BANNER OF TRUTH online; January 27, 2017
Few would disagree that there is a lightness in society today. Men of substance are scarce. David Wells, in commenting on the loss of character, says: ‘We have become T S Eliot’s “hollow men”, without weight, for whom appearance and image must suffice. Image and appearance assume the functions that character and morality once had. It is now considered better to look good than to be good. The facade is now more important than the substance – and that being the case the substance has largely disappeared. In the centre there is now only an emptiness’. (God in the Wasteland,1994, p 14).
But there is also a lightness in the professing Christian world. It is related to the form of evangelicalism that has prevailed over the last hundred and more years. That outlook has lowered the whole idea of conversion and encouraged the error that it is separable from living a holy life. A slogan such as ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’ has directed attention away from the desperate plight of the sinner which can only be remedied by a sovereign intervention of grace. It has put the focus on the happiness of man, rather than on the glory of God.
What can bring about a change? Nothing but a re-assertion as to the true nature of the Christian life. Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) saw such a shift in his day. In preaching a series of sermons on the history of redemption to his flock in Northampton, New England, ‘his larger purpose was’, he declared, ‘to raise his congregation’s vision from its apparent mundane and petty daily concerns to find their affections engaged by the cosmic purpose God has in the work of redemption.’ Far from focusing on a merely individual salvation, Edwards rooted his understanding of the Christian life in God’s grand design to glorify Himself by communicating His glory in creation and redemption, and receiving back that glory in love and praise. His vision was about an exalted beginning and an exalted end, accomplished through God-exalting means. This is the reality we must seek.
1. CHRIST IS THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD’S GLORY.
‘In the beginning was the Word’ (John1.1). The Son, the second Person of the Trinity, is God’s self-revelation, His self-expression. Christ is ‘the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person’ (Heb 1.3). He is the ‘radiance of God’s glory’ and ‘the effulgence of His splendour’. This is nothing less that the essential glory of God Himself, corresponding to the shekinak glory in the OT (Exod 24.15ff and 33.9ff) and the glory manifested on the mount of transfiguration (Mark 9.2ff). God created the world as a theatre to display the glory of His Son in creation and redemption.
The reality is, as Jonathan Edwards reminds us, that God delights in His own perfections which are praiseworthy. He has to exhibit them in order for them to be magnified and delighted in. This is accomplished partly in creation but more fully in redemption. There is the overflowing of His goodness in the giving of His Son for the people chosen to receive the communication of His glory, and to reflect back that glory to Him. The fulness of the glory is revealed in the cross of Calvary. (Psa. 85.10-11) ‘Father the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee’. (John 17.1). It is there that Christ is revealed in the full graciousness of His love in giving Himself for the Church.
2. CONVERSION IS THROUGH BEHOLDING THE GLORY OF CHRIST
That glory has been manifested on this earth, in the course of history. John declares that the Word which was ‘with God’ has been made visible: ‘And the Word was was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14). The same apostle informs us that ‘the world knew him not’ and ‘his own received him not’. Light has come into the world but ‘men loved darkness rather light’ (John 3.19). Satan is preventing the glory of Christ from shining into the hearts of men and women. The opposition is overcome by a sovereign operation: ‘For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4.6).
This instrument of deliverance is described by Edwards as ‘a divine and supernatural light’. It does bring mere speculative knowledge. It is such a sight of the truth and reality of spiritual things that makes the believer to ‘feel’, to be affected by the excellency of spiritual truth. In the words of Edwards it is ‘a true sense of the divine and superlative excellency of the things of religion; a real sense of the excellency of God and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God revealed in the Gospel’ (Works, vol 2, p14). It makes it all real.This wonderfully affects the heart and makes us new human beings.
That connection between ‘light’ and ‘glory’ reminds us of the experience of Dr D M Lloyd-Jones in the midst of a bout of depression, together with an onslaught of the devil. While seeking a cure at a nursing home in Bristol he had with him an issue of A W Pink’s Studies in the Scripture. One morning when he awoke soon after six o’clock, in complete agony of soul and feeling a sense of evil in the room, his eye caught just the word ‘glory’ in an article by Pink. Instantly ‘like a blaze of light’ he felt the very glory of God surround him. Every doubt and fear was silenced. The love of God was shed abroad in his heart . He was brought into a state of ecstasy and joy which remained with him for several days. (Iain H Murray D M Lloyd-Jones: the Fight of Faith, 1990, p208).
3. WE BECOME PARTAKERS OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST
Man was created at the beginning after the image of God ‘in knowledge, righteousness and holiness’. He lived to the glory of God. The true image was lost by the Fall. Man turned to glorying in self. In the work of conversion he has to be emptied of self in order that the heart might be filled with the restored image of God. We are made ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet 1.4). Because the new life is the restoration of the life of God in the human soul the chief characteristic of its possessor is God-centredness.
What is man apart from the restoration of the true image of God? Of the men of the world it is said when God awakes to judgment, He will ‘despise their image’ (Psa 73.20). It is only an outward image, as David Wells reminded us. There is no substance, no worth in it. How different is the case of the true Christian! When a heathen judge demanded of Ignatius of Antioch why he spoke of himself as theophorus (bearer of God) the martyr replied that it was because he was one ‘who has Christ in his breast’. In Christians, he declared, the promise was fulfilled, ‘I will dwell in them and walk in them…. and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty’. (Quoted in Iain H Murray Heroes, 2009, p x). The bride of Christ is admitted into the society of the Trinity. The reflected glory of Christ in them is their true worth. God delights in them.
May God’s wonderful plan for my life be my involvement in His cosmic plan.
John J. Murray is a retired pastor in the Free Church of Scotland and former Assistant Editor of the Banner of Truth. He is the author of the helpful booklet on God’s providence, BEHIND A FROWNING PROVIDENCE; Banner of Truth.