundary was fixed, and Moses alone drew near, to show his awful majesty; but, by Christ's intercession we are taught that we are utterly unfit to draw near to God, to speak to him, but only through Christ as intercessor. The atonement of Christ was but a transient display of God's holiness and justice; but the intercession of Christ is a lasting and constant manifestation of it.
20. A most affecting view of the evil of sin is another important lesson taught by the intercession of Christ. Hereby God declares that sin is so hateful that the sinner is not allowed to come near to him but by Christ. Our prayers are not received, or our persons accepted, till hallowed by him. The tears of a penitent will not prevail with God without an intercessor. When God was angry with Job's friends, he would not hear them, but Job must intercede for them (Job 42:8).
21. The intercession of Christ displays his dignity and love.
The same love which led him to bear our sins in his own body on the tree, leads him to intercede for us in heaven. O how constant the love of Christ! He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever (Heb 13:8). The same love which led him to groan and sigh, to weep and pray, to bleed and die, while on earth, constrains him to intercede in heaven. When Christ ceased from suffering and dying, he did not cease loving; and he will never cease praying till his prayer is perfectly answered"Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am" (John 17:24).
22. The penitent sinner is greatly encouraged by the intercession of Christ to come to God.
God is seated on a throne of grace, and at his right hand is Christ our advocate. We cannot with much hope approach an offended and highly incensed friend. In such a case we naturally fly to the intercession of others. Christ is an all-powerful intercessor. However loud the cry of our sins is, the cry of his blood and intercession is still louder, and will prevail. Will not God hear his own dear Son? The spirit of bondage, under the Old Testament, was partly owing to the want of an intercessor; but now we may come with boldness to a throne of grace. Read carefully, my dear Benjamin, the following encouraging portions of the word of God. "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it" (John 14:13,14). "In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him" (Eph 3:12). "Seeing, then, we have a great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb 4:14-16). "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he has consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh" (Heb 10:19,20).
Letter 8. The Messiah's Kingly Office
My Dear Brother Benjamin,
You have doubtless observed that the Messiah was promised under a great variety of characters. We have already considered him as a Prophet like unto Moses, and as a Priest superior unto Aaron and all his sacrifices; a Priest after the order of Melchizedeck. We now propose to consider him as a King invested with universal authority and power. This was taught,
1. Typically. Melchizedeck, that wonderful man, who was both king of peace and righteousness, was an eminent type of the Messiah. David and Solomon, the greatest and best kings our nation ever had, were but types of the Messiah, who was far superior to both. Many things which are primarily applied to them, have their complete and final accomplishment in him alone.
2. The prophets also predicted and characterized Messiah as a King.
I will notice chiefly those predictions which our Rabbins applied to the Messiah, as mentioned before.
Memorable are the words of Balaam. "There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall arise out of Israelout of Jacob shall come He that shall have dominion" (Num 24:17,19). (See See Part 4. Letter 5. Section 3.) Hence you know, dear Benjamin, that our Rabbins frequently spake of a star that should announce the birth of Messiah. Take the following:"The King Messiah shall be revealed in the land of Galilee; and lo, a star in the east shall swallow up seven stars of the north, and a flame of red fire shall be in the firmament six days."Again,"when the Messiah shall be revealed there shall rise up in the east a certain star flaming with six sorts of colors."Once more it is affirmed, as a tradition, that the holy and blessed God has determined to build Jerusalem, and to make a certain star appear sparkling with seven blazing tails shining upon it in the midst of the firmament, and then shall the King Messiah be revealed to all the world.(14) 14. Zohar. Gen. f. 74:3. Exod. f. 3:34. Num. fol. 85, 86:1. Hence at the birth of Jesus an unusual star appeared, which led the Magi or wise men from the east to Jerusalem, inquiring "where is he that is born King of the Jews?" (Matt 2:2). An eastern writer relates the following speech as spoken by the wise men unto Herod. Said they:''A certain person of great note with us, in a book which he composed, warned us in it, mentioning these things: a child that shall descend from heaven will be born in Palestine, whom the greatest part of the world shall serve; and the sign of his appearance shall be this: ye shall see a strange star, which shall direct you where he is: when ye shall see this, take gold, myrrh, and frankincense, and go and offer them to him and worship him, and then return, lest a greater calamity befall you. Now, the star has appeared unto us, and we are come to perform what was commanded us."(15) 15. Abulphrag, Hist. Dynast, p. 54. 70.Chaludius, a Platonic philosopher and not a Christian, says:"There is also a more venerable and sacred history, which speaks of the rising of a certain unusual star; not foretelling diseases and death, but the descent of a venerable God, born for the sake of human conversation and the affairs of mortals; which star truly, when the wise men of the Chaldeans saw in their journey by night, and being very expert in their considerations of celestial things, are said to inquire after the birth of the new Deity, and having found the infant majesty, to worship him and pay their vows, worthy of such a God."(16) 16. Fabricie Bibliothee. Latin, p. 142-146.Now the knowledge of a star, predicted by Balaam, may have been obtained either from, the translation of the Old Testament into Greek, called the Septuagint, or from Zerdusk or Zoroastes, the author of the sect of the Jewish Magi, who is said to have been a Jew by birth, and well acquainted with the Old Testament. Thus, my dear Benjamin, you perceive that Balaam prophesied of the Messiah to be a King. In the book of Psalms we have several predictions concerning Messiah's kingdom. In the second Psalm, the whole of which our Rabbins applied to the Messiah, (Part Two, Letter 1, Section 4,) Jehovah himself declares, "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psa 2:6). The hill of Zion was the favored spot where the Lord God fixed the throne of David in spite of all his malignant enemies; and it prefigured the kingdom over which the Messiah was to reign, the more honorable place in heaven, where the throne of his majesty is erected, to the joy of his people and the confusion of all them that hate him.
