By: Dr. Ellet Waggoner | The Fourth Day
The Firmament Showeth His Handiwork
In no part of the creation of God do we find more wonderful gospel lessons than in the heavens. We have already seen that the heavenly bodies preach the gospel, although they have no articulate speech. The apostle Paul, having stated that all had not obeyed the gospel, adds that faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, and then asks, “But I say, Have they not heard?” Heard what? Why, the gospel, of course. And then he answers his own question, saying, “Yes, verily,” and proves it by quoting the words of the psalmist concerning the heavens, “Their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” (Romans 10:15-18). The heavens, therefore, do most widely and powerfully preach the gospel. Let us note a few points from the word, that we may be able henceforth more readily to read the language of the heavens:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Now put with this a statement concerning man: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained [prepared] that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). The same language is used about us that is used of the heavens. Both are His workmanship, and both are created in Christ, provided we yield ourselves to Him. That thing for which we are created is good works, by which we are to glorify our Father which is in heaven. So if we have the good works, we, as well as the heavens, declare the glory of God.
The heavens do the work that God has appointed for them. They do it because they are perfectly subject to His will. So if we are as subject to Him, we shall do the work that He has appointed for us. And that work glorifies Him, because it is He that does the work in us. Notice that God has before prepared these works, that we should walk in them. So Christ says of the one who does the truth, that he comes to the light, “that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” God Himself does the works, else they would not be the righteousness of God. That which the heavens do is also His work; and when we are voluntarily as submissive to His will as they are by nature, then the glory of God will be as fully declared by us as by them, even though, like them, we are unable to make an articulate sound.
The heavens are the pledge of God’s faithfulness. “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever: with my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up forever: Thy faithfulness shalt Thou establish in the very heavens” (Psalm 89:1,2). The existence of the heavens is a surety that God has not forgotten His promises of mercy to men. The thirty-first chapter of the prophet Jeremiah is full of the “exceeding great and precious promises” of God; and immediately after the promise to His people, “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more,” there follows this: “Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; The Lord of hosts is His name; if those ordinances depart from before Me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before Me forever” (Jeremiah 31:34-36). So long as the sun, moon and stars fulfill their appointed work regularly, the sons of men can find mercy with the Lord. So long may they come to Him and find pardon, peace and righteousness.
THE OATH OF GOD
There is more to this. “For when God made promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no greater, He sware by Himself.” This was an oath for the confirmation of the promise, which was in itself immutable. Moreover, the promise was confirmed in Christ. Now read what is said of that oath: “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: which hope we have as an anchor of the souls, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an High Priest forever after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 6:13, 17-20).
Mark two things: First, this oath and promise were given for our sakes. Abraham did not need that God should confirm the promise with an oath, for he had demonstrated to the full that he believed the Lord’s simple word. But God gave the oath so that we might have our faith in His word strengthened. Second, the oath and the promise relate to the forgiveness of sins, and all the blessings which Christ as our High Priest secures for us. They are for our consolation and encouragement when we flee for refuge to Christ. Therefore when we come to Christ for mercy and grace to help in time of need, we are assured beforehand by the promise of God, backed up by His oath, that we shall have the things for which we ask. Now let us stop and think for a moment what this means.
The oath of God is really a pledging of His own existence. He swore by Himself. He has thereby declared that His life would be forfeited if His promise should fail. His promises are as enduring as Himself. As God is “from everlasting to everlasting,” so “the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him” (Psalm 103:17). The Father and the Son are one. So in God’s pledging Himself, Christ is pledged. But “in Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through Him, and unto Him: and He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Colossians 1:16, 17, R.V.). It is “by the word of His power” that all things are upheld. (Hebrews 1:3).
Upon the existence of God depends the existence of the heavens and the earth. But He has pledged His own existence to the fulfillment of His promises. Therefore the existence of the heavens, yea, of the entire universe, depends upon the fulfillment of the promises of God to the believing sinner. If a single sinner, no matter how unworthy or insignificant or obscure, should come to the Lord sincerely asking for pardon and holiness and should fail to receive it, that instant the whole universe would become chaos and vanish out of existence. But the sun, moon and stars still hold their places in the heavens as proof that God has never failed a single soul that put his trust in Him, and as a pledge that His mercies fail not. His faithfulness, therefore, is in the heavens. If we would let the sun, moon and stars tell this story to us every time we see them, we should live better lives, and discouragement would be a thing unknown.
GOD IS A SUN
“For the Lord God is a sun and shield” (Psalm 84:11). As the sun gives light and heat to the earth, so the Lord is the Light of men, and warms them by His grace. All the heat and light that the earth receives, in whatever form, comes from the sun. The light by means of which we find our way at night through the crowded streets of the city, or by which we read in our study, comes from the sun. So with the cheerful wood blaze, or the glowing coals that warm our rooms in dreary winter; all the heat comes from the sun.
The sun give light, and light is life. How the plants turn to the sun! Who has not noticed a plant growing in a dark cellar? Its life is very feeble. In the darkness it is almost dead. But let an opening be made, so that a ray of light can shine through, and at once it revives. It will begin to grow in the direction of the light. Without the light which the sun furnishes to the earth there could be no plant life, nor animal life either.
But life means growth. As the light of the sun is the life of plants, so it is the cause of their growth. As the plant grows, it is by storing up the light and heat of the sun. Those plants that grow very quickly, that come to maturity from the seed in a few weeks or months, have in them but very little heat. They are worthless for fuel. But the sturdy oak, that is centuries in growing–which grows so slowly that in a year no difference can be detected in its size–stores up immense quantities of the sun’s heat. Other trees are of even slower growth and store up more heat.
These woods become buried in the ground, and in the course of centuries are transformed into coal. Then it is used as fuel and gives to us the heat which it has stored up from the sun. The reason why we get so much more heat from the coal than from the direct rays of the sun is that in the coal we have the concentrated heat of the sun’s rays for years.
What the sun is to the earth and to plant life, that God is to His people. “The Lord God is a sun.” As the sun, by its light, gives physical life to the plants, so God gives spiritual life– the only real life–to His people. Christ’s life is the light of the world. As the oak tree stores up the heat of the sun, so the one who lives in the light of God stores up that light, which is His life. That light and life that are the life and growth of the Christian are to be given out for the enlightenment and warmth of others.
Someone may say that in order to carry out the figure completely, it ought to be that the Christian of the slowest growth should have the most of the life of God to give out. But let it not be forgotten that the just live by faith. The Christian’s life is not measured by years but by the faith manifested. The more faith, which means humility and trust, the more of the life of God is appropriated. And the more life appropriated, the more will be given out to others, for the life of God cannot be hidden.
GRACE AND GLORY
Again we quote, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord will give grace and glory” (Psalm 84:11). Of what use is it for the Lord to speak to us of glory? What do we know about it? Why, we have it before us every day. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Still more plainly does the psalmist put it in these words, “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth! who hast set Thy glory above the heavens” (Psalm 8:1). The heavens declare the glory of God, not only because they do His will, but because they are clothed with His glory. The glory of the sun when it shines in its strength is but the reflected glory of the Lord. That glory in which God dwells–the light which no man can approach unto–is partly revealed in the firmament. So it is true in the most literal sense, that Christ, the great Creator, is the Light of the world.
But grace and glory are equal and interchangeable. Thus we read that Christ is the brightness of the Father’s glory. The Revised Version has it, “the effulgence of His glory.” “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Ephesians 4:7). He is “full of grace and truth,” and “of His fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.” (John 1:14, 16). Therefore it is evident that grace and glory are the same in measure. When God gives grace, it is according to the riches of His glory; and when He gives glory, it is according to the riches of His grace. This will appear still more plainly.
There is power in the glory of God. Christ was raised from the dead “by the glory of the Father” (Romans 6:4). The inspired prayer for us is that we may be “strengthened with all power, according to the might of His glory” (Colossians 1:11, R.V.). What this power is, the heavens reveal. It is the power that holds them in their places. It is the power that they exert over the earth, the power by which all life is maintained. As we behold the glory of the sun, or of the heavens when they are studded with stars, and the moon is at her full, we may remember that they in their splendor are declaring the glory of God, and therefore are telling of the fullness and power of His grace, which is shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.
