The Scheme of Redemption in Preparation
by Bryan Vinson
via The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No. 10, August, 1952.
The Preceptor, Vol. 1, No.11, September, 1952
From the moment of the conception of a remedial system in the mind of Jehovah every phase of the evolvement and development of it was doubtless in the mind of the Almighty. With the statements of a prophetic character, successively enlarging on this intention, there was a cumulative body of information and evidence available to the interested portion of mankind. A highly desirable effect to be wrought was the creation of an attitude of expectancy with regard to the maturing of the avowed purpose. The God of Redemption is also the God of Providence and, as redemption is the ultimate in the design of Him who doeth all things well, it is worthy of acknowledgment that He would direct providence in a course subservient to the ends of redemption.
That Providence has subserved the designs of God toward man is an indisputable truth, and, perhaps, has been as graphically displayed in the life of Joseph, the son of Jacob, as in that of any other person in history. Certainly the seemingly insignificant events of his life, when considered apart from him personally, really assume great importance as links in the chain of divine providence in bringing to pass the predetermined purpose of God toward Israel, which was clearly discernible by Joseph after a series of occurrences in his life (Genesis 45:5). Equally true, and discernibly so, are those contributing factors developed in time which created those conditions in society so propitious for the advent of Christ. As much is suggested by Paul in his statement in Galatians 4:4 where he uses the expression:
The Fullness of the Time
"But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." Thus inspiration testifies that the Messiah came at exactly that time, or period of time, which God deemed altogether proper and propitious. But he came to redeem, and, since it was that point wherein time attained fullness with respect to the divine purpose we must conclude that all things were most favorable then for the accomplishment of that sought. Then, to say that Christ came to establish His kingdom, but altered His intention because of the obduracy of the Jews is to impeach the statement here made as to the fullness or ripeness of the time of His coming. A reasonable regard and casual concern fro the conditions of society as they existed at the time Jesus came should confirm the truth of Paul's statement here. These conditions, when considered in connection with the coming of Jesus as the Savior of men, naturally require the answer to two questions: first, did mankind need a savior?; and, second, were there those conditions prevailing which would facilitate the dissemination of "the grace of God which brings salvation?" Each of these requires an affirmative answer if we are to accept the force of this expression regarding the timeliness of the Messiah's advent.
It should be observed in considering the first of these questions that man had been in need of a savior
through all the centuries from the time of his expulsion from the garden of Eden. However, an awareness of this need had not
always prevailed for a lack of a sufficient sense of
guilt, and an accompanying recognition of his own inability to
save himself. Time, involving four thousand years, was required
to teach this much needed lesson to the sons and daughters of
men. While mankind, for the greater part, was left to his own devising as he sought to "work out his own salvation"; nevertheless, God through all this time was maintaining a connection and relation
with individuals and, finally, a nation through whom
the world should become increasingly educated relative to the
omnipotence of God on the one hand, and their own utter impotency on the other. The continuation of moral decline, descending to the plane of bestiality, is noted by Paul in Romans 1. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and in the progression of
selfhood they declined to entertain a knowledge of the
true God. Jehovah, however, did not view as excusable this ignorance of His
existence and power; for the invisible things of
God -- eternal power and Godhead -- are to be clearly seen from the creation, being understood by the things which are made. They, consequently, were given up to their vain imaginations and allowed to work all manner of uncleanness in the exercise of vile affections. The Jews were likewise brought under the same sweeping and severe indictment of sin by the apostle in the second and third chapters of Romans. No one can read these first chapters of Romans without perceiving the all-embracing sovereignty of sin and the depths of debauchery to which it had brought the human family.
Thus is to be observed the indisputable need which existed for a Savior to deliver man from sin. Arising, however, with such a recognition of need for salvation is the additional question of whether there was in the possession of man the means and capacity to effect his own deliverance from sin. To this problem a great deal of attention is directed in showing conclusively that there existed no law which could give life -- even the law of Moses was unworthy and incapable of securing such an end. "For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." Hence, in the fullness of time God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, make under the law, to redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons. Not only was the law unable to deliver us from sin, but consequently and correspondingly, was it unable to establish a satisfying relation to God as His children.