To the same promised Messiah our Rabbins ascribe the seventy-second Psalm (Part Three, Letter 1, Section 7), in which his kingly office was thus foretold: "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass; as showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him, and his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him, all nations shall serve him" (Psa 72:6-11). Under the same glorious character he was predicted in the 110th Psa. (Part Four, Letter 10, Section 3, etc.,) "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine, enemies. Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth" (Psa 110:1-3).
The princely and evangelic Isaiah is often transported with the anticipation of this illustrious King. "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order and to establish it with judgment and justice, from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this" (Isa 9:6,7). See also Isaiah 11:1-7. Both these predictions are applied by our Rabbins to the Messiah, (Part Two, Letter 1, Section 4; Part Four, Letter 3, Section 7).
In like manner the prophet Jeremiah spoke of the Messiah as a King.
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth" (Jer 23:5). This prediction is repeated in chapter 33:15, and applied by the Rabbins to the Messiah (Part Two, Letter 1, Section 7).
Neither is the royal character of Messiah omitted by the Prophet Ezekiel. "I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them: I the Lord have spoken it" (Eze 34:24). Again: "I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all. David my servant shall be king over them" (Eze 37:22-24) (Part Four, Letter 3, Section 9c).
The Messiah's kingdom was represented to Nebuchadnezzar in his dream, as a stone which was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon its feet that were of iron and clay and brake them to piecesand the stone which smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth (Dan 2:34,35). Daniel, in expounding this dream, having described the Babylonian, the Persian, the Grecian, and Roman empires, subjoins, "In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (v 44). Again, the same prophet, in describing the vision he himself had, says, "I saw in the night vision, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (7:13,14) (Part Four, Letter 6, Section 3; Part Four, Letter 10, Section 7).
Micah the prophet, predicting the birth-place of Messiah, describes him as a king, saying, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little amongst the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting" (Micah 5:2). (Part Four, Letter Five, Section 1). Hence, when the wise men of the east inquired for the new-born King of the Jews, the high priest directed them to Bethlehem. The prophet Zechariah, in prospect of Messiah's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, exclaims, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, thy King cometh unto thee. He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass" (Zech 9:9) (Part Four, Letter Six, Sections 2, 3).
3. The prophets further ascribe to the Messiah all the ensigns of royalty; a sceptre, a crown, a throne, and a sword; subjects over whom he was to rule, even all the creatures in heaven and on earth; yea, all the angels in heaven were to take the oath of allegiance to him. See Psalm 2:8, 103:19. It is further evident that the Messiah was to be a king.
4. From the expectation of the people, both heathen and our own people, you perceive, my dear Benjamin, that all the prophets conspired to describe him as a glorious King. No wonder, therefore, that at the birth of Jesus there was a general expectation amongst the Gentiles, as well as amongst our people, that a king should reign, as has been shown at large (Part Two, Letter Three, Sections 3, 4). Besides, you know, my dear Benjamin, that nothing is more common in the writings of our ancient and modern rabbins, than the word "Melech Meshiach," i. e. King Messiah. Whilst Jesus was on the earth, the people in general, and his disciples in particular, expected that he would set up a kingdom. Hence the Pharisees inquired when the kingdom of God was to come (Luke 17:20). And when Jesus made his public entrance into Jerusalem, the people cried, "Hosanna, blessed is the King of Israel, that cometh in the name of the Lord" (John 12:13). After the resurrection of Jesus his disciples said, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6).
5. Jesus Christ is Messiah the King.
He is a King invested with all regal power and princely authority; "King of kings and Lord of lords; the Prince of the kings of the earth." This name he has written on his vesture and on his thigh (Rev 19:16). The angel that announced his birth, declared him to be a King. "And the angel said unto her, fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God; and behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus; and he shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him, the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:30-33).
Jesus Christ asserted it. Even when he conversed among the men, in, the humble form of a servant, he assumed the royal character. "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matt 28:18). Again: "As thou hast given him power over all flesh" (John 17:2). Again he said to his disciples, "I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father has appointed unto me" (Luke 22:29). And when accused before Pilate of being guilty of high treason for having assumed the title of king, he confessed, and denied not that he was a king (John 18:33-37). This passage will be considered more particularly hereafter. It is worthy of notice, my dear Benjamin, that even Pilate the heathen was overruled to give a kind of accidental testimony of this truth, and to publish it to different nations by the inscription upon the cross in three languages then most in use, viz. the Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, "This is the King of the Jews," and all the remonstrances of the Jews could not prevail with him to alter it (Luke 23:38; John 19:19-22).
The apostles confirmed it. On the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly tells the very murderers of Christ, saying, "Let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36). And again Peter and all the apostles when forbidden to speak any more in the name of Jesus, "answered and said, we ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him has God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior" (Acts 5:29-31).
The apostle Paul frequently represents Christ as advanced "far above all principalities, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church" (Eph 1:21-22; Phil 2:9-11). The saints and angels in heaven celebrate the honors of King Jesus. Take the following as a specimen; and my dear Benjamin, may we be prepared to join the new song in heaven. "And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round the throne, and the beasts, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, for ever and ever. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four-and-twenty elders fell down and worshiped him that liveth for ever and ever" (Rev 5:9-14).
