Man was great in his fall, but God was still greater in His mercy (Rom. 5: 20). Even as a sinner man remained an object of the Divine love (John 3: 16).
Nevertheless the fall of man brought with it a change of all world conditions. New principles were demanded which henceforth governed the whole history of mankind.
Without a fall human progress would have been a gradual ascent. It might well have been a history of ever increasing blessing but not a history of redemption. All would have been an uninterrupted upward development. But now in place of the capacity for the developing of man there entered the possibility and necessity of his redemption. Henceforth it was no more a matter of the evolution of his slumbering powers but of the revolution of the spirit by acts of divine love and a new creation. Thus the significance of the fall lies in the change of the determining foundation principles of all human development.
In fact, man was not fallen beyond hope. He remained redeemable, and God became to him Redeemer. This possibility is founded upon two facts. Man had not himself invented sin. His fall had not consisted in that he had acted from within, out of himself, purely by reason of inspiration completely his own, but in virtue of a temptation from without. Otherwise he would, of course, have become a self-originator of sin and thereby a devil. And even as he had not produced the evil either before or in his fall, so also he did not after his fall identify himself with it. At once he felt sin to be something foreign to him and made a distinction between himself and the evil. This is shown by his immediate feeling of shame and the covering of his nakedness with fig leaves (Gen. 3: 7, 10). This hrst attempt at overcoming the evil was indeed in vain; but it was an unmistakable sign that the man was not willing to succumb to shamelessness and baseness; that though he had acted against his conscience he did not add to this a deliberate killing thereof.
Those fig leaves thereby became a direct embodiment and symbol of his flight from the evil; and the sense of shame, through the feeling of guilt and impotence, became an as yet unconscious defence agamst the service of the flesh and thereby the first reaction against the might of sin, inasmuch as the man, though not able to overcome the evil, at least sought to flee from it.
But sin makes blind and man cannot perceive his corruption(Eph.4:18; Rev.3:17). He believes in the good within himself and defies his own nature(II Thess.2:3,4): "Mankind is deity seen from below." So long as he believes that, he will never lay hold of the redemption(Matt.9:12).
Therefore must opportunity be afforded to test his strength in all directions, so that he may attain at last to a recognition of his impotence. Human collapse must become the method of divine reconstruction, which involves the many thousands of years in the plan of salvation and the manifold forms of the historical revelation in epochs and aeons. At the same time, each period of the plan of salvation has necessarily the revealing of human failure as its goal, and the variegated distinctiveness and progressiveness of the whole have their educative purpose in this, that each of these dispensations shall set forth from a different angle the bankruptcy of the natural man.
Thus will all the moral powers of the individual and all social forms of the community be finally proved insufficient, and God's plan of salvation in Christ will be seen to be not merely the only plan, but as the essential, the only possible plan. Thereby will God stand before His whole creation, in heaven and on earth as justided, in that He ordained this way of salvation and no other. The history of salvation will thus be an historical selfjustification of God, an "historical Theodicy," and the course of revelation will constitute the proof of its own necessity; even as it is written; "so that thou [God] mayest be justified when thou passest sentence, and mayest stand forth as victor if one disputes with thee" (Rom. 3: 4).
In fact, man could not more completely make manifest his downfall than he has done and will yet do.
If God gives him self-determination,
he falls into licentiousness; 1
in the epoch of the testing of freedom.
If God gives him authority,
he proceeds to oppress; 2
in the epoch after Noah.
If God gives him promises;
he sinks into unbelief; 3
in the epoch of the Patriarchs and the age following.
If God shows him his unrighteousness, 4
he exalts himself in self-righteousness; 5
in the epoch of the Law.
If God qives him Christ,
then he chooses for himself Antichrist; 6
in the epoch of the gospel.
If God gives him the King,
then he follows the Rebel; 7
in the epoch of the Millennium.
1Especially in Lamech (Gen. 4:23,24).
2As in Nimrod, the Hamite, the founder of the original Babylonian empire (Gen. 10:6-12), whose race, according to Gen. 9:5, was abandoned to unblessedness, and indeed in Canaan was to be "servants of all servants."
3See especially Israel in the desert, ten times disobedient and murmuring, at the end of the patriarchal epoch of the promises of faith.
4The Law was a mirror of sin(Rom. 3:20; 7:7).
5See especially the Pharisees(Rom. 2:17-21).
6John 5:43; Rev. 13.
7See Gog and Magog(Rev. 20:7-10)
Thus is man in continual rebellion against God, and just as Israel was on a small scale so is mankind on a large scale a people "whose heart will always with determination go astray' (Psa. 75: 10). It is no wonder that all dispensations end with Divine judgement:
The period of Paradise-
with the expulsion from the Garden;
The period of testing by freedom-
with the Flood;
The period after Noah-
with Babel and the setting aside of the nations;
The period of the Law-
with the scattering of Israel;
The period of the church-
with the tribulation under Antichrist;
The period of the kingdom of glory-
with destruction and fiery ruin (Rev. 20: 9).
But then, when all conceivable possibilities are exhausted and the world-kingdom has used up all its forces, the kingdom of God will appear trtumphantly (Rev. 11:15), and in the new heaven and on the new earth will righteousness dwell eternally (II Pet. 3:13)
But if this goal is to be reached, then the catastrophic judgments during the interval must nevet be total. Otherwise the connexion between that which is past and that which is to come would be lost, and the new which should appear would be something independent and other, but not the continuation and advance of the former. That would have signified before all the universe nothing else than an undisguised declaration of the bankruptcy of God, that all His former principles for the education of humanity had collapsed.