God’s glory is His goodness. The apostle tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Mark well that the coming short of the glory of God consists in the fact that men have sinned. If they had not sinned, they would not have come short of the glory of God. Therefore it is evident that the goodness of God is His glory. But it is by the goodness of God that men are saved. The apostle declares that it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance (Romans 2:4). And the psalmist says, “Oh how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men!” (Psalm 31:19). It is His goodness, or righteousness, which we are to seek, and which is put into and upon every one that believes. The goodness of God conceived the plan of salvation, and accomplishes the whole work of redemption. But “by grace are ye saved.” Therefore the grace of God is simply the manifestation to men of His goodness, and His goodness is His glory; therefore the grace and the glory of God are in reality the same thing.
“The Lord will give grace and glory.” When will He give these? Is it grace now and glory hereafter? No. He gives both now to those who take Him. He gives glory now in the form of grace, and grace hereafter in the form of glory. Hear the words of Christ, who is the brightness of the glory of God, when He prayed the Father, “Glorify Thou Me with Thine own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was.” Speaking of His disciples (not merely the twelve, but all who should believe on Him through their word), He said, “And the glory which Thou gavest Me I have given them” (John 17:5, 22). So that glory is ours now, if we will but have it.
When Christ came to this earth, His real nature did not appear to the most of those who saw Him. To them He was only an ordinary man. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” John 1:11. Yet He was the Son of God. Even so it is with those who through Him have received the adoption. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:1,2).
With this agree the words of the apostle Paul: “For our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself” (Philippians 3:20, 21).
Remember that Christ says He has given to His disciples the glory that the Father has given Him. That glory was once seen upon Christ when the three disciples were with Him in the Mount of Transfiguration. That same glory will be ours when he comes, although it does not yet appear. The brightness of His glory was veiled when He was on earth, and so it is in those in whom He dwells. But it is there nevertheless, only waiting the coming of the Lord to be revealed. And the apostle again says, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:16-18). Mark, the glory is to be revealed in us. The glory will have been there all the time in the shape of the grace of God, and when He shall appear, it will be revealed.
This also appears in these words: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:5,6). So the grace of the Lord has glory. It is glory.
But the interchangeability, or rather the identity of grace and glory, are further shown in these words: “God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved); and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).
That is, just as in this present time the glory of God is given to us in the shape of grace–grace according to the riches of His glory–so that we may be to the praise of the glory of His grace; even so in the ages to come, when the righteousness shall “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43), “the brightness of the firmament” (Daniel 12:3), with which they will be clothed, will only show forth the riches of His grace by which they were saved. The glory of the stars in which they will shine forever and ever will be but the flashing forth of the grace with which, in their mortal life, they were filled by the indwelling of Christ.
Note still further. We have learned that the goodness of God is His glory, and that it is with His goodness that He clothes us. Now read the further evidence that we, in this present time, receive glory from God: “But we all, with unveiled face reflecting as a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory even as from the Lord the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, R.V.).
The allusion is here to the face of Moses when he was conveying the words of God to the people. He talked with God face to face, as a man with his friend, and his own face became glorified by the glory from the face of God. Thus we are to reflect the glory of God. But as Moses “wist not that the skin of his face shone” (Exodus 34:29), so the one who is progressing from glory to glory in the light of the Lord will himself be unconscious of the transformation.
In view of the transforming power of the glory of God, how rich is the blessing pronounced upon the children of Israel: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: the Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).
Therefore, “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance. In Thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in Thy righteousness shall they be exalted. For Thou art the glory of their strength” (Psalm 89:15-17).
“Lord, Thy glory fills the heaven;
Earth is with its fullness stored;
Unto Thee be glory given,
Holy, holy, holy Lord!
Heaven is still with anthems ringing;
Earth takes up the angels’ cry,
Holy, holy, holy, singing,
Lord of hosts, Thou Lord Most High.”
“Jesus, hail! whose glory brightens
All above, and gives it worth;
Lord of life, Thy smile enlightens,
Cheers and charms Thy saints on earth;
When we think of love like Thine,
Lord, we own it love divine.
“King of glory, reign forever,
Thine an everlasting crown;
Nothing from Thy love shall sever
Those whom Thou shalt call Thine own;
Happy objects of Thy grace,
Destined to behold Thy face!
“Saviour, hasten Thine appearing;
Bring, O bring, the glorious day,
When, the awful summons hearing,
Heaven and earth shall pass away!
Then with golden harps we’ll sing,
Glory, glory to our King!