6. I proceed now to show that Jesus Christ was perfectly qualified to be a king.
His wisdom was infinite. A king should be wise as an angel of God, to know all things appertaining to civil government, as the woman of Tekoah said David was, even to know and to be able to penetrate into the designs of his enemies, to guard against them, to provide for the safely and welfare of his subjects; and such is David's Son and antitype, the Messiah; on whom rests the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and of knowledge; and who has all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; and all that wisdom by which kings reign and princes decree judgment, is from him (Isa 11:1,2).
He was just and righteous. King David with his last words declared that "he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God" (2 Sam 23:3). This was evidently the case with his Son and Lord, the Messiah. "Justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne, mercy and truth go continually before him" (Psa 89:14). His sceptre is a sceptre of righteousness. "Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's, and unto God the things which are God's" (Matt 22:21). Though he permits, limits, orders, and overrules many unholy persons and actions, yet he still works like himself, most holy and righteous. "The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works" (Psa 145:17). It is easier to separate light from a sunbeam, than holiness from the works of God. The best of men cannot escape sin in their most holy actions, but no sin cleaveth to God, whatever he has to do with it. He also possesses almighty power. Though a child born, yet he is the "Mighty God" (Isa 9:6). Besides his essential, native power and dominion over all, which belong to him as God, there is a mediatory, dispensed authority, which is peculiar to him as Mediator, as the reward and fruit of his sufferings (Phil 2:8). This authority extends over the whole creation. "Thou hast given him power over all flesh" (John 17:2). All creatures, rational and irrational, animate and inanimate, angels, devils, men, winds, and seas, must all obey him.
All power was promised to the Messiah: "I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance" (Psa 2:8). This was fulfilled. "All power is given me" (Matt 28:18). His resurrection had not attained its full end and perfection, had he not been exalted to a glorious government. It was for this end that he died, that he rose again, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living (Rom 14:9). He died to purchase it, he rose to possess it, and lives for ever to manage it. He was exalted for the honor of God and the happiness of believers; as Joseph, the type, was advanced to manage affairs for the interest of the crown and the good of the people.
Love stronger than death is another qualification peculiar to Christ, He "loved the church, and gave himself for her" (Eph 5:2).
He is a King full of mercy and clemency: as he has a sceptre in his hand, so an olive branch of peace in his mouth. Though he be the Lion of the tribe of Judah in majesty, yet he is the Lamb of God in meekness. He sheds abroad his love into the heart of his subjects; he rules them with promises as well as precepts. This makes all his subjects volunteers, they are willing; to pay their allegiance to him (Psa 110:3).
How exactly did he answer the prophetic description with respect to humility and meekness (Zech 9:9; Isa 42:2,3). None could ever say with such propriety as he could, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matt 11:29).
The meek Moses could not bear the provocations of the people (Num 11:11); but Christ bears them all, "He carries the lambs in his bosom, and gently leads those that be with young" (Isa 40:11). He is one that can have compassion upon the ignorant, and them that are out of the way. "A bruised reed he shall not break, and the smoking flax he shall not quench" (Isa 42:3). Well might he be styled the "Prince of Peace" (Isa 9:6).
When his disciples asked for permission to call fire from heaven to consume his enemies, he rebuked them, saying, "The Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them" (Luke 9:56).
Another qualification peculiar to Jesus, is that he lives for ever. "They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shall thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end" (Psa 102:26,27).
7. We will now proceed to state the nature of Messiah's kingdom.
Messiah has a twofold kingdomhis essential, and his mediatorial kingdom. The former belongs to him by nature, as he is the eternal Son of God, equal with his Father in all things. The mediatorial kingdom is that kingdom which belongs to him as Mediator, and is the reward of his obedience and sufferings unto death. The former consists in his right to possession of, and power over all things in the universe; the latter consists of all those whom the Father has given unto him, and whom he has purchased with his blood, and whom he now lives to see brought to glory.
The mediatorial work of Christ consists of two parts; the one to be perfected while he was here on earth, and the other to he carried on by his life in heaven. The former consists in his state of humiliation, his incarnation, sufferings, death, and burial. The latter consists in his resurrection, ascension, and sitting at the right hand of God, till all his enemies are made his footstool. Whilst engaged in accomplishing the former, he laid aside the manifestation and exercise of his essential glory and power; but having finished it, he prayed his Father to restore to him that essential glory and power, to be manifested and exercised in the accomplishment of the second part of his mediatorial work, viz. to bring his people to the eternal possession and enjoyment of the heavenly felicity he had procured for them. Hence, at the close of his state of humiliation, the dear Redeemer said in his last prayer, "I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was" (John 17:4,5). Hence saith the apostle, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath also highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:5-11).
With respect to his essential kingdom, the apostle calls him "the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen or can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen" (1 Tim 6:15,16).
With respect to his mediatorial kingdom the Father says "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psa 2:6). And king David, by the Spirit, speaks, in this wise, "The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Psa 110:1). Thus you will perceive, my dear Benjamin, that by the mediatorial kingdom, is meant an empire of grace, an administration of mercy over our guilty world. It is the dispensation intended for the salvation of fallen sinners of our race by the Gospel; and on this account the Gospel is often called the kingdom of heaven, because its happy consequences are not confined to the earth, but shall be realized in heaven in the highest perfection, and shall last through all eternity.
8. Although what has been said might be sufficient to show the nature of Messiah's kingdom and of his subjects, yet as the erroneous conceptions of our nation on this subject were the cause of their rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah, (as I have stated before,) and as our beloved nation are still under the same influence, permit me to detain you a little longer. It is very evident, that whilst the prophets foretold that Messiah's kingdom should exceed all other kingdoms in glory, extent, and duration, yet they also describe him as a king who, like David, was to wade through an ocean of sufferings to the possession of his kingdom. And it is still more evident that his kingdom was to be spiritual and not temporal. Hence the Savior himself openly and positively declared, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
My dear Benjamin, you will doubtless remember that I have already shown that the chief cause why our people rejected Jesus of Nazareth, was the meanness and poverty of his appearance, or not answering their expectations of a worldly kingdom. Neither is it to be wondered at that they should conceive such ideas, when the prophets ascribed to the Messiah all the ensigns, splendor and conquests of a king. But it is evident that the prophecies must be understood in a spiritual sense.
