I am currently reading “Thoughts on the Whole Prophecy of Isaiah” by B.W Newton. He can really get on some tangents. On one particular tangent where he severely undermines the dispensational propaganda that was coming out of Plymouth Brethren, he touched on a theme that caught my attention. The refutation of the separation of OT saints from the church is excellent, but it’s the use of the phrase “church of the first-born-ones” that really got me to thinking.
If the church is the assembly of those “first-born”, this would have serious implications on my theology of the future, I guess meaning my eschatology. Of course this would point to Christ who is the first-born, but we will take His image as first-born ones. Newton relates this to the Millennial Kingdom whereby others will be saved during that time.
The following is a lengthy quote from Notes on Chapter 6. I have attempted to keep it in its original format as much as possible. The only exception is where Greek and Hebrew are printed in the original since I don’t possess the ability to type those characters in. In those cases the parentheses enclose a (…). Italics and caps are his denoting emphasis. Enjoy.
It has been frequently asserted, that in Scripture the Old Testament saints are nowhere called “the body of Christ”. Now, even if this expression were not applied to them in Scripture, we can dispense with the expression if we can show that all the characteristics of the “one body” are declared to pertain to them in glory. There is, however, a remarkable passage in Isaiah where they are called Christ’s “body”. Jerusalem, as the corporate representative of Israel, is addressed, and it is said to her in words of future promise, “Thy dead shall live, my dead body they shall arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” In this passage the dead saints of Israel are called Christ’s mystical body – “my dead body”, and as such, they are to arise out of death, and to live. See Isaiah 26. 19.
Again, is Abraham, to whom circumcision was given as the seal of the covenant of promise (for circumcision was not of Moses, but of the fathers, John 7. 22) – is Abraham to have primarily “the sign and the seal” of that Covenant of blessing, and yet to be excluded from all that that sign denotes – from all that that seal pledges? Circumcision denotes separation from the flesh. It denotes severance from all that naturally characterizes us as children of “the first man, who was earthy”, and indicates the attainment of a new and unearthly condition of being, such as is seen in “the Second Man” – “the Last Adam” glorified. The bestowment of unearthly glory in a new creation was that which God pledged to Abraham when He gave to him the sign of circumcision. He thereby covenanted that He would finally, by the operation of His own faithful grace, bring Abraham, and all who had been or should be of the faith of Abraham, into that newcreation-glory into which flesh and blood cannot enter, where there is nothing according to the flesh, but where all is according to the Spirit; in other words, where all is according to Christ glorified. Christ by His death and resurrection hath secured this for all those of whom He is the Representative and Head. He has borne them through judicial death into the glory of the new creation. “He is the head of the body, the Church: who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things he might have the pre-eminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell…. for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are filled to the full (…) in him who is the head of all principality and power: IN WHOM ALSO YE ARE CIRCUMCISED with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ [i.e. by a circumcision received by means of Christ]. Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through faith in the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” Col. 1. 18 and 2. 9-13. Let any one ponder these words and say whether all the anti-typically circumcised (and not to be anti-typically circumcised is to be left in the 7uncircumcision of our flesh and to perish) whether all the anti-typically circumcised are not by this passage declared to be in Him in whom as “Head of the body the Church” (for it is in this character that He is spoken of throughout the passage) it hath pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell in order that they (the anti-typically circumcised) might “in Him be filled to the full”. Unless then we say that Abraham was not anti-typically circumcised – unless we can show that he was left among the uncircumcised to perish, we must admit that he, and all others who are of faith, are “in”, and “filled to the full in Him who is the Head of the body the Church”. Can we say of such, that they are not in “the body the Church”?
