The Ransomed Returning Home
by Octavius Winslow
“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away”—Isa. 35:10.
The children of God are on their way to the
Father’s house. As spiritual voyagers they are homeward-bound. Heaven is the
place at which they will as certainly arrive as that Christ Himself is there.
Already the expectant of glory binds the “wave sheaf” to his believing bosom.
Faith is the spiritual spy of the soul. It travels far into the promised land,
gathers the ripe clusters—the evidences and earnests of its reality and
richness—and, returning, bears with it these, the “first-fruits” of the coming
vintage. “My soul hath desired the first ripe fruits:” and he who has in his
soul the “first-fruits of the Spirit, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the
redemption of the body,” knows something in his experience of heaven upon earth.
Ah! many a glimpse and gleam of the heavenly land dawns upon the Christian in
the darkness of his dungeon, in the loneliness of his exile, in the cloistered
stillness of his suffering chamber. Such was the rapture of a departing saint:
“The celestial city is full in my view. Its glories beam upon me, its breezes
fan me, its odours are wafted to me, its sounds strike upon my ear, and its
spirit is breathed into my heart. Nothing separates me from it but the river of
death, which now appears but as an insignificant rill, that may be crossed at a
single step, whenever God shall give permission. The Sun of Righteousness has
been gradually drawing nearer and nearer, appearing larger and brighter as He
approached, and now He fills the whole hemisphere, pouring forth a flood of
glory, in which I seem to float like an insect in the beams of the sun;
exulting, yet almost trembling, while I gaze at the excessive brightness, and
wondering with unutterable wonder why God should deign thus to shine upon a
sinful worm”—Payson. Thus, long ere the believer reaches the celestial city, the
evidences of its existence and fertility float past his barque, as manifestly as
did the tokens of a new world the vessel which bore Columbus to its shores. The
relation of present grace to future glory is close and indissoluble. It is that
of the seed to the flower—of the morning twilight to meridian day. Grace is the
germ of glory; glory is the highest perfection of grace. Grace is glory
militant; glory is grace triumphant. Thus the believer has two heavens to
enjoy—a present heaven experienced in the love of God in his heart, and a future
heaven in the fulness of joy that is at Christ’s right hand, and the pleasures
that are for evermore. We wish not at this stage of our work to introduce the
dark background of the picture, and yet we cannot withhold the passing remark,
that as heaven has its foretastes of happiness, its prelibations of glory, its
dayspring from on high in the heart of the regenerate, so has hell its dark
forebodings, its certain approaches, in the soul of many of the
unregenerate—some shadows of the “outer darkness” that will enshroud the lost
for ever. Reader, is it heaven or hell of which you have in your experience the
earnest? One drop of hell, one beam of heaven, can fill the soul with either!
And yet, though journeying homeward, we are but slow voyagers. Our barque often slumbers upon its shadow, as if anchored motionless in the still, calm waters within the haven, instead of cleaving the mighty billows, and speeding its way in full sail for the everlasting kingdom. Alas! how few there are who have an “abundant entrance” into the kingdom of grace below. They are, at best, but hangers upon the door of the ark; but borderers upon the land that freely flows with the fulness of a full Christ. Like Israel of old they “possess not their possessions.” There is much of the good land they have never explored. Much peace, much joy, much love, much hope, much in an advanced knowledge of Christ and of God, and of their interest in the Saviour’s love, and in the high and heavenly calling, attainable, but to which they have not attained; they have not apprehended that for which they are apprehended of Christ Jesus. They are oftener heard mournfully to exclaim, “My heart cleaveth unto the dust,” rather than in the more joyful strains, “O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest.” To help your soul heavenward,—to point the steps by which you may ascend nearer to God, and advance with quickened speed towards your eternal rest,—to encourage, cheer, and stimulate,—we proceed to expound the appropriate truths, and to unveil the winning hopes, by which the gospel of Christ seeks to promote our heavenly meetness, and to allure us to a world of perfect and endless bliss. We can scarcely select from the Word of God, as illustrating the character, the journey, and the prospects of the believer, a more striking and beautiful portion than that which we propose in the present chapter to open. “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away,” (Isa. 35:10.)
It is a most beautiful, expressive delineation of the character of the Lord’s people—“the ransomed of the Lord.” Mark how the Holy Ghost, whether speaking amidst the twilight of the Old, or in the meridian light of the New Testament, ever makes the Cross of Christ the grand central truth. Here is a designation, which involves great principles, and defines a distinct and separate condition of our humanity. It casts into the deepest shade earth’s proudest titles, eclipses the glory of all intellectual greatness, and out-bids the world’s dearest delights. Bring all the objects of sense, and all the discoveries of science, and all the achievements of intellect, and all the fame and distinction and glory for which heroes ever sighed, or which senators ever won and place it in focal power side by side with the salvation of the soul, and it pales into insignificance. But let us, in a few words, open up this high character—the “ransomed of the Lord.”
The word implies a previous state of bondage, slavery, and servitude. We speak properly of redeeming a captive, of ransoming a slave. Now the “ransomed of the Lord” are delivered from just such a state. By nature we are bond-slaves, the servants of sin, the captives of Satan. Christ’s redemption changes this state; it ransoms and emancipates the Church. It totally reverses our moral condition. It makes a freeman of a slave; a child of an alien; a friend of a foe; a saint of a sinner; an heir of heaven of an heir of hell. The atoning work of Christ brings us back to our original and unfallen state, while it advances us in dignity, glory, and safety transcendently beyond it. We receive by the second Adam all, and infinitely more than we lost in the first Adam. But look at the leading points in this process of redemption. The Ransomer is God,—the ransom price is the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus,—the ransomed are the whole election of grace. How striking the words of Jehovah—“Deliver him from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom.” It is the gracious exclamation of the Father. He provides the ransom. He found it reposing from eternity in His own bosom—He found it in Himself—“God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering.” Thus does the New Testament confirm the Old, while the Old Testament foreshadows the New. We read in the Epistle of John, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.” “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son.” Do not fail, beloved reader, to trace up your gracious springs to their infinite Fountain—God’s everlasting love. To stop at Calvary is to trace the river but halfway to its source. We admit that the spiritual traveller arriving at the cross finds a new world of grandeur bursting upon his view; but as he pursues his research, and learns more of the character, and heart, and purpose of God in salvation, there unfolds to his eye an expanse of moral scenery, clad in such tenderness, unveiling such sublimity, and vocal with such song, as infinitely transcends his loftiest thought or conception of the character, government, and glory of Jehovah. The Cross is the only stand-point, and Christ is the only mirror, where God can be rightly studied and seen.
From this glance at the Father, the originating source of our ransom, turn we for a moment to the Ransomer. No other being could have achieved the work but Jesus. No other ransomer was divine enough, nor holy enough, nor strong enough, nor loving enough. He was just the Ransomer for God, and just the ransom for man. Reposing one hand upon the throne of heaven, and the other upon the cross of earth, by the sacrifice of Himself He so united and reconciled God and man. Henceforth the cross and the throne are one, and will form the study, admiration, and praise of unfallen and redeemed intelligences through eternity. How clearly the apostle puts this fact of our reconciliation!— “And having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated, and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy, and unblameable, and unreproveable in his sight,” (Col 1:20-22.) And whence this costly and precious offering? The Word of God alone can supply the answer: “Herein is Love!” Love eternal moved the heart of Christ to relinquish heaven for earth—a diadem for a cross—the robe of Divine Majesty for the garment of our nature, taking upon Himself the leprosy of our sin, while in Him was no sin at all. Oh the infinite love of Christ!—what a boundless, fathomless ocean! Never was there, and never can there be, in the highest development of the affections, such love as Christ’s. Ask the “ransomed of the Lord,” whose chains He has dissolved, whose dungeon He has opened, whose liberty He has conferred, whose music angels bend to hear, if there ever was love like His! This is the love, beloved, we are so prone to question in our trials, to quench in our sorrows, to limit in our difficulties, and to lose sight of under the pressure of guilt, and in the writhings of Divine correction. Oh, whatever else you question, whatever else you doubt, question not, doubt not the love that Jesus, your Ransomer, bears you!