I have already noticed, in section 5, that when Christ was arraigned before Pontius Pilate, and charged with being guilty of high treason in making himself a king, "he witnessed a good confession" (1 Tim 6:13), although it exposed him to death. But although he confessed himself to be a king, he described the nature of his kingdom to differ from the kingdoms of this world, and therefore it was not treason against Cæsar As if Christ had said, I do not deny that I claim a kingdom, but it is of such a nature that it need give no alarm to the kings of the earth. Their kingdoms are of this world, but mine is spiritual and divine, and therefore cannot interfere with theirs. If my kingdom were of this world, like theirs, I would use the same methods as they do to obtain and secure it; my servants would fight for me, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now ye see I use no such means for my defence, or to raise me to my kingdom; and therefore ye may be assured my kingdom is not from hence, and can give the Roman emperor no reason for suspicion or uneasiness. Pilate asked again, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, "Thou sayest I am a king"; i. e. thou hast struck upon the truth. I am indeed a king in a certain sense, and nothing shall constrain me to renounce the title. "To this end was I born, and for this came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37). This is that good confession which St. Paul says our Lord witnessed before Pontius Pilate. Neither the hopes of deliverance, nor the terrors of death, could cause him to retract or renounce his claim.
In my next letter I will endeavor to show in what respects Messiah's kingdom differs from the kingdoms of this world. In the meanwhile I bid you, Farewell.
Letter 9. The Nature of Messiah's Kingdom
Dear Benjamin, Agreeably to promise, I will now show you in what respects the kingdom of Messiah differs from the kingdoms of this world.
1. It differs with respect to the foundation on which it rests. Jesus Christ is a King; not by usurpation, but legally; by immediate tenure from heaven. God the Father has decreed him to be a King, and has sealed him to his royal office (Psa 2.6,7; John 6:27). Christ has a right to his kingdom, both by his Father's gift and his own purchase; "He has purchased the church with his blood" (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 1:18,19). The kingdoms of this worId are often founded in blood, and many lives lost on both sides in acquiring them: the kingdom of Christ, too, was founded in blood but it was the blood of his own heart; life was lost in the conflict but it was his ownhis own life laid down to purchase life for his people. The kings of this world often sacrifice the lives of their subjects, whilst they keep themselves out of danger, living in the pleasures and luxuries of a court; but Jesus engaged in the conflict with death and hell alone. How worthy, my dear Benjamin, is such a General to be Commander in Chief of the hosts of God, and to lead the armies of heaven and earth!
2. Christ's kingdom was not of this world, as it regards his subjects. They are such as are "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God" (John 1:13). They are such, and such only, as have experienced the inward operations of the Spirit. The seat of this operation is in the faculties of the soul and the understanding, will, and affections, the free and unforced inclination and actings of the mind. These subjects publicly own and acknowledge his authority, make an open profession of faith in him, and submit to his laws and regulations. Hence they are said "to be delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of his dear Son" (Col 1:13). Hence "the kingdom of God and his righteousness" are joined together (Matt 6:33). It is that kingdom of God which consists, "not in word, but in power" (1 Cor 4:20). "Not in meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom 14:17). These operations of the Spirit produce real holiness and purity of heart and life, inward peace and serenity of conscience, in a joyful and cheerful discharge of our duty towards God and man. With respect to these subjects, Christ is called the King of saints (Rev 15:3). Further, it is not of this world, with respect to
3. The laws by which it is governed.
The laws of human governments are often defective and unrighteous, but the laws of Christ's kingdom are perfectly holy, just, and good. The sanction of human laws, both with respect to their rewards and punishments, can only affect our mortal bodies; but the sanctions of Christ's kingdom are eternal. Everlasting happiness is the reward, and everlasting misery the punishment which Jesus, the immortal King, distributes amongst his immortal subjects. Human laws can extend to outward actions only, but the laws of Christ's kingdom search the heart and the principles and actions within. Not a secret thought, not a motion of the soul is exempted from, them.
4. The ministers and officers of Christ's kingdom differ from those of the kingdoms of this world. All the angels in heaven are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" (Heb 1:14). Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, are the ambassadors and ministers of Christ. They are intrusted with the glorious ministry of reconciliation, to beseech men, in his stead, to be reconciled to God: to preach his word, to administer his ordinances, and to manage the affairs of his kingdom, is their arduous but noble work. They are not adorned, like the ministers of earthly courts, with trappings of gold and silver, but with the beauties of holiness, the ornament of a meek and a quiet, zealous and faithful spirit, and a life becoming the Gospel of Christ, who was himself poor, humble, meek and lowly.
5. Christ's kingdom was not of this world, as it respects his soldiers.
All of his subjects are soldiers; their life is a constant warfare; they have ever to watch against temptations from without, and insurrections of sin from within; but they wrestle not with flesh and blood only. They are indeed poor and weak in themselves, yet they overcome through the blood of the Lamb, and he makes them conquerors, yea, more than conquerors. They are most successful when upon their knees. This is their most advantageous posture, which brings down strength from heaven in the hour of difficulty.