When the Apostle too speaks of Christ as “the first-fruits of them that have fallen asleep (…, see I Cor. 15. 20), these words emphatically designate the Old Testament saints, for they, not we had fallen asleep when Christ rose. It is a description, therefore, that pertains not to us, but to them only. From other passages, however, we learn that we are not excluded from the blessedness of being able to say that Christ is our “first-fruits” also: for immediately afterwards the Apostle teaches us that ALL who are Christ’s at His coming, shall, at that coming, rise in the likeness of His glory. It is true of Abraham, and true of all who are in this dispensation brought to Christ, that we shall be “Christ’s at His coming”. It is as true, therefore, of Abraham as of ourselves, that “as we have borne the image of the heavenly”. Is there any blessing higher – any more distinctive than this – the being raised in the likeness of Christ?
How can they who are all equally “like Him”, differ in their powers of knowledge, or love, or service? We are expressly taught that all who are Christ’s at His coming, shall be raised in His likeness, and that because they are “like Him”, they shall “all see Him as He is”, and all “know even as they are known”. They shall alike have all perfectness of love towards God, and towards one another: otherwise, they could not be all “like Christ”. We are accustomed to say that “we believe in the communion of saints”. Now, the communion of the saints in glory is based upon their common likeness unto Christ. It flows from the unity granted to them all in Him. How could there be communion between those whose sensibilities, and powers of thought and affection and feeling, were different? How could there be communion between the redeemed, if some were admitted into a circle within which others had no ability, or else were forbidden, to enter? In Heave, we shall have no wish to narrow the circle of blessedness – no wish to occupy a sphere of thought and feeling from which Abraham, and David, and Daniel, are excluded. We shall not then desire to cavil at the truth so distinctly declared to us in Scripture, that the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem, is “the mother of us all”. Gal. 4. 26.
Again, as Christ is called “the first-born from the dead” (…. Col. 1.18) See also Rev. 1. 5), so they who rise in the first resurrection when Christ comes, are called “the Church of the first-born-ones” (…) – “first-born” in relation to those who, being brought into the fold of faith during the millennium, shall rise at the close of that period, when the whole Church will be complete. Consequently, all who are Christ’s at His coming (and is not Abraham Christ’s?) will rise at His coming, and be therefore included in the one “CHURCH of the first-born-ones”. Unless we exclude Abraham from the first resurrection he must belong to the “Church of the first-born-ones”.
They who reject this most blessed and vital doctrine of the unity of the redeemed in glory, are accustomed to say that the Church of this dispensation is in Scripture called “the mystery”. Now, even if this were so, it would afford no foundation for their theory. But it is not so. Many things connected with the history, both of the Church, and of Israel, and of the nations, are called “mysteries” (one mystery is “the mystery of iniquity”): but it is not true that either the Church as a whole, or that part of it which comes within the present dispensation, is itself called either “the mystery”, or “a mystery”. When the Apostle, in the third of the Ephesians, speaks of the mystery that had been hid from ages and generations, but which was then (specially though not exclusively) by his ministry being made known, what does he declare the mystery to be? Does he say that it consisted in the shutting out of all the saints who have preceded us from “the one body”, and from “the household of God”? He says the very reverse. He says that we of the present dispensation obtain our blessings by being incorporated into the “commonwealth” of those who had preceded us. We dogs of the Gentiles had been “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise”, but we were to be shut out no longer. We are incorporated finally and fully into the one “commonwealth” (Eph. 2. 12 – the “one body” (Eph. 2. 16) – the one “household” (Eph. 2. 19), and are builded into the one spiritual building, part of the foundations of which had been laid by the Prophets, part by the Apostles, but of which the Lord Jesus had now become the chief corner-stone, so bringing into association and unity the two lines of foundation. For the true commonwealth of Israel – the true possessors of the Covenants of promise, were not they who bore merely the outward name of Israel according to the flesh, but they only who were of faith, whether Jew, or whether Gentile, they, and they only, compose “the Israel of God”. With them we are, through grace, incorporated in unity of everlasting blessing. This is the mystery which the second and third chapters of the Ephesians unfold. Rome’s effort to nullify the tenth of Hebrews is not more daring than is the attempt made by the system we are considering, to nullify the doctrine of the second and third of the Ephesians.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman