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“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. . . . For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11: 8, 10).
NOTWITHSTANDING THE prevalent tendency of the British population at large to appear cynical and suspicious of sentiment, there are evidences that a romantic idealism still lurks under the surface. The euphoria on the last night of the Promenade Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall is an evidence of this surviving sentiment, when all raise their voices and their flags to join in Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, known in Britain as “Land of Hope and Glory”, the patriotic chorus that has long been a firm favourite in these islands. The words are by Arthur Christopher Benson, 1861-1925.[fn]
A fervent love for the place of one’s birth is natural. As Christians owing allegiance to a heavenly kingdom, we are not commissioned to criticise those with a spirit of patriotism for their homeland, and historically this has promoted a measure of peace and order which otherwise could have been greatly disturbed. In recent generations, of course, the shifting of ethnic groups and the vast increase in world travel has somewhat fractured the historical scene, resulting in the emergence of what has been termed “the global village”. With some exceptions, men’s minds and hearts are not large enough and generous enough to consider the interests of humanity as a whole, but in past centuries it was well that a degree of common interest bound the individuals of a country into one homogeneous society, furthering their united progress along the various lines of mutual well-being.
But the good of this is in many instances offset by national selfishness, greed, pride and ambition, so that the sentiments of patriotism in each nation often reflect animosity and hatred toward neighbouring countries. There is little in the politics of nations that is purely unselfish.
Selfish patriotism should never activate the conduct of a Christian. None of the kingdoms of this world are founded in perfect righteousness, nor are they able or willing to devote their energies toward the elevation and blessing of mankind in general. And since they are all to a considerable extent under the dominion of the prince of this world, Satan, our chief loyalty must be reserved for the only government worthy of our devotion – the Kingdom of God – to be established in that greater Land of Hope and Glory, which in due time shall bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12: 1-3).
The concept of a worldwide kingdom, a dominion extending to the uttermost reaches of the earth, embracing the welfare of all races of the human family, may appear to many as a fantasy rather than a reality, and perhaps even to many Christians, an impossible dream. Yet a major feature of Jesus’ ministry at His first advent was the preaching of the Kingdom of God, sometimes called the Kingdom of Heaven, and the prayer “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is still repeated with fervour wherever Christians gather together (Matthew 6: 10). Our Lord’s kingdom message did not signify a change of plan on the part of God. Rather, the advent of the Jewish Messiah marked a major advance in God’s already-declared purposes, first for the Jewish nation, but ultimately for all mankind. Jesus announced, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8: 56). The Apostle Paul also linked the unfolding Christian era to the time of the Jewish forefathers:
“The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ . . . The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds’, meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed’, meaning one person, who is Christ. . . . If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3: 8, 16, 29).
The fulfilment of the Divine promise was to the patriarch Abraham a matter of the utmost faith. The prospect of a national homeland for his posterity, however desirable, did not cloud his vision of the far loftier significance of the Oath-bound covenant God had made with him and had confirmed with Isaac and with Jacob. Called the Father of the Faithful, Abraham longed for that righteous government and realised that it would be an everlasting kingdom. In a certain sense he foresaw the sacrifice of Christ pictured in the sacrifice of Isaac, and seeing also the day of Christ, the Millennial day for the world’s blessing – he was glad.
What is hope? Briefly stated, it is a quality of the human disposition based on desire and expectation. Where there is no desire, hope is not active. Where expectation is absent, hope cannot survive. In hope there is manifestly a crucial element of faith, defined for Christian believers in Hebrews 11: 1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
When in due time Jesus came to the Jewish nation as the promised seed of Abraham, there were few that retained the faith of their forefathers or the deeper vision embodied in the Oath-bound promises. So the Scripture records that “his own did not receive him” (John 1: 11). There were a few, one here, one there, who still believed, who were looking for the Messiah, and these he addressed as a “little flock” (Luke 12: 32). Yet even these faithful ones had at first only a limited grasp of the Divine purpose, and when their Lord was put to death as a common criminal they were utterly distraught: “. . . we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24: 21).
They had hoped – and by God’s grace they hoped again. During the weeks from the Crucifixion to the day of Pentecost, their faith was greatly tested, as the risen Lord imparted to them truths they were as yet scarcely able to comprehend. Seeing their perplexity, He had sought to encourage them during those last solemn days before His death: “the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14: 26). The baptism of the holy spirit not only brought to their remembrance all that the Master had taught them. It also opened their minds and hearts to a progressive understanding of the deep things of God, setting a seal on that faith which was so pleasing to the Heavenly Father.
So the Apostle Peter briefly summarised the Christian hope:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1: 3-5).
While the Crucifixion at first seemed to shatter the hopes of the disciples, they later saw that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to the hope of eternal life, and the outworking of the Abrahamic promise that all the families of the earth would – in due time – be blessed.
It is entirely appropriate that the New Testament was written chiefly for those who would aspire to the Heavenly calling, those who would be members of the body of Christ, under Jesus their Head. These are given a new birth and an inheritance in Heaven. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness . . . he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1: 3, 4).
Not all people are destined for Heaven. When God created Adam and Eve, it was never intimated that they would eventually die and be transferred to a spiritual existence in some distant galaxy. Their intended future was to be eternal life on this planet. “The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man” (Psalm 115: 16). The failure of our first parents to meet the reasonable conditions imposed upon them brought them and their offspring under a just sentence of death, and the Scripture records that the earth itself was also cursed as a result of their disobedience.
Praise God for the assurance that the earthly paradise is to be restored! “This is what the LORD says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. . . . I will glorify the place of my feet’” (Isaiah 66: 1; 60: 13). In many respects this earth is already glorious in our eyes. But where neglect, abuse and selfish plunder has taken its toll, there will be much opportunity for the resurrected human family to exercise their restored talents under the righteous administration of that new age. Our Lord Jesus is King of that Land of Hope and Glory, all authority in Heaven and earth being vested in Him (Matthew 28: 18). Those who join in singing the words, “Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set”, are echoing the promise of Isaiah 9: 7: “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Christopher_Benson. The tune itself (without the words) is better known in the United States and Canada as the one played at the ceremony of graduation from the final year of high school.
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