The second question mentioned above -- that is, was mankind in that state or condition which would afford a favorable dissemination of the gospel involving those conditions bearing on communication of thought from one segment of society to another. The grace of God, we are told, that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men teaching us -- Christianity is a system -- a system of teaching -- and its existence and progress is dependent on teaching. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus that he might charge some that they should teach no other doctrine than that which they had received from the apostle. Men are going to be taught something and if they do not receive the truth they will imbibe error. The apostasy resulted from a distaste for the truth and an infatuation for unsound teaching; the greatest peril before the people of God at this hour is the same lack of devotion to, and hunger for, the truth. To teach is to impart ideas, and ideas are clothed in words; and, to learn is to receive ideas or thoughts as embodied in and identified with facts and related truths. Properly speaking, there can be no teaching where there is no learning, and language is the medium of contact between the teacher and the one who is to be taught, and, hence, to learn. Words and ideas are inseparable, the former being the embodiment of the latter.
From this it is readily apparent that the facility with which the gospel was to be proclaimed to all men sustained a vital dependency on the language to be employed. While true that in the infancy of the church the gift of tongues was generously bestowed on and employed by the original proclaimers, yet in the overall evangelization of the world the need for a widely existing language of prevailing influence was obvious. Too, a language that would be such as to stereotype the heavenly message of redemption was a necessity in order to afford future generations proper assurance respecting the integrity and credibility of this message. In the Greek language at the time of Christ were these demands met.
The political state of human society under the Roman government with the prevailing peace at the time of the Messiah's advent is another advantage contributing to the spread of the truth, as well as the commercial intercourse in the then known world. All of these factors are worthy of a more elaborate notice, but we pass them with this bare mention of them with whatever value of a suggestive nature they may possess.
Preparation Through Teaching
"In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is He that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight" (Matthew 3:1-3). Here is introduced to us the first prophet sent by God after a silence of four hundred years. He came as the harbinger, or forerunner of Christ. His mission is here defined in a citation form Isaiah, as one of preparation. There was pending a great transition and his objective was that of preparing the people for it that they might be responsive to it. His message was preeminently one of repentance; but whenever and wherever repentance is enjoined sin exists, and certainly the Jews for this reason were in need of repentance. But this appeal to repent had affixed to it as the necessity for it, and the motive, the approaching kingdom. In other words, the transcendently superior and glorious character of this kingdom entailed a pronounced reformation of those who were to be admitted into it. The principles that should give character to it were of the most elevated kind, and such as the doctors of the law and the philosophers of this world had never perceived. These principles as enunciated by Jesus on the mount give an insight to the pronounced degree of reformation so courageously preached by the Baptist.
His preaching, as well as that of Jesus and His disciples, in this period of preparation was confined to the Jews. Among the several reasons which may well be recognized in support of the wisdom of this restriction, there may be noted a few. The law having been given to the Jews to bring them to Christ, they were the ones to whom he should make know his person and mission. The Jews had largely departed form the law of Moses through an attachment for the traditions of their fathers, while still avowing a loyalty and devotion to him. In this respect they largely foreshadowed the condition of the religious communities today, who while professing fealty to Christ, are governed by the traditions of their fathers. Since, however, the law was their tutor to bring them to Christ it was necessary to teach them anew the law as it pertained to the coming Christ. This, then, was a needed work and such as only could be effectively directed toward those to whom the law had been given. The advantages, Paul tells us, which were to the Jews were many and great -- but chiefly there had been committed to them the oracles of God. These oracles set forth the purposes of God respecting a Redeemer, and the principles of the New Covenant, which were to be the instrumentalities through which this redemption was accomplished, need to be taught to the people preparatory to their reception of them.
No other prophet before John was greater than he, and his work was of the character that merited his being referred to as coming in the spirit and power of Elijah. The Old Testament closes with the promise of his coming -- "Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord; and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Malachi 4:5,6). There can be no misunderstanding as to whom this refers since Jesus applies this to John (Matthew 17:12,13; Luke 16:17).
Prophetically described and historically recorded, we find that his ministry was to exert a most salutary influence on the society of the Jews in condemning sin, even in high places; to turn fathers and children to each other; and, in so doing, to pull down to the hills and fill in the valleys thereby making ready a people for the coming of the Lord. In such a work he made straight the paths of the Lord. With this imprisonment of John, Jesus began where he had left off, and with His disciples preached the approaching kingdom -- as at hand -- and the need of repentance in view thereof.
Not only in this preparatory effort was personal reformation in the lives of the Jews severely enjoined, but, also, the characteristics of the kingdom to be established sought to be impressed upon them -- especially the disciples of Jesus. A few statements of Jesus with respect thereto might well be noticed in the concluding section of this article.
