HELP HEAVENWARD by Octavius Winslow

The Ransomed Returning Home

“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, end 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 pledges of its reality and richness—and, returning, bears with
it these, the “first-fruits” of the coming vintage. “My soul has
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 odors
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 before the
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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 intro-duce
the dark background of the picture, and yet we cannot with-hold
the passing remark, that as heaven has its foretastes of happiness,
its preibations 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 forever. Reader,
is it heaven or hell of which you have in your experience the ear-nest?
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 m 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 Savior’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
cleaves 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
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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 end-less
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 q/ 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 Spirit, whether speaking amid 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 outbids
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 bondslaves, 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
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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
burned 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 has 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 traveler 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 standpoint, 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
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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 has he reconciled in the body
of his flesh through death, to present you holy, and unblameable,
and unreproveable in his sight,” (Col 1:2022.) And where 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 labor, 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 honored!”—
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Justice said, “I am satisfied!”—“Mercy and truth met together, righteousness
and peace kissed each other”—and heaven resounded with
hallelujahs. “You are bought with a price;” and what a price, O Christian!
“You 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 does 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
communion of its members, are of God—and because they are of
God, they shall never be destroyed. This truth is a heaven helping
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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 labor from other Christian
communions than your own, and see if you may not, by sacred
communion, 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 main “ The love of Christ
constrains 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 before 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
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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 move 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.” If his truth is written upon the page of
God’s Word as with a sunbeam. What says 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 your plagues; O
grave, I will be your destruction,” (Hos. 13:14.) And again, “Your
dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise.
Awake and sing, you that dwell in dust: for your 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 lives, and that he shall 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
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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, vigor 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, rivaling the splendor 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 where 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 newborn 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
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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 before 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 cleanses from all sin. But from the heaven to which we
are going, all sorrow and sighing will forever 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 laborings for—no, if need be, worth a thousand
martyrdoms?
“A captive here, and far from home,
For Zion’s sacred courts I sigh:
There the ransomed nations come,
And see the Savior ‘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.”