And what shall we say of the ransom price? It was the richest, the costliest, Heaven could give. “He gave Himself for us.” What more could He do? What less would have sufficed? It were, perhaps, an easy sacrifice for an individual to give his time, or his property, or his influence, or the expression of his sympathy for an object; but to give himself to sell himself into slavery, or to immolate himself as a sacrifice, were quite another thing. The Son of God gave not angels, of whom He was Lord; nor men, of whom He was the Creator; nor the world, of which He was the Proprietor; but He gave Himself, body, soul, spirit, His time, His labour, His blood, His life, His death, His all, as the price of our ransom, as the cost of our redemption. He carried the wood, and He reared the altar; then, baring His bosom to the stroke of the uplifted and descending arm of the Father, paid the price of our salvation in the warm lifeblood of His heart. The Law exclaimed, “I am honoured!”—Justice said, “I am satisfied!”—“Mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other”—and heaven resounded with hallelujahs. “Ye are bought with a price;” and what a price, O Christian! “Ye were not redeemed with silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” Bear about with you the vivid remembrance of this truth, that your whole life may be a holy thing—a pleasant psalm of thanksgiving and praise to God. How potent the argument, how touching the motive!—“I am a ransomed being; I am the price of blood—the blood of the incarnate Deity; therefore, and henceforth, I am to glorify Him in my body, soul, and spirit, who redeemed, disenthralled, and saved me.”
How is it that we feel the force and exemplify the practical influence of this amazing, all-commanding truth so faintly? Oh the desperate depravity of our nature! Oh the deep iniquity of our iniquitous hearts! Will not the blood-drops of Jesus move us? Will not the unknown agonies of the cross influence us? Will not His dying love constrain us to a more heavenly walk? Ransomed from the curse, from sin, and from Satan, brought out of Egypt with a high and outstretched arm, surely this should speed us onward, quicken our progress heavenward, and constrain us, with Moses, to “esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, having respect unto the recompense of the reward.” How ought we to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and to run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus,” and so speeding our way to the heavenly city!
We need scarcely remind the reader that the “ransomed of the Lord” compose the whole election of grace, the one Church of Christ, and the one family of God. What a uniting, sanctifying, and heaven-helping truth is this! The divisions, which sunder and separate the Church of God are human; the ties which bind and unite the Church of God are Divine. The many systems of ecclesiastical polity, and modes of worship, which present to the eye the Christian Church as a “house divided against itself,” are of man; but the affection and sympathy, the doctrines and the hopes, which create an essential oneness in the family, and domesticate the habits and intercourse of its members, are of God—and because they are of God, they shall never be destroyed. This truth is a heaven-helping truth. That which promotes our holiness, promotes our heavenliness; and growing heavenliness advances us nearer to heaven. If we walked more in love and fellowship and sympathy with the Lord’s people of each part of the one fold, we should have a sweeter cross and a lighter burden to carry. Are we not making more real and rapid progress in our heavenly course, and in meetness for heaven itself, when “by love we are serving one another,” rather than when in the bitterness of a bigoted and sectarian spirit we wrangle and dispute, “bite and devour one another?” Try the power of love, beloved reader—lay aside the prejudice, suspicion, and coldness which sunder you in fellowship and labour from other Christian communions than your own, and see if you may not, by sacred intercourse, mutual faith, prayer, service, and sympathy, gather the strength and the encouragement that shall accelerate and smooth your heavenward way. No grace advances the soul with greater force towards a heaven of love than love itself—whether it be love to man, or love to God who redeemed man. “The love of Christ constraineth us.”
And now let us consider the return home of the Lord’s ransomed; this truth will bring the beaming prospect of the Church of God more closely before us. “The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion.” The Church of God in her Babylonish captivity, hanging her harp upon the willows that drooped over the waters in which she mingled her tears, with her captivity turned, and brought again to Zion, is an impressive symbol of the Christian Church. We are in Babylon now, and prisoners of hope. But we shall return from our captivity ere long, and come to the heavenly Zion. Earth shall not always be our place of exile; we shall not always sing the Lord’s song in a strange land, nor always shed these tears, and wear these fetters, and endure those cruel taunts of our foes. Each trembling step of faith, each holy aspiration of love, each sin subdued, each foe vanquished, each trial past, each temptation baffled, is bringing us nearer and still nearer to the bright threshold of glory, upon which sister spirits stand beckoning us home. Oh yes! we shall return! We shall return from our first departure from our Father—from our exile from Paradise—from the strange land into which we were driven—from all our heart and household idols, from all our treacherous departures and base backslidings, from all our secret and open conflicts, from all our veiled and visible sorrows, from all that taints and wounds and shades us now. Every wanderer shall return—the lamb that strayed from the Shepherd’s side, the sheep that broke from the fold, the child that forsook the Father’s home, all, all shall return, “kept by the power of God,” secured by the everlasting covenant, restored and brought back by the unchanging love and faithfulness of the ever-living Head and enthroned High Priest within the veil. All shall return.