Statements Descriptive of the Kingdom
In Luke 17:20 the Lord said, "the kingdom of God cometh not with observation." There are some thoughts suggested by this statement worthy of reflection. At the time this statement was made the kingdom had not been established, and so far as the expression is descriptive of the state of affairs at the time the Savior here spoke, it would have to do with the distinguishing character of this kingdom as contrasted with the kingdoms of this earth. The Word of God being the seed of the kingdom, it follows that as the Word was preached and, consequently, infused itself into the hearts and lives of those who embraced it the kingdom of God is within you, or, as the marginal reading suggests, among you. The Word of God was to be implanted in the heart, and taking seizure of it, to work outward in reforming the life. The depiction the Savior gave of the scribes and Pharisees in likening them to whited sepulchers which appeared beautiful outwardly but within were full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness is the very opposite of the conception of the character to be possessed by those in the kingdom. The power of the truth was to be felt inwardly, internally, and to exert a quiet and efficacious influence on men by an affectionate and rational appeal to them.
The kingdom was thus to make its progress first and last, by bringing the weight of its strength to bear on the individual. There was then no mass movement, nor should there be now. All such efforts can but result in the creation of an ecclesiasticism; and the power of all ecclesiastic orders is external rather than internal with respect to the individual. In this consideration is to be found an appreciation of the wisdom of the Lord in founding His kingdom on the basic concept of individual responsibility, and in directing the activities of His church in the channels of individual and congregational effort. To modify the form of organization of this kingdom is, eventually, to corrupt the character of it. The power, simplicity and directness of the truth of the gospel in appealing for and securing enlistments in the service of the King has always been the way of progress and victory. Freedom from all outward display of power and ostentatious parading is a need of this hour when too much confidence is being evidenced in numbers and fine buildings as we vie with denominations for the world's admiration and approval.
Parables of the Kingdom
As Jesus taught the disciples by parable of the coming kingdom, we shall note some of them.
Antecedent to the creation of man God made preparation therefore in the formation and arrangement of this world. He planted a garden eastward in Eden to thus provide an environment of surpassing delight for man. From the very beginning, therefore, there has been displayed by Jehovah His Providence in the preparations made for the highly favored creature, man. Jesus told His disciples not to let their hearts be troubled at the thought of His early passing, for He was going to prepare a place for them that where He was they might be also. So often have we heard the expression, that heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. Equally true would it be to say that the church is a prepared place for a prepared people, for the church is a heavenly institution. It was conceived in the mind of the God of heaven and is governed by HIm Who sits at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. In the church we are, having been risen with Christ, to seek those things which are above and set our affections on them rather than on the things of this earth.
While the church is provided as the medium for eternity is to be wrought, yet this very character and design require a preparation through the teaching of those who would be members of it. Hence, in anticipation of the establishment of the kingdom, Jesus gave to His disciples some highly valuable lessons designed to develop in them an appreciation of the true character and superior worth of the kingdom. Such lessons were a contribution to their preparation for its coming and their acceptable functioning in it. Equally true do these lessons afford material for fruitful study by all who now shall consider them.
The Parable Of The Sower
There has never been anyone who equaled Jesus as a teacher, and in the form of parabolic teaching He maintains this excellency. To teach by parable is simply to present from the area of human experience that which parallels, in some particular, or particulars, that which is sought to be taught.
"Every parable contains an illustrating example, and indicates certain points of resemblance between it and the subject which it illustrates. The interpretation of a parable consists in pointing out the subject illustrated and the points of analogy intended by the author. These are to be ascertained from the context, and from the terms of the parable itself. In interpreting the parables of Jesus two fundamental rules must be observed: first, when Jesus Himself gives an interpretation, it must be accepted as final and exhaustive; second, only those points of analogy which were certainly in the mind of the author should have a place in the interpretation. The chief error to be guarded against is a violation of the latter rule; and in order to successfully guard against it, one must have a well balanced judgment and an accurate knowledge of the subjects which the parable illustrates" (McGarvey, Commentary on Matthew and Mark).
The parable of the sower, so-called, is really designed to illustrate the variations of human character as related to one's reaction to the Word of God. The same seed, which we are told is the Word of God, falls on -- or makes contact with -- the different hearts here described. The difference of influence experienced or felt -- and this difference attributed to the different state of attitudes of heart. The diverse results here announced are solely attributable to the individuals involved as the responsible parties in the case.
