Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things…
1. Restitution means the setting up again of that which has been thrown down. When a fallen pillar is restored to its position; or a plant, blown down, or crushed, regains its upright attitude; when a building, overthrown, is rebuilt — there is a restitution.
2. In the universe there has been a great overturning. The course of history seems to be a succession of failures — God setting up, some other power casting down. And, apart from revelation we could not tell what the end of all things would be. In the Word of God we have the assurance of a restitution — a setting up again of all things — a restoration out of the old, but higher than the old — the same and yet different. "The city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof."
I. THE RESTITUTION OF NATURE. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth — garnished with wisdom; blessed with love; and, surveying the whole, He pronounced it very good. But through the introduction of evil, a curse soon fell upon creation, and the earth underwent some change, in respect of its beauty and fertility. The world is regarded as full of beauty, notwithstanding its barren deserts, etc.; but had sin never entered, it would have been a scene of order and peace far surpassing our conception. The Cosmos we behold bears traces everywhere of great convulsions; and in this respect nature has been called "a born ruin." There are revolutionary forces which, if let loose, would rend creation asunder. Meantime these forces check each other; only occasionally are we reminded of their power by a quaking of the earth, or a peal of thunder. But the day is coming when these forces will overleap their present bounds, and involve universal nature in a catastrophe. The two agents appointed by God to work great physical and moral revolutions are water and fire. God has already employed water to change the face of the earth, and the current of history. The other agent to be employed in the destruction of the world is fire (2 Peter 3:10-14). Part, then, of the restitution of all things consists in the restitution of nature. In the beginning of revelation we see God's first work set up, but soon thrown down, or marred. In the end we read of its being set up again in higher form: "I saw a new heaven and a new earth," etc. The first creation was cursed, but in the second creation "there shall-be no more curse." The first creation has thorns and thistles, but with regard to the second, "Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree," etc. The restitution will be not merely a return to primeval beauty, but the introduction of a far higher beauty. For then "the light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun," etc. Involved in the restitution of nature is the restitution of Paradise, "The Lord God planted a garden," etc. In this there was a perfect combination of the useful and the beautiful. It had trees "pleasant to the sight and good for food." A river, also, went out of Eden to water the garden. And so in the midst of Paradise restored there is "the tree of life, with twelve manner of fruits," etc., and "a pure river of water of life," etc.
II. THE RESTITUTION OF MAN. This is intimately connected with the restitution of nature, as Paul shows in Romans 8:1. Look at man in his first estate. He was made in the image of God in nature and will. He possessed the glorious but perilous gift of liberty. And how did he demonstrate his freedom? Not as God had done in the production of good, but as Satan had done in the production of evil. He showed himself to be free by an act that destroyed his freedom. He was a broken creature, smitten with death. Being spiritually dead, temporal and eternal death was the necessary result. Besides, when man lost the image of God, he lost the sovereignty of nature, and having this dominion, he must have had powers vastly greater than those which remained with him after the fall. But man, the broken image of God, is to be restored. Man, the dethroned and prostrate monarch of nature, is to be reinstated in his sovereignty. This restitution begins in time, as a renewal of the spirit. At the resurrection the body is set up again in a far higher form, like the glorified body of the Redeemer. Then, too, the image of God being perfectly restored, man will enter on his true sovereignty again. The believer will be made a king and a priest to God.
2. All this was seen to be accomplished in Christ, as the representative man. He took up the work at the point of ruin to which man had brought it, and from that regained all that man had lost. He magnified the law which man had despised; and fulfilled all righteousness. He encountered the tempter, and defeated him. The first temptation took place in a garden, and the result was that man was driven into the wilderness. Jesus resumes the conflict in the wilderness in order to restore the garden. He Himself is the image of God, and shows that He is in possession of the lost sovereignty over nature. When He was in the wilderness it is recorded that He was with the wild beasts, who lost their ferocity and rebellion in His presence. In this we have a passing glimpse of man's returning dominion over the lower creation; of the time when "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb," etc.; just as His miracles, manifesting His power over inanimate nature and the body of man, were a prophetic fulfilment of the great aspiration and effort of the human mind to regain the mastery of nature.
III. THE RESTITUTION OF SOCIETY. We find much reformation wanted here. Next to the great question — How shall man be just with God? — is the question, On what terms shall he live with his fellow-men? It is the problem of government. Next to the salvation of the individual is the construction of society. The disturbing element in humanity does not lie primarily in forms of government, but in the individual soul; and, therefore, all attempts to regenerate man from without, by ameliorating his circumstances merely, or placing him under a new political arrangement, have failed; for the root of all rebellion is the unrenewed heart. For a machine to work perfectly — even supposing the machine itself to be perfect — there are required honest and competent men to work it; and, therefore, Christianity begins with the individual, and regenerates society from that point.
1. The first form of society is that of the family. Here we have the nursery of all other forms. If families are godless the Church cannot be prosperous. If they are immoral the city cannot be safe. If they are dis-organised the State cannot be strong. But what a dark tragedy broke up the first society of this kind! As we come down the stream of sacred history, we see that God always sets up His work again in the midst of some particular family. In the family of Noah the race makes a new start. In the families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a new covenant of grace is established. In the family of David the kingdom of the Jews is confirmed. In the house at Nazareth the foundation of Christendom is laid. But existing families are ever being broken up and dispersed. The institution itself, however, is a Divine idea that cannot perish, and in the restitution of all things the family reappears. God is revealed as the Father of Christ, "of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named."
2. Next to the family is the city. Cain, who destroyed the first family, was the founder of the first city; an acknowledgment that man was no longer at home with nature; a city being a fortified place, surrounded by walls, to keep out intruders. Now, what man founded, God has adopted. After His people had wandered in the wilderness He led them to the promised land, and there built that famous capital of the old theocracy, Jerusalem. It was called the City of God, the Holy City. But it was ultimately visited by a terrible overthrow. "But the city shall be built on her own heap." In the restitution of all things a new Jerusalem rises into view, "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Christ has gone to the unseen world to prepare many mansions for His people; and in the revelation given to John there are glimpses of "That great city, the holy Jerusalem."
3. Next to the city is the empire, or union of cities and states. Very early the idea of universal empire took possession of the human mind, and in the immense tower erected on the plain of Shinar we have the first embodiment of that idea. In the very attempt to make such a huge confederation they were more divided than before. Their impious attempt brought down upon them a judgment that revealed their real but originally-hidden incongruities. Thus the first Babel prophesied the fate and gave its very name to subsequent systems, political and religious, which have attempted the impossible task of founding a universal empire, or Church on a false and godless principle. In itself, however, the idea of a universal empire is not false but true. The true tendency of the world is to reach a confederation of men, or parliament of the world, notwithstanding national differences. The discoveries of science and the reciprocities of commerce are aiming, consciously or unconsciously, at this stupendous result; which, however, they cannot gain by themselves. The highest end of science and commerce is to herald the kingdom of Christ, which carries in its bosom the highest law — the law of God, and the charter of universal freedom. The idea of the Church is that of a universal brotherhood under the fatherhood of God; and the realisation of this is the splendid goal of humanity. Christ is King of kings and the Lord of lords, and everywhere it is foretold that His kingdom will be universal and eternal.
(F. Ferguson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.