As their enemies are spiritual, so are their arms and ammunition. "Our weapons are not carnal," &c. (2 Cor 10:4). Hence the apostle, like a general at the head of his army, addresses the Ephesian soldiers in the military style, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and having your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication" (Eph 6:10-18).
Another regiment of soldiers, which are not of this world, are the angels in heaven. They are volunteers under the Captain of salvation. Hence, said the Savior, "I could pray to my Father, and he would send me more, than twelve legions of angels" (Matt 26:53). Permit me, my dear Benjamin, to recommend to you the following all-glorious description of King Messiah and his soldiers. "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True; and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written that no man knew but he himself: and he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords" (Rev 19:11-16).
6. The kingdom of Christ is not of this world, as it respects the arms and weapons he uses.
He does not employ such artillery as the kings of the earth do, to reduce whole cities to ashes. His exploits are neither the forcing of entrenchments, nor the coloring of rivers with blood, nor the covering of whole countries with carcasses, nor the filling of the world with carnage, and terror, and death; but to disarm divine justice, to dissipate prejudice by demonstration, to calm the troubled conscience, and to conquer death and the grave. The weapons he uses are his cross, his word, his example, and his Spirit.
By his word and Spirit his subjects become effectually convinced of their sin in rebellion, and reduced to subjection to him. The word is the word of his power, by which he has subdued nations to himself. It was by this word that in the primitive time he overturned the empire of the devil, silenced the heathen oracles, and demolished the pagan idolatrous worship.
7. Christ's kingdom is not of this world, with respect to ensigns and equipage.
King Jesus did not appear in worldly pomp and grandeur, attended with a splendid equipage, surrounded with armed guards, and attended by a brilliant and magnificent court; but he came in spiritual splendor, agreeable to the prediction of Zechariah, "Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass" (9:9).
His throne is in heaven, not on earth (Psa 110:1). His sceptre is a spiritual one, the word of God which he wields for the good of his people: it is the rod of his strength, which he sends out of Zion, by which he makes his people willing in the day of his power (Psa 110:3).
8. Christ's kingdom is not of this world with respect to his exploits and heroic actions. The founders of earthly kingdoms are famous for having braved the dangers of the seas and land, routed powerful enemies, and subjugated nations to their will. They have shed rivers of blood, laid cities in ruins, and countries in desolation. How different the exploits of Jesus! How gracious, how beneficient in their kind! His conquests were deliverances, his victories salvation. He subdued in order to set free, and made captives to deliver them from slavery. He conquered the legions of hell, and rescued wretched creatures by his almighty command. He subdued the most inveterate diseases, and restored health and vigor with the word of his mouth. He vanquished stubborn souls with the power of his love, and made them his willing people. He triumphed over death, the king of terrors, by "dying for our offences, and rising again for our justification" (Rom 4:25). Consider, my dear Benjamin, how glorious the exploits and how amiable the character of our blessed Jesus, King Messiah. How much more lovely the Savior of sinners, the deliverer of souls, than the enslavers and destroyers of mankind! Who has ever performed such truly heroic and brave actions as this Almighty Conqueror?
9. His kingdom is different from the kingdoms of this world with respect to extent.
All kings and monarchs have certain bounds and limits by which their empire is terminated, but God has set Christ higher than the kings of the earth. He is the true Catholic King; his government is unlimited. "Also I will make him my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth" (Psa 89:27). "All power is given unto me both in heaven and on earth" (Matt 28:18). "There was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed" (Dan 7:14).
The kingdom of grace is boundless: not as to its power over individuals, but as to their place or dwelling on this habitable globe. "Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession" (Psa 2:8). "This Gospel shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations and then shall the end come" (Matt 24:14). ''And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; that in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore: and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies: and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice" (Gen 22:16-18). It has already been shown that the Gentiles as well as the Jews were to be blessed in the Messiah (Part Two, Letter 5, Section 11).
10. Christ's kingdom differs with respect to design.
The great design of his coming into the world was "to seek and save them that are lost" (Luke 19:10); to rescue enslaved souls from the tyranny of sin and Satan, and to recover them again into a state of liberty and loyalty. "To turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18).
The design of his reign. The end of the kingdoms of this world is frequently to wallow in sensuality, to display pomp or vain-glory, or to conquer the whole world. But even the best and most laudable designs of the kingdoms of this world are not to be compared with the ends of the reign of King Messiah. Suppose that the sincere design of a sovereign's reign was to make a state respectable, to make trade flourishing, to establish peace, to conquer in a just war, to procure a life of quiet and tranquillity for his subjects: could this make them really happy? Could this quiet a guilty conscience, make death, the king of terrors, a welcome messenger? How much nobler the design of the Messiah's kingdom. Says the eloquent Mr. Saurine,"Represent to yourselves the divine Savior in the bosom of God, himself the blessed God. He cast his eyes down on this earth. He saw prejudices blinding the miserable sons of Adam, passions tyrannizing over them, conscience condemning them, divine vengeance pursuing them, death seizing and devouring them, the gulfs of hell yawning to swallow them up. Forth he came, to make prejudice yield to demonstration, darkness to light, passion to reason. He came to calm conscience, to disarm the vengeace of heaven, to swallow up death in victory (1 Cor 15:54), and to close the mouth of the infernal abyss. These are the designs of the King Messiah, designs too noble, too sublime for earthly kings. My kingdom is not of the world."11. Further it is evident that Christ's kingdom was not of this world, for it is eternal.
Though enemies rage and roar, and leave no means untried to hinder the erection and establishment thereof; yet all their plots shall be unsuccessful, and all their deliberations shall come to naught. The kingdom of Christ is fixed upon a firm basis which cannot be subverted. The decree, the covenant, and the oath of the unchangeable Jehovah secure it.