The first one, represented by the wayside, reflects an attitude of inattentiveness born of indifference. We doubtless would be astounded if we knew the number and identity of all today who fall into the category. It is, likely, the most numerous class of all who have heard or might hear the Word. This represents those who, having an opportunity to give attention to the gospel find it unappealing and uninteresting. This disinterestedness may arise from mental sluggishness or an absorption in some other interest. Be the cause what it may, when the Word fails to germinate, faith is impossible, and salvation is unattainable. Strange, indeed, that Satan didn't realize what so many now contend regarding the inefficiency of the Word to produce faith. According to some the Word would have remained in the heart dormant and impotent without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to impregnate it by a direct impact on the heart of the unconverted. Be it evermore remembered that there was, and is, nothing wrong or lacking with the Seed -- the Word -- but the soil wherein it was.
The following three classes represent believers in the Word thus sown. In the study of these there are some hunger and misfortune together with valuable warnings for all those who are children of God, for all of these were children of God, and, yet their ends are diverse. The stony ground, we are told by Jesus, are those who heareth the Word, and anon with joy receive it. They endure for a while, hence, we see they are Christians. The statement that the Word is received with joy constitutes no reflection on one -- it cannot properly be received otherwise. On Pentecost they that gladly received the Word were baptized, and I am constrained to believe that it has ever thus been. However, the tragedy here revealed by the Savior is not the fact they were gladly responsive to the truth, but that there was not that growth wherein they should become rooted and grounded in the truth. All too often it is observable that many who obey the gospel soon stumble by reason of the taunts and ridicule of the world. Many times they evince great and laudable zeal and an effervescent enthusiasm that soon boils away. They present a pitiable spectacle in the weakness revealed and tragedy enacted. Of all such it can be said their last state is worse with them than their first. Not only are they bankrupt themselves but the sum of their influence on the church is an injurious one. Many of the deviations from the Divine Pattern are initiated by neophytes, whose zeal outstrips their knowledge, and their suggestions possibly acceded to by older brethren for fear of offending them. To His disciples the Savior said, "If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed," thereby implying that one can cease being loyal to His Word, and, consequently, forfeit his discipleship. This is the unhappy lot of those herein described by this parable.
The next classification describes an apostasy more gradually effected, and one in which the victims are likely to be self-deceived. In our time the greatest defection is wrought by the influence here mentioned -- the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. It would be a rare individual, indeed, who has not experienced to some degree the pressure of the one or the lure of the other. Some are sufficiently strong to resist the temptations of either or both, but many are victimized thereby.
The cares of this world are heavy for the mass of humanity. The needs of the flesh are constant, continuing and demanding, and for may they constitute a form of mastery wielding a control severe and harsh. Poverty is the inevitable and inescapable lot for the great mass of suffering humanity, and there is no reason for thinking such a state shall ever be abolished. The Savior said we have the poor with us always. Coupled with this responsibility of providing for our own are the reverses and misfortunes befalling us so often and unexpectedly. It is understandable why the fear of the exacting requirements of earning a living distracts so many from their duty to the Lord. But such is inexcusable, ill-advised and eternally disastrous. The Lord tells us that a man's life doesn't consist of the abundance of the things he possesses, and that life is more than food and raiment. The beggar Lazarus, is described in terms indicative of extreme impoverishment and illness, yet he has entered into the life of the rich and lasting security. Certainly the Provident Father has provided a sufficiency for all of the necessities of this life, but the covetousness and greed of too many of their fellows by depriving them of these. The children of God are taught that having food and raiment to learn to be therewith content, and having brought nothing into this world we take nothing out. This is likely the most difficult lesson we are required to learn and respect, and, consequently, one which few of us have learned.
The deceitful character of riches is the other influence here mentioned, and which can choke out the Word that it bear no fruit. The deceit that riches practice on the hearts of people is widespread and manifold. We are prone to think the possession of wealth is a guaranty of happiness. The contrary is true as many who are wealthy could attest. The rich man who felt that his riches would provide him security and ease of soul was, for so thinking describe by Jesus as a fool. "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, Who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life" (I Timothy 6:17-19). Also, "Hearken, my beloved brethren, hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them who love Him?" (James 2:5). True happiness, lasting happiness, is assured those whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and in Whose law they meditate both day and night. James describes the miseries that shall come upon the rich who have fraudulently acquire their riches through oppressing the poor and withholding the rightful wages of those who had reaped their fields. While poverty is no passport to heaven, or disposition of riches will forever bar one's entrance into heaven.
The class represented by the good ground which brought forth fruit are those who possess and exercise intellectual honesty in their relation to the gospel of Christ. Honesty in material affairs is mandatory, but does not exhaust the requirements of honesty. One may be scrupulously honest in his dealings with his fellowman in matters relating to business affairs, and be dishonest with himself and God. An honest heart as herein suggested is one that openly and interestingly receives the Word of God as such, and regards it with that reverence which begets a full and unreserved submissiveness to its every requirement. To handle the Word of God deceitfully and wrest it is but to invite everlasting destruction. To hinder it proper influence by asserting a partisan spirit is but to reveal an obstructive prejudice; and prejudice against the truth is fundamentally dishonest in anyone. Truth should be sought and secured at all costs, and never surrendered regardless of the sacrifice necessary to keeping it. The difference in the respective productivity here stated is indicative of the different capacities of those mentioned. The point held in common, however, is the fact that all bore fruit by their continued obedience to the truth. Those of us who are incapable of bearing sixty or an hundredfold should not despair but faithfully strive to produce the thirtyfold, while rejoicing in the greater fruitfulness of others.
The Parable Of The Tares
This parable is designed to set forth the two-fold character of men, the good and the evil, and the ultimate destiny of each. The wheat represents the good, those who are responsive to the teaching of Christ. In His teaching He sows the good seed. But there is also the presence of evil teaching attributed to Satan which finds a responsive following on the part of many. The servants reveal an impatience, even to the point of intolerance for the continued existence of those who are evil. The Savior, however, invokes a contrary attitude resting on the assurance that eventually a separation shall be effected. The field in which both the good and bad seed is sown in the world. The kingdom evidently is here used in its most extended latitude as contemplating the rightful sovereignty of Christ over all men rather than in its restricted and proper province of embracing only those who have obeyed the gospel. All authority on earth has been given to Christ, and, therefore, all men are properly to be subject to Him; however, all are not thus subject by reason of their refusal to acknowledge obediently this sovereignty.
There is the implied understanding here that the persecution or destruction of unbelievers is forbidden in His statement to His servants to let the tares alone until the harvest. The church of our Lord has never been a persecuting body, and every sect which has resorted to persecuting non-conformists reveals thereby its true character. The plurality of religious bodies has been apologized for by some on the thesis that the existence of but one church would inevitably lead to religious intolerance and persecution. The history of the church when there were no other belies this contention and reveals it to have been the persecuted rather than the persecutor.
The course of the church is to make, insofar as possible, wheat of the tares instead of seeking their immediate destruction. While there is the possibility of salvation there can be no logic in destruction. Only when the day of salvation has expired will the day of destruction be ushered in. Christ shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire to execute vengeance against all those who know not God and obey not the gospel. Such an act is reserved by Him and not delegated to anyone here now. However, this parable cannot be construed as forbidding disciplinary action by the church against the disorderly, for this is too clearly enjoined elsewhere in the Word. It forbids persecution on the one hand, and affords positive assurance on the other of the destruction of the wicked and blessedness of the redeemed in the end.
The Parable Of The Mustard Seed is evidently intended to impress all with the rapid and magnificent growth of the kingdom from such small and unpretentious beginnings. Certainly no movement ever attained a success with such few and illiterate men as the apostles were, especially a success such as characterized the church of the first century. And this was attained without any organization beyond the simple congregational confraternity of the New Testament order. Notwithstanding this simple and independent course of action, the kingdom grew so rapidly that the gospel was preached to the then known world within one generation.
The Parable Of The Leaven is designed to teach us that the power of the truth is to be realized most effectively by its permeating influence. This is accomplished by means of Christians influencing those around them by their personal contacts, teaching them by both word and example. Righteousness can thus triumph over the forces of evil, and the permeating influence of the truth most effectually wrought.
The Parable Of The Hidden Treasure, and that of The Pearl Of
Great Price should lead all to the realization of the surpassing
worth of the kingdom of heaven. In such a realization we should
be constrained "to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" in the calm confidence that all these things shall be
added unto us. Whatever renunciation is necessary to be an
heir of the kingdom wisdom decrees we should make, even to
that of taking joyfully the spoiling of our goods by setting down