But one element of bliss yet remains to complete and consummate this return of the ransomed of the Lord—we refer to the final resurrection of the body. We do not adopt the frigid idea, as maintained by some, of an intermediate state, intervening between the present happiness of the saints and the resurrection of the body, during which the soul remains in a state of dreamy repose, and not in the full play of its perfected and enlarged powers, basking in the warm sunshine of the Divine glory. We rather adopt what we conceive is the more scriptural and pleasant idea of the believing soul’s immediate entrance into the glorified presence—that, “absent from the body, it is present with the Lord.” But we hold, at the same time, that the happiness and the glory of the saints are not complete until the ransomed soul is once more the occupant of the ransomed body, and that this reunion transpires on the morning of the “first resurrection.” This truth is written upon the page of God’s Word as with a sunbeam. What saith the Lord by the mouth of the prophet?—“I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction,” (Hos. 13:14.) And again, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead,” (Isa. 26:19.) How strong was Job’s faith in the glorious resurrection!— “I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shalt stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” Then comes the full redemption—the re-espousal of the ransomed body and the ransomed soul, both now identically and eternally one, celebrating the “marriage supper of the Lamb!” Glorious as the resurrection will be to all, especially glorious will it be to some of the saints. Their frames, now distorted by nature, paralyzed by disease, wasted by sickness, shall then feel the quickening touch of Christ—gentle as a mother’s kiss waking her infant from its slumber—and spring from the dust a spiritual body, refined and etherealized, vigour in every limb, symmetry in every proportion, grace in every motion, perfection in every sense—blindness shall no more dim the eye, nor deafness blunt the hearing—clad in a robe of light, rivalling the splendour of an angel’s form, holiness sanctifying, and immortality enshrining the whole. Shall this be thought by you a thing incredible? He who is the “Resurrection and the Life” will accomplish it. His word is given, His power is engaged, His glory is involved, and His own resurrection is a pledge and “first-fruits” that He “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.”
And whither shall we return? “To Zion.” That Zion which John saw and described:—“And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” And still the Lamb is the central object, whatever the apocalyptic vision John beheld. Jesus is ever in the midst of His churches—His golden candlesticks—standing up in His divine majesty, and in His invincible strength, for the children of His people. Around Him cluster His ransomed ones, all sealed in their foreheads—open, and manifest, and visible to all—with the new name which adoption gives, whereby they cry “Abba, Father.” Then, there is the music with which the ransomed of the Lord shall return to Zion—“with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads.” The songs of the believer are often mingled with sighs and groans in this vale of tears; it is a blended song we sing, of “mercy and of judgment.” But no, harsh discordant notes will mar this new-born anthem. We shall sweep no strings that jar, and touch no chords that respond not to the diapason note of glory. Joy, now sadly interrupted, will then wreath our brow as a diadem. Chanting music, crowned with joy, we shall take our places with the sealed of God on Mount Zion. “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” What expressive and joyous words are these! Sorrow without and sighing within, make up much of our chequered experience here on earth. What a blended history is ours! We commence our day with a heart freshly tuned, breathing its morning hymn of praise so sweetly; but ere the sun that rose so brightly is set, what shadows have deepened around our soul! and we lay an aching head upon our pillow, thankful that the blood of sprinkling cleanseth from all sin. But from the heaven to which we are going, all sorrow and sighing will for ever have passed. The shadows will have dissolved, sin will be effaced, sighing will cease, sorrow will be turned into “fulness of joy,” and heaven will be resplendent with undimmed and unfading glory, and resound with a new and endless song. Is not this heaven worth living for, worth suffering for, worth labouring for—nay, if need be, worth a thousand martyrdoms?
“A captive here, and far from home,
For Zion’s sacred courts I sigh:
Thither the ransom’d nations come,
And see the Saviour ‘eye to eye.’
“While here, I walk on hostile ground;
The few that I can call my friends
Are, like myself, with fetters bound,
And weariness my path attends.
“But we shall soon behold the day
When Zion’s children shall return;
Our sorrows then shall flee away,
And we shall never, never mourn.
“The hope that such a day will come
Makes e’en the captive’s portion sweet;
Though now we’re distant far from home
In Zion soon we all shall meet.”
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