The kingdoms of this world have their rise, their progress, perfection, declension and ruin; but the kingdom of Christ, although it began very small, yet has gradually increased, and never declined, and will increase until all the elect of God are brought to glory. Our Lord himself compares this kingdom to a mustard-seedto leavenand in Daniel's vision it is a stone cut out without hands, and shall outlive all other kingdoms. Jehovah himself has declared the perpetuity of this kingdom, Hebrews 1:8, "but unto the Son he says, thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever." His throne is established for ever, and he is unalterably fixed upon it. It cannot be shaken or undermined. He cannot be displaced or dethroned by all the powers of earth and hell. For thus saith the Lord: "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. For I have set my King upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psa 2:1-6).
Having, at considerable length, explained the nature of Messiah's kingdom, I will now notice his administration of the kingdom. No kingdom can be without government. And as Christ Jesus is a God of order and not of confusion, it was prophesied that he should rule and govern (Micah 5:2; Matt 2:6). He rules and governs his kingdom by himself as the supreme Head and Monarch. This government extends both to his willing subjects, and to his determined enemies.
In my next letter I will be more particular. Farewell.
Letter 10. Administration of Messiah's Kingdom
My beloved Benjamin,
Let me invite your further attention to the things belonging to the kingdom of Christ. I am now to describe to you the administration of this kingdom.
I will commence with his administration amongst his willing subjects.
1. They are made willing. Christ's subjects, by nature and practice, are his enemies. Though they are his, both by donation and purchase, yet until their conversion they are in the hand of their enemies. As the land of Canaan was Abraham's by promise, yet his seed had to obtain it by conquest; so Christ also obtains his people by conquest. They possessed by nature, in common with others, a principle of opposition and enmity to Christ. They have sworn allegiance to the prince of darkness, and live in actual rebellion against Christ, and will never yield to him till they be overcome by his mighty power. In this respect there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile. "We ourselves also," saith the apostle, who was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, "were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hated, and hating one another" (Titus 3:3); but by the word of his power and the operations of his Spirit he overcomes their enmity, makes them willingly submit to him, renounce obedience to the devil, the world, and their own base lusts, and causes them cheerfully to bow to his sceptre, to take upon them the yoke of obedience, and say, "O Lord our God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name" (Isa 26:13); and with Paul, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6). To effect this great, wonderful, and glorious change, Christ acts very differently from the kings of the world, as has already been observed. They have their arms, their swords, their cannon, and other instruments of destruction, by which they acquire and extend their dominions; but Jesus Christ has appointed the preaching of the Gospel, which is "the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rom 1:16). Hence the Gospel is called the kingdom of God and of heaven. When Christ sent out his seventy disciples, he directed them to say, "The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you" (Luke 10:9; Matt 21:43; Mark 1:14; Col 4:11). Thus you perceive, my dear Benjamin, that, agreeably to the prediction (Psa 110:1-3) that Messiah, after his ascension, should send forth the rod of his truth to make his people willing, so Christ Jesus, after his resurrection, commissioned his apostles to go and preach the Gospel in all the world, &c.; having been with them for forty days, and spoken of the things pertaining to his kingdom, he commanded them to wait at Jerusalem until they should receive the Holy Ghost; and O how great, wonderful, and glorious were the effects! Three thousand of Messiah's enemies, who, with wicked hands, had nailed him to the accursed tree, became now the willing subjects of King Jesus.
In the same manner Christ continues to extend his glorious kingdom. The preaching of the same Gospel, though feeble in itself, yet is the rod of his strength, which does wondrous things. No other word, no other system possesses any efficacy in comparison with this. Hereby the stoutest and most obdurate sinners are awakened and subdued; the rebellious are subdued to a state of cheerful obedience; the very dead are quickened and raised to newness of life.
I would, however, here observe, my dear Benjamin, that the mere outward means are not sufficient of themselves to make his people willing, till Christ is pleased to incline and enable them, by the operations of the Spirit, to submit to him. He must conquer them before they will obey. By the Spirit's internal work upon the heart every thing that hindered their compliance is removed, and they are drawn by his power, without which none can come unto him (John 6:44).
2. He rules them by his laws; they are administered both externally and internally. He has given them laws, both with respect to God and man. These laws are written in the Bible, and are a transcript of his perfections, and derive all their authority and vigor from him alone; and none have power to add to or diminish from the laws of this great King (Isa 22:22). He has given them the law of faith, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 16:31); and the law of sanctity, "Be ye holy in all manner of conversation" (1 Peter 1:15). To make known these laws, and to see that they are regularly and impartially observed, and to exercise proper discipline, he has appointed proper officers (Matt 18:17,18; 1 Cor 12:28). These laws he also administers to his people internally. Christ our King is Immanuel, God as well as man, and he makes his laws to reach the inner man as well as the outward ear. He sets up his kingdom where no other can reach. He rules the wills and affections; his power binds the conscience, and he subdues men's lusts (Micah 7:19). He writes his law in their hearts, and powerfully inclines and overrules them, by his Spirit, unto obedience (Isa 30:21; Heb 8:10).
This law of the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus, makes them free from the law of sin and death (Rom 8:2). Here is much strictness, but no bondage: for the law is not only written in Christ's statute-book, the Bible, but copied out by his Spirit upon the hearts of his subjects in correspondent principles; which makes obedience a pleasure, and self-denial easy. Christ's yoke is lined with love, so that it never galls the necks of his people (1 John 5:3). His commandments are not grievous.
