Samuel Rutherford was a Puritan who pastored in Scotland in the 1600’s. He was persecuted by the government for his Biblical beliefs, and was banished from his church. Rutherford is noted for many things, including his famous “Letters” he wrote to a number of his congregants while he was in exile — and also for the last words he uttered on his death bed. Just before he died, Rutherford was heard to whisper: “Glory, glory dwelleth in Emmanuel’s land!” What was this “glory” that Samuel Rutherford looked forward to in his last moments here on earth, and how can we know that we have it ourselves? Our verse for today talks about that glory:
“It was for this he called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thessalonians 2:14)
I. The Glory Lost
The “glory” of God is His “majesty,” His “splendor.” One calls it “the unspoken manifestation of God” (Strong’s). John Piper says God’s glory is really beyond our ability to describe, but pressed to give it a definition, he would say: “The glory of God is the infinite beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections.” It is His holiness and beauty and greatness as it shines forth, and it brings joy and fulfillment to those who can experience it. It is literally beyond human description.
Moses asked God in Exodus 33, “Show me Your glory” – that is the unspoken desire of every human being, to see this glory – but God told Moses that he could only hide in a place in the rock and see the least part of His glory pass by, because if he saw His glory in its fullness he would die.
When Paul says here that through the gospel we can “GAIN the glory of our Lord Jesus” it implies that we do not now have this glory. And that is just the case. And the reason we don’t have it, is our own sin.
God made us to know His glory, to share with Him His glory in heaven. Jesus said in His High Priestly Prayer of John 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, SO THAT THEY MAY SEE MY GLORY …”.
God created us to experience this glory with Him in heaven forever. Psalm 16:11 says “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” The glory of the presence of God will give us pleasure and joy. Psalm 17:15 says “As for me, I will behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” The presence of the glory of God is what will ultimately satisfy us forever. It is what makes heaven, “heaven”: the continual presence of the glory of God.
But the problem is, mankind lost the access to that glory by our sin.
Have you ever thought about what Romans 3:23 means when it says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”? We quote that verse all the time, don’t we? But what does it really mean, that because we have all sinned, we “fall short of the glory of God?
It means that we LOST that glory that God made us to experience with Him. It means that we CAN’T go to heaven to be with Him, like Jesus prayed. It means that we can’t have fellowship with God and be thrilled and fulfilled by His glorious presence the way we were designed to be. It means we have been cast OUT of the Garden, and the glory and the fellowship of God. “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.”
Soon we’ll be reading the Book of Ezekiel in our daily Bible readings, and we’ll come to Ezekiel 10, where, after Ezekiel preaches against all the compromise and sin in the house of the Lord, among those who should have been the people of God, and :18 says that “the glory of the LORD departed” from the Temple, because of the sins of God’s people.
This is so symbolic of what happens when we sin:
— Sin causes the glory of the Lord to depart from us;
— Adam & Eve’s sin caused them to be cast out of the Presence of the Glory of the Lord in the Garden of Eden;
— Moses’ sin caused him to be able to see only the smallest part of God’s glory
— In I Samuel 4, when Israel in the Promised Land had departed from God’s ways, the Philistines defeated them in battle and the Ark of the Covenant was taken, and the high priest’s daughter in law gave birth to a son, whom she named “Ichabod,” meaning, “the glory has departed.” God’s glory had departed from His people because of their sin.
— The sin and compromise of Israel caused the Glory of God to depart from the Temple in Ezekiel.
— And it is the same with the sin of every one of us. Our sin, II Thess. 1:9 says, will cause us to “pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord, and the GLORY of His power.”
See, that’s what hell is. Hell is not just bad because it’s a burning fire. The worst thing about hell is that you are eternally separated from the only thing you were ever made to be ultimately satisfied by: the glory of God.
This is what it means, that we have sinned, and “fallen short of the glory of God.” It means that our sin has caused us to be cast out from God’s glory.
In John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost,” he describes the fall of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, and how because of their sin they were expelled from that place, and from the presence of the glory of God:
In either hand the hastening angel caught
Our lingering parents, and to the eastern gate
Led them direct, and down the cliff as fast
To the subjected plain; then disappeared.
They, looking back, all the eastern side beheld
Of Paradise, so late their happy (home),
Waved over by that flaming (sword), the gate
With dreadful faces thronged and fiery arms: …
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”
Such sad lines that close that poem. They were cast out of that beautiful Paradise. But what a vivid picture of what our sin does: like Adam & Eve it casts us out of the Garden; it makes “Paradise Lost;” It fells us short of the glory of God.
