Firstborn Sons: Their Rights and Risks. By George Henry Lang. Miami Springs, FL: Conley & Schoettle Publishing Co., Inc., 1984. 233 pp. Hardcover, $14.95.
“Is it worthwhile to follow Christ? Does not being His disciple involve so great a loss and so much persecution and other trouble as to cause reasonable men to ask if it is worthwhile?” (p. 13).
These are the questions which Lang seeks to answer in this excellent study of the Scriptures. The rewards for faithful service to be given in the next age far outweigh the sacrifice and hardships of faithful obedience in this age. Lang’s work, originally published in 1936, is in this sense a predecessor to Hodges’ Grace in Eclipse.
Lang draws a clear distinction between justification by faith alone and sanctification by works of faith. Both works are rooted in the gracious work of Christ and the Spirit’s work in our life. Justification is a gift to be received freely by faith alone, while sanctification is a prize to be won by faithful living (p. 143). Though sanctification should follow justification, as God has made ample provision, such is not the case for every individual believer. Many choose to live for the “passing pleasures” of this age, and thereby fail to grow to maturity (p. 104). In such cases the believer, though eternally secure, fails to obtain those rewards which could be his, fails to attain to the first resurrection, misses out on the millennial kingdom, and fails to share in the reign and rule of Christ. The rewards of discipleship are great; they are available to every believer, in fact, they are his birthright, but he must run the race well to obtain them (1 Cor 9:24–27).
Lang’s approach is dispensational and premillennial. Conley and Schoettle have republished a number of his works, along with those of Robert Govett, D. M. Panton, and G. H. Pember. All of these men hold to a “selective rapture” position, that only the faithful believer will be resurrected or raptured to enter the millennial kingdom. Lang