3. He gives them necessary support and help under all their sufferings, troubles, and temptations. "In all their afflictions he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old" (Isa 63:9). He can employ all creatures, all elements, for the good of his people. Hence "the earth helped the woman; and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth" (Rev 12:16). And of the angels he says, "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?" (Heb 1:14).
There are many temptations Satan uses to draw Christ's subjects from their allegiance to himself. Believers, therefore, need to be preserved and supported under them, that they may not prove their ruin. Thus Christ, their King, manages the affairs of his kingdom for their advantage, and they frequently realize the truth of the apostle's declaration, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1 Cor 10:13).
4. Christ corrects his people for their sins.
Though afflictions, absolutely considered, are not to be desired, nevertheless, since they are sometimes needful (1 Peter 1:6), and conducive to our spiritual advantage, they are included in the blessings of the covenant of grace. How much soever nature dreads them, yet Christ's subjects consider them as designed for their good, and therefore not only submit to them, but conclude that herein he deals well with them. Hence, when he visits their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquities with stripes, they reckon that he deals with them as a merciful and gracious sovereign, and not as an enemy; since his design is to heal their backslidings and prevent a worse evil.
He withdraws peace and takes away joy from the spirits of his people. The hidings of his face are sore rebukes. However, all is for emendation, and not for destruction. And it is not the least privilege of Christ's subjects to have a seasonable and sanctified rod to reduce them from the ways of sin. Psalm 23:4, "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Others are suffered to go on stubbornly in the way of their own hearts; Christ will not spend a rod upon them for their good, will not call them to account for any of their transgressions, but will reckon with them for all together in hell.
5. He defends and preserves them from their enemies.
As he has a sceptre to rule them with, so also a shield to defend them. "Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me" (Psa 3:3). The kingdom of Christ always had, and ever will have many enemies; such as the devil, the flesh, and the world; but he preserves his people, notwithstanding all their cunning and furious attempts. He preserves his kingdom as a spark in the ocean, as a flock of sheep amongst wolves. He shuts the mouths of lions, and restrains the fiery furnace; as the bush, though it burned, would not consume. "I the Lord keep it; I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day" (Isa 27:3; Zech 2:5). Yea, he defends and preserves every particular believer. It was the Messiah that appeared unto Moses in the flaming bush, and preserved it from being consumed. The bush signified our people in Egypt; the fire flaming in it, the exquisite sufferings they endured; the safety of the bush amidst the flames, the Lord's wonderful care and protection over that suffering people. This was a striking emblem of Messiah's conduct to his subjects, and is confirmed by promise; "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:28).
They are kept by the mighty power of God, through faith, unto salvation (1 Peter 1:5). Kept as in a garrison, according to the import of that word. None are better defended, none more safe, than the people of God. They are preserved in Christ Jesus (Jude 1). It is not their own grace that secures them, but Christ's care and continual watchfulness. Our own graces, left to themselves, would quickly prove but weights sinking us to our own ruin, as one speaks. This is his covenant, Jeremiah 32:40, "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me."
6. Christ bestows many privileges upon his people, and rewards them for their services.
There is nothing lost in serving him. He always gives them inward peace and joy, and sometimes riches and honor, even in this life; and, in the world to come, "an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17), and a crown of life. ''Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Tim 4:8). Though all they do for Christ be duty, yet he has united their comfort with their duty; "This I had, because I kept thy precepts" (Psa 119:56). He is a bountiful "rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (Heb 11:6).
7. He receives, at death, all and every one of his subjects unto glory.
He who guides them now by his counsel, will afterward receive them to glory. The kingdom of grace trains up children for the kingdom of glory; it is the kingdom of heaven begun here below; the difference betwixt them is not in kind, but only in degree. The King is the same, and the subjects the same; the subjects of the kingdom of grace, at death, inherit the kingdom of glory.
I proceed now to consider Christ's administration with respect to his enemies.
8. He has them entirely under his control.
He possesses all power in heaven and on earth. Devils cannot stir without his permission; they could not enter the herd of swine till he gave them leave. Well might the apostle say, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31).
9. He uses them for the good of his people (Rom 8:28). Herein much of his wisdom as well as of his kindness is manifested.
Nothing displays more remarkably the admirable counsel of heaven, than snaring the wicked in the work of their own hands. History abounds with examples of those who were ministers of Providence in accomplishing purposes directly contrary to those they had in view. Instance the cruelty of the sons of Jacob. Thus the wrath of Pharaoh against the Israelites, and his unjust attempts to detain them in bondage, proved the occasion of bringing them forth from the land of slavery. Thus the inhuman plot which Haman had formed for the ruin of Mordecai, and extirpating the whole of the Jewish nation, proved the way for Mordecai's high promotion (Job 5:12,13).
Sometimes, indeed, we cannot see from the beginning of an afflictive providence the end thereof, or what advantage he designs thereby; but the words of Christ to Peter are applicable to all his subjects; "What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter" (John 13:7). Hereafter we shall see how every step which Christ has taken in the management of his government has had a subserviency to promote our spiritual advantage here, and our everlasting salvation hereafter.
10. He frequently restrains their enemies. Though they are permitted to annoy his people, yet he sets bounds to their power, as he does to the raging waves of the sea, over which they cannot pass (Job 1:10; Psa 76:10).
"Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days" (Rev 2:10). They would have cast them into their graves, but it should only be into prison; they would have stretched out their hands upon them all, but only some of them shall be exposed: and they would have kept them there perpetually, but it must be for ten days only. Similar are the words of Jehovah by the prophet Ezekiel; "Behold, the princes of Israel, every one were in thee to their power to shed blood" (22:6); they went as far as they had power to go, but not as far as they had inclination. Again, four hundred and thirty years were determined upon our fathers in Egypt, and then, even in the very night, God brought them forth, for then the time of the promise was come (Acts 7:17).