Therefore must there be always a remnant saved out of the judgments (Isa. 10:21,22;11:11; Ezek. 5: 1-4 (esp. ver. 3); I Kings 19:18; Rom. 11:1-10), So as to be the foundation of a further development. In the midst of the judgment of death there must constantly be established a new life ever superior to the evil. Only so could the unity of the whole be preserved, and the future be joined organically with the past and the present
This is the significance of the godly in the world. In the judgment they are the agents of each fresh beginning and thereby of the entire unity of the plan of salvation. It is only through the "little flock" that the great salvation receives its firm coherency and its organic continuity. Only these, the insignificant of the world, are the human foundation for redemption becoming feasible. Without them evcrv item of revelation would fall to pieces. Seemingly a superfluous factor in world aflairs, actually they are "the great fellow-workers of God through whom the world, as to its continuance and its final organization, is determined. Their walk with God saves the world's future." Thereby they become the real carriers on of history in general, and, in the Scripture, of world chronology
Genesis gives historical numerations in the genealogies in the chosen line only, especially Seth-Noah (ch. 5) and Shem-Abraham ch. 11:10, ff.; see also 25:20; 37: 2). In the ancestral tables of the non-chosen lines there are no historical numbers. (Cain, Gen. 4: 17-26; the table of the peoples, ch.10; Ishmael, 25:12-16; Esau 36: 1-8). For God, the history of the little flock is the only "history."
So these two lines run through all ages; the ripening of the great "world" for the tempest of judgment and the preparing of the "little flock" for deliverance out of misery and distress.
This people stands forth among the peoples as a rock in the sea. Even the gates of the world of the dead will not overcome it (Matt. 16:18); for with its stability stands or falls all hope for the world, and behind all hope stands for evermore the covenant faithfulness of the Redeemer.
Therefore though the oak of human civilization must again and again be felled by the axe of the judgment of God, nevertheless this "root-stem" continually survives, the "holy seed" out of which new life springs forth (Isa. 6: 13, and 11:1), the "little flock" which receives the eternal kingdom (Luke 12: 32). So out of the night of judgment there continually flames forth the early blush of the new day, and in the tempest clouds of wrath appears the brilliant rainbow of the divine Redeemer (comp. Gerl. 9: 13).
But for this purpose God always chooses the nothings (I Cor. 1:26, 27). Only thus is the self-praise of the sinner destroyed. And for this very reason it is a pervading characteristic of the whole course of redemption that God keeps on choosing the younger before the elder, sets the smaller in priority to the greater, and chooses the second before the first:
not Cain, but Abel, and his substitute Seth;
not Japheth, but Shem;
not Ishmael, but Isaac;
not Esau, but Jacob;
not Manasseh, but Ephraim (Gen. 48: 14);
not Aaron, but Moses (Exod. 7: 7);
not Eliab, but David (I Sam. 16: 6-13);
not the first king, but the second (i.e. not Saul, but David);
not the old covenant, but the new (Heb. 8: 13);
not Israel, but the church; and above all,
not the first Adam, but the last Adam (I Cor. 15: 45).
Thus God continually " takes away the first that he may establish the second" (Heb. 10: 9). He chooses for Himself the weak of the world, so as to put to shame the strong (I Cor.1: 27). He calls the last and makes it first, and the first becomes the last (Matt. 19: 30). And all this comes to pass so that "no flesh shall glory before him," but that "he who glories let him glory in the Lord" (I Cor. 1: 29, 31).
And yet, what took place? Out of the grace-endowed beginning of life and strength there issued always a race full of apostasy. What the fathers won by faith was mostly lost by the children as early as the third generation Jud. 2: 7), and Jerusalem become Babel must finally, exactly as the former "world," be given up to the judgment of destruction.
But in order that, in spite of all this, the Divine plan should not fail, within this shallow circle (meanwhile become great, whose fathers were the standard-bearers of an earlier reformation), there must of necessity now be called a new and smaller circle, who should become the present transmitters of the revelation, so that in them the reformation of the past should, as it were, be requickened into a new reformation. And because in the course of time this is again and again accomplished, therefore the whole process of redemption is governed by the principle of a continuous reformation, and the history of salvation is like a curve with very marked zigzag movements in detail, but which nevertheless on the whole goes uninterruptedly upward.
But a fresh Divine beginning is never merely a return to the old. In each reformation born out of collapse lay at the same time the seed of a life-programme for the future. Revelation and development are in no case opposites but belong together In the sphere of the Bible, as elsewhere, there is an ascent from lower to higher, from twilight to clearness (Matt. 13: 16, 17; I Pet. 1: 10, 11; John 16:12). In Abram God chose a single person in Jacob this grew to a family; at Sinai this became a nation. In the present age God is gathering to Himself a super-national people out of all nations (Acts 15: 14); in the coming kingdom of God there will be a universal fellowship of peoples (Isa. 2. 2-4 ;19:25); and finally there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1).
But this is all God's work, not human "progress," no ascent of the creature out of the depths into the heights, but a condescension of the Creator out of the heights into the depths no development of human powers until the unfolding of the highest, ideal humanity, but a leading on to divine, eternal goals through mighty acts of Divine intervention in love and nower. Thus then, through Divine acting from above to beneath, will the earthly being be led from beneath to above, until finally God s glory is manifested in things seated and everything earthly is transfigured in the heavenly (Matt. 27: 51; John 3, 13).
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