THE PRIVILEGE OF SEEING THE UNVEILED GLORY OF GOD THE FATHER
By Dr. David L. Cooper
Biblical Research Monthly
"FOLLOW after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord: looking carefully lest there be any man that falleth short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby the many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one mess of meat sold his own birthright" (Heb. 12:14-16).
According to verse 14 in this quotation, without sanctification no man shall see the Lord. Immediately we see from this passage the great importance of sanctification. What is this that is absolutely essential to our seeing the Lord? In the Old Testament the Hebrew words rendered "sanctify" and "sanctification" primarily indicate "a setting apart" from a common to an uncommon use. This significance may be seen by the fact that certain things, such as the tabernacle together with all the vessels thereof, were sanctified. When, therefore, any object was set apart for a sacred service, it could never be used for ordinary, profane purposes. We see that this usage does not connote any moral or spiritual significance. When, however, these terms were applied to men who possessed moral and spiritual characteristics, the fundamental idea of these words implied a life of separation and devotion to God. In the New Testament this same idea appears.
Since at the same time the people of God are regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit, the moral and spiritual elements loom more largely in these words.
Sanctification, like salvation, has three tenses. We were saved, when we accepted the Lord Jesus Christ by faith (Titus 3:4-5); we are being saved now, in that we are being kept by the power of God (Acts 2:47 marginal reading R.V.; I Peter 1:5; Jude 1:1); and we shall receive the end of our faith "even the salvation of your souls" (I Peter 1:9). In the same manner we were sanctified, when we accepted the Lord through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb. 10:12). At the same time, by the one offering of Christ, God has "perfected for ever them that are being sanctified" (Heb. 10:14, literal translation). Moreover, we shall be sanctified perfectly when we appear in the presence of the Lord. Salvation--the regeneration of the heart and the implanting of the new nature in the soul--is accomplished when one accepts Jesus Christ as Saviour. To the brethren at Philippi Paul gave the following exhortation:
"So then, my beloved, even as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). God in-works salvation at the time of our accepting Christ. We are exhorted to work out into practical life the salvation which He imparts to us. This point I may illustrate by one who has musical talent. God implants this gift at birth; but one having such native ability can never be a real musician unless he by practice works out that which was implanted in his soul. In the same manner one must work out his salvation in a godly and consecrated life of worship and service. What is said of salvation in this passage is likewise true of sanctification. It is something that is imparted to us but must be worked out in daily living. Sanctification is not something concrete or objective as salvation. It is rather a state or condition of the soul. One can by "'taking time to be holy" develop and grow in sanctification.
Let us avoid the mistaken idea that sanctification is the result of an instantaneous act of God whereby the old nature is eradicated and the person is rendered immune to sin or sinning, for "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). A glance at the original text of this verse shows that John literally said, "If we say that we have not sin, we deceive ourselves," etc. A knowledge of the error which John was refuting illuminates this passage greatly. The Gnostics, whose errors John was combating, claimed that they had had an experience which had eliminated sin from their very beings. In reply to this heresy John stated that the one making such claims is deceived and does not have the truth of God. From this and other statements in the Word, we see that "the old man" is not eradicated by some instantaneous work of grace. On the contrary, the Adamic nature remains alive and active and must be put in subjection and under control by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:1-17).
IT IS evident that the New Testament teaches a holy and consecrated life.
For instance, our Lord said, "Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). In Romans 12:1,2 we have this language: "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God." The Lord did not exhort his people to do something which is beyond their power. Of course, they of themselves cannot "prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God" except as they yield to Him and allow Him to strengthen them by his Spirit in the inner man. Paul claimed that he was living a victorious life in Christ, for he declared, "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20). From this passage we see that it is possible for one to yield his life to Christ and allow Him to have perfect sway and control. From Ephesians 1:3,4 we learn that God has given us all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. This statement is in perfect alignment with one by Peter: "seeing that his divine power hath granted to us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue" (II Peter 1:3).
From Philippians 2:14-16 we see that it is possible for Christians to "become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation." Many are the statements in the Scriptures which confirm this position.
Let no one conclude that, since the Scriptures teach the possibility of a victorious life, one can be brought into a state of perfection by some sudden experience. One is to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.
From Hebrews 5:11-14 we learn that the Hebrew Christians who were addressed in the epistle had made little or no progress in the Christian life. They were babes whereas they, by reason of time, should have been full grown men and women in the Lord. Their difficulty was that they were rankling about the first principles of the oracles of Christ. They were standing for the fundamentals but were not interested in making progress and development in the Christian life. Paul, therefore, exhorted them to cease laying the major emphasis upon these fundamental principles and to go on to perfection. This, he asserted, they would do if God permitted--if God spared their lives so that they could grow in grace and the knowledge of the truth.
In Hebrews 12:14 he exhorted the same group of Hebrew believers to "follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man shall see the Lord." What is the meaning of this passage? We understand what peace means and what is following after peace, but what is the meaning of the statement that without sanctification no man shall see the Lord? Who is meant by "'the Lord"? Is this a reference to Christ or to God the Father? We know that the word in the original text sometimes refers to one and on other occasions to the other.
We are told in the Scriptures that Christians will see the Lord Jesus and be like Him and with Him. For instance, in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 we are told that Jesus will come for His saints, raising the dead and catching up the living saints to meet Him in the air. This promise concludes with the statement that we shall ever be with the Lord. John tells us that we shall see the Lord Jesus, for "We know that, if he shall be manifested, we shall be like him; for we shall see him even as he is" (I John 3:2). Without doubt Christians will see the Lord Jesus, because they will be associated with Him; for Paul declares that all believers will be translated at the rapture (I Cor. 15:51,52). Since all Scripture harmonizes and since all the saved will see Jesus, we must conclude that He is not referred to in Hebrews 12:14. Moreover, since God the Father is referred to by the same expression in the original, it is quite obvious that the one here referred to is the Father.
IF THIS is the meaning of the sentence under consideration, we conclude that only those who "take time to be holy" will be capacitated and qualified to go into the presence of God the Father and behold His unveiled glory--a privilege that cannot be granted to any and everyone. In order to redeem man, the Lord Jesus laid aside the glory which He had with the Father, took upon Himself the form of man, and dwelt among us. When He was thus veiled, man could come into His presence and suffer no harm. No one can see God in His unveiled glory and live. After Jesus was raised from the dead, His human body was immortalized and glorified and still remains as a veil to His glory in order that redeemed man may be with Him forever and ever.
It is entirely different with God the Father, who never laid aside His glory and did not veil Himself in mortal flesh. As stated above, only those who thus grow in grace, the knowledge of the truth, holiness, and sanctification will be qualified and be permitted to enter into the presence of God the Father and observe His unveiled glory.
CHRISTIANS are to bear fruit. The fruit which God appreciates most highly is that of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23). The qualities mentioned in these verses are those which are produced in the life of the one who is yielded to the Spirit. Those who are thus surrendered and who allow Christ and the Spirit to dominate their lives will grow in grace and develop into the state of sanctification without which no man shall see God.
Let no one misunderstand this teaching and confound it with good works--laboring in the Master's cause. Men will be rewarded according to their deeds. It seems that the special privilege of seeing the Father's unveiled glory will be granted to those who thus grow and develop in sanctification.
I shall not be dogmatic in this interpretation. It seems to me, however, that it is the most probable one that takes all of the facts into consideration. Let us pray therefore, for further light on this most important theme.
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