We all know how abysmal things presently are. Nationally, we have become captives to irrationalism under the guise of modernity. Spiritually, the Church is blown about by every wind of doctrine. Cafeteria Christianity and Christianity Lite are the order of the day. Reformed Christianity is increasingly marginalised as antiquated traditionalism which needs to be either choked to death or tolerated as it expires. Or at least that is the impression that is given. We have been here before. What we need is a dose of biblical teaching and analysis that the patient (aka Church) may recover from its morbidity. There is no better remedy that to apply the salve of Edwards as presented to us in a much neglected book – The History of the Work of Redemption.
First, That no matter how bad things are they are part of God’s plan.
Edwards begins by noting two crucial facts. Firstly, that the enemies of the Church have a short life span. Secondly, the long term prospects for the Church always outweigh its present difficulties. Edwards basis this upon Isaiah 51:18. The present prosperity of the enemy is like a garment eaten by moths. However great their present glory, it is a fading one. By contrast the fruits of God’s work of salvation shall continue until the end of the world and into eternity itself.
Second, God’s design or plan is to regularly subdue the enemies of the Church until they will ultimately and finally be vanquished. All through history, argues Edwards, we see this pattern. An enemy arises, it prospers and enlarges to a great height, it even appears to despoil the Church to the point of extinction, only for God to overthrow that enemy and to exalt his Church.
This we see in the early chapters of Genesis. There is the gathering in of sinners after the fall, the pouring out of his Spirit to carry on the work of redemption, the eminently holy life of Enoch and the preaching of Christ by him. Yet, we see a general defection of the Church until it was reduced not only in size but in its integrity in the world. The Church that used to restrain the world instead became indistinguishable from the world and thus wickedness increased being no longer restrained. At this point God intervened by a great Flood in order to preserve his Church and to destroy the wicked. The great rage of Satan against the Church was checked. The worldliness that engulfed the Church was arrested. God could have saved the world had he wished, instead of drowning it, but that would have obscured his purpose in the world which was to glorify himself and exalt the Church. Thus the whole earth was given to Noah. God taking the earth from the enemies of the Church and giving the earth to the Church was consistent with his promise in Psalm 37 that evildoers shall be cut off whereas they who fear the Lord shall inherit the earth.
Later the Church again falls into great straits at the time of the building of the Tower of Babel. Significantly God renews his covenant with Noah, as if he is reminding us that however it goes in the world and however the Church is surrounded by great programmes for the advancement of humanity, it is HIS work alone that shall have the preeminence. And thus God destroys the work of the world as being inimical to his work and purpose for the Church.
Yet again we see the deterioration of the Church in the life of Abraham who had been reduced to idolatry. Thus the Church had virtually lost everything of true religion and the true worship of God. God sovereignty delivers Abraham from his sin and bondage and sends him to Canaan where he will in due course erect his Church and Tabernacle that it might be the instrument to declare the gospel in the world.
This pattern then firmly established in Scripture is repeated throughout the history of the Church in the Old Testament period that we may see it in the history of the Church in this world until the end of time.
As Edwards reminds us, look at the state of the Church when the Saviour came into the world. On the one hand we see the enemy exalted to a great height in the form of the Roman Empire, on the other the church is reduced to its lowest point. As Edwards puts it, God brought his visible people very low and made them weak; but the heathen that were his enemies, he exalted to the greatest height, for the more glorious triumph of the cross of Christ.
Perhaps it is here that we see Edwards’ thesis fully proven. As Acts reminds us, the whole world gathered against Christ (4:27,28) only to discover that the Christ they killed (3:15) has been exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour (5:31). Do we not see the grand work of the Trinity in the resurrection of Christ? The Father raised the Son. The Son raised himself. The Spirit raised the Son. Thus the Trinity is exalted.
What does all this mean for us? In the midst of darkness let us take courage. The heathen are exalted to great heights. The enemies of the Church are powerful, while the Church has sunk to great depths. Worldliness, apathy, pragmatism, error, superstition and idolatry abound even within the precincts of the Church. It is in this context that God shall overthrow these enemies and exalt His Church for he shall bring glory to himself. Glory to the Trinity.
What then shall we do? First we must read the Old Testament more frequently and often. How many think it is just a collection of wars. In reality this is proper history. We see that there is a metanarrative. There is a line, a course, a pattern and a model for us to follow in order to see the events of our time as they should be seen. Let us not be fooled by what passes for the news. It isn’t. Then too we need the eschatology of the Psalter in order to reinforce the centrality of God’s glory and the plan of salvation. As long as contemporary Christians sing fluff, guff and waffle so they will continue to embrace heretics, nonsense and entertainment.
Finally, read Edwards and the history of Redemption. It will do you good. It will lift the church from its downward gaze to glorious Scriptural things that have for too long lain neglected.