II. The Glory Regained
But the good news is that those of us who have sinned, like they did, may yet gain the glory of God. Paul writes here:
“It was for this that He called you through our gospel, that you may GAIN the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God’s glory lost, may yet be “gained.” This Bible word means to “obtain, to possess.” It is the same word used in Eph. 1:14 and I Peter 2:9 where the Bible speaks of us as “God’s own possession.” God possesses US, and in the same way we may yet possess and obtain the glory of God. THIS is what happens when the gospel is received in a life.
Over and over the Bible tells us that when we are saved, we gain back the glory of God that we lost when we sinned:
— Psalm 73:24 “With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me TO GLORY.”
— Isaiah 60:19 “No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; But you will have the LORD for an everlasting light and your God for your GLORY”
— Isaiah 66:18 describes the end of all God’s works, and says: “And they shall come and SEE MY GLORY.”
— Jesus told Martha in John 11:40, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the GLORY of God?”
— Romans 9:23 “And He did so to make known the riches of His GLORY upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for GLORY.”
— I Peter 5:1 Peter calls himself: “a partaker also of the GLORY that is to be revealed.”
— I Peter 5:10 “The God of all grace, who called you TO HIS ETERNAL GLORY in Christ …”
— And Revelation 21 closes the story of the Bible by saying that the new Jerusalem would come down out of heaven, “HAVING THE GLORY OF GOD”!
Over and over the Bible tells us that the end result our salvation is that we will get to experience that glory of God which will satisfy our souls.
Verse 10 of the first chapter of this book talks about the return of Jesus and our gathering to Him, and says: “when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be MARVELED at among all who have believed.”
We are going to MARVEL at God’s glory forever. I finished reading David McCullough’s acclaimed biography of the Wright Brothers last week (now I am ready for another trip to the Outer Banks — I need to see Kitty Hawk & Kill Devil Hills and all the Wright Brothers stuff there!).
But he wrote about how when Wilbur Wright was finally able to fly, a reporter asked him what it was like. He said “The sensation is so keenly delightful as to be almost beyond description. Nobody who has not experienced it for himself can realize it. It is a realization of a dream so many persons have had of floating in the air. More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace, mingled with the excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost — if you can conceive of such a combination.” Perfect peace/and excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost. Multiply that by a BILLION, and that may be something like what we will experience with the glory of God in heaven.
Jonathan Edwards said it like this: that the glory of God in Jesus Christ will produce “a soul-satisfying happiness answerable to the capacity and cravings of our souls.” Everything we need to make us perfectly happy and completely satisfy the “cravings of our souls” will be fulfilled by the glory of God in heaven.
We will enter again the glory that we had lost at Eden.
The glory of God will again be among His people.
“Paradise Lost” will be “Paradise Regained.”
We will have gained back the glory of God.
III. The Path To Glory
“It was for this He called you THROUGH our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
HOW do we get to that glory of the Lord Jesus Christ? Paul says we get it “THROUGH our gospel.”
The word “gospel” literally means “good news.” When Paul says “our gospel” he means the genuine “good news” message that he and the apostles were preaching, as opposed to the “false gospel” ideas which some were teaching, that human effort can get you to heaven, instead of by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
Paul said in Galatians 1:4 that “his gospel” is “the Lord Jesus Christ … gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this evil age.”
Paul said in Galatians 2:20 that “his gospel” was “faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Salvation in “his gospel” is not based on what we can do for God; but on what GOD did for US through Jesus Christ.
That is why the gospel is such “good news.” We don’t have to earn it or perform some amazing deed in order to get it. You don’t have to climb Mt. Everest, or make a 36 on your ACT; you don’t have to have perfect attendance at church or do any such great deed to earn it. God did it FOR us through Jesus, and He GIVES it to us as a gift.
But the Bible tells us that this gift of the gospel is the only path to glory. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” There is only one way to that glory.
In the mountains of Peru there is a massive temple complex called Macchu Picchu that was built by the Inca Empire as a place to worship the sun. It is an amazing complex, with walls built of massive stones and no mortar, which fit so precisely together that you cannot fit a needle in between the stones. Once you have made your way up the winding mountain trails, and enter the complex, you come to the Temple itself. But there is only ONE entrance into that Temple; there is only ONE door which everyone who enters, must pass through. If you want to enter that Temple, you must go through that door; there is no other way.
Now someone might say I am being very narrow-minded, or prejudiced, or whatever, but that is simply a fact: there is only one entrance into the Temple of the Sun in Macchu Picchu.
And in the same way, the Bible tells us that there is only one way into the eternal temple of God in heaven. There is only one door. Jesus said in John 10:7, “I am the door.” He said in John 14:6, “I am the way … no one comes to the Father except through Me.” That is not being “narrow-minded;” that is not being “prejudiced,” or anything else. It is just the truth. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Our sins separated us from the glory of God, and if we want to regain access to that glory, there is only one possible way to do it: you must have your sins forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. That was the only possible means of salvation. That is why God went through the costly sacrifice of becoming a man in Jesus Christ, and dying on the cross with the weight of our sins on His body; that is why when Jesus was facing that death and He cried out, if there is any other way, let this cup pass from Me — but He was sent to the cross because there WAS no other way that sins could be forgiven, than the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross.
That is why Jesus said, “I am THE way.” There is no other. That is why the apostles preached in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else. There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” There is only one way to glory: and that is through Jesus Christ.
That’s why Paul said in Galatians 1 that if anyone preaches another gospel, let him be accursed — because there really IS no other gospel; there IS no other way to heaven. Anything else that is offered, other than salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is a deception and will NOT get you to glory.
So the most important question of your life is: ARE YOU ON THAT WAY?
— Do you realize that you were made to share the glory of God in His presence?
— Do you realize that your sin has separated you from that glory of God?
— And do you believe that Jesus has made the way for you to come BACK to the glory of God, through His death on the cross for your sins?
— And if so, then are you willing to commit your life to Jesus as YOUR Lord & Savior, and follow Him through whatever hardships you may encounter in this life, in order to receive the surpassing greatness of the glory of God in heaven forever?
If you will, then you can be confident that one day, you will experience that “soul-satisfying happiness” Jonathan Edwards talked about, which will satisfy every craving of your soul, and you will see the glory of God.
About 200 years after Pastor Samuel Rutherford’s death, a Scottish pastor’s wife wrote a hymn using Rutherford’s last words as its key phrase: “Glory, glory dwells in Immanuel’s land.” (Some of you may have heard these words put to music in a hymn):
The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks,
The summer morn I’ve sighed for,
The fair sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory — glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
The King there in His beauty,
Without a veil is seen
It were a well-spent journey
Though seven deaths lay between;
The Lamb with His fair army
Doth on Mt. Zion stand
And glory — glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
Deep waters cross’d life’s pathway,
The hedge of thorns was sharp;
Now these all lie behind me —
Oh! For a well-tuned harp;
Oh! To join Hallelujah
With yon triumphant band
Who sing, where glory dwelleth,
In Immanuel’s land.
I really wish that what the old hymn calls “this poor, lisping, stammering tongue” could do a better job of describing to you the glory of God. But I am comforted by the thought that God’s Spirit has put true some sense of it into the heart of every true believer. I Peter 1:8 says: “though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of GLORY …”.
That tells me that I don’t have to convince you of this; that you have a sense of it, to at least some degree, in your heart already. Some of you know what I am talking about. You have a sense of that glory, don’t you?
— You can’t “see” it; because no eye has ever seen it
— You can’t “hear it; because no ear has ever heard it fully described
— You can’t even totally imagine it; because it hasn’t even entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for us there.
But every believing heart has at least some sense of that “glory” that has been planted there by the Holy Spirit of God, and though you don’t know all about it, you know it is going to be “marvelous”; it will be beyond our imagination.
A few days ago Jane Rice told me that Janet Branch’s sweet father, Wade Powell, who has been in College Pines nursing home for some time, was near heaven, so I went to see him, and Janet there. When I arrived Janet had stepped out of the room for a minute and so I talked to Mr. Powell for just a bit. After I prayed, I leaned over and said to him, “Mr. Powell, soon you will be in glory: where ‘In His presence is fullness of joy; and in His right hand there are pleasures forever.’” I said to him: “You’re going to be there soon! It’s just around the corner!”
I have to admit, as I said that to him, and thought about the glory the Bible talks about, I was a little envious of where he was about to get to be. We should be a little envious, shouldn’t we?!
“Glory; glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.” We lost that glory in our sin, but through the gospel of Jesus we get it back. And if we’re on that one road to glory, we can stare death in the face with a smile, and say like Samuel Rutherford: “Glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land!”