11. Christ will ultimately destroy them, and completely triumph over them. As he has a golden sceptre to rule his people in love, so also he has an iron rod to break his enemies in wrath (Psalm 2;
Rev 17:12,14). His enemies may set up their standard, but Christ would set up his trophies (Rev 14:18,19). They shall be his footstool (Psa 110:1). As Joshua put his feet upon the necks of the conquered kings, so will Christ put his feet upon the necks of all his enemies. The stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which smote the image (Dan 2:34,) was an emblem of Christ's monarchical power, conquering and triumphing over all his and his people's enemies.
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.
I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.
Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
At the final judgment day, when Christ shall gather in all his subjects in one glorious company, and transport them into their mansions of bliss which he has prepared for them, then their enemies will be utterly destroyed from the presence of God and the glory of his power. "For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet" (1 Cor 15:25). Then death and hell will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). This will be the most signal display of the conquests of King Jesus. After this Messiah will deliver up his kingdom to the Father. Christ's essential glory is eternal, without beginning and without end; but his mediatory had a beginning after his death and resurrection, and shall have an end. When all the seed are brought in and perfected, all enemies subdued and conquered, Christ shall resign his commission and his people, for whoso sake he was commissioned and deputed to the government, unto his Father (1 Cor 15:24). When he shall reign with his Father in the glory of the Deity, the Father lays aside his immediate government, that Christ may be all in all; at last Christ shall resign the government to the Father, that God may be all in all, and delight immediately in his people when they shall be fully perfected and free from sin. The power, in regard to these particular ends for which it was conferred on Christ, ceases when these ends cease; but what belongs of right to him as God, or what was given him by covenant as a reward for his obedience, will endure as long as the humanity remains united to the divinity.
12. Now, my dear Benjamin, I fear I shall exhaust your patience, although the subject is most glorious. I shall only add a few words respecting the history of Messiah's kingdom. I am fully aware, that to do any justice to this part of the subject would fill volumes. The learned and pious Jonathan Edwards, in his History of Redemption, has furnished us with a judicious abridgment of the Messiah's kingdom. But I shall, for the present, refer you to the shortest but most comprehensive description given of it by the Lord Jesus Christ himself. His words are these: "The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard-seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds; but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. Another parable spake he unto them: The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened" (Matt 13:31-33). At first the kingdom of Christ was invisible; exceedingly small and unpromising. From the fall of the first Adam until the exaltation of the second Adam, the real subjects of Messiah's kingdom, the possessors of divine grace, were but few, and mixed with the mere professors of a belief in the Messiah. Still there was a secret working like leaven, and a gradual increase, until the time appointed by the Father for the exaltation and coronation of Messiah was come. Now, to make his kingdom visible, the anointed King sent forth ''the rod of his strength out of Zion" (Psa 110:2), accompanied with the effusion of his Spirit, and immediately three thousand of his enemies became the willing subjects of his kingdom, and daily many were added thereunto. That Christ has had, ever since that memorable day, a willing people to serve him wherever the Gospel has been preached, none can deny; and that this kingdom shall, like the leaven, leaven the whole lump; and, like the stone that filled the whole earth, spread and extend till all nations shall be blessed in the Messiah, and all men shall call him blessed, is evident from the predictions with which we commenced this subject, and from many others contained in the sacred volume, and which we shall, God willing, have occasion to consider under the second advent of the Messiah.
13. From what has been said, my dear Benjamin, on the kingly office of the Messiah, we see how glorious a person Jesus Christ is. He who in the days of his flesh was reviled, reproached, persecuted, crucified for our sakes, that same Jesus is now exalted and made a Prince and a Savior, having "a name given him above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, find things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:10,11). How great the honor to serve such a King! His servants are called vessels of honor (2 Tim 2:21); and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). It is a greater honor to serve Christ than to have kings serve us.
14. It is also a great privilege to have such a King to go to when our enemies threaten to destroy us. Christ can give us power to resist and overcome our corruptions, the snares and temptations of this world, and the fiery darts of the wicked one.
15. This subject encourages missionary efforts.
Is the Gospel to extend to all parts of the earth? then the Gospel must be sent as far. Hence Christ gave the commission. How daring and vain to oppose missionary efforts! To attempt to stop the angel's flying through the midst of heaven with the everlasting Gospel in his hand, is as vain and unsuccessful as to attempt to arrest the motion of the sun in the firmament.
16. How important to submit to Christ's sceptre before it be too late! Psalm 2:12, "Lest he be angry." It is not good to stir a lion. Take heed lest ye stir up Christ the Lion of Judah against you. Submit to him willingly and cheerfully. All the devils in hell submit to Christ, but it is against their will, and they are his slaves, not his subjects. Submit to him as a King as well as a Savior, obey his commands. Every one belongs to some king. All will be ruled by Christ, whether enemies or friends. None of his enemies can escape. In my next I shall call your attention to the most interesting and the most important subject in the Bible, namely, the Divinity of the Messiah. Farewell.All-hail, the pow'r of Jesus' name
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown him Lord of all.
Ye chosen seed of Isr'el's race,
A remnant weak and small!
Hail him, who saved you by his grace,
And crown him Lord of all.
Ye Gentile sinners, ne'er forget
The wormwood and the gall;
Gospread your trophies at his feet.
And crown him Lord of all.
Let ev'ry kindred, ev'ry tribe,
On this terrestrial ball,
To him all majesty ascribe,
And crown him Lord of all.
O that, with yonder sacred throng,
We at his feet may fall;
We'll join the everlasting song,
And crown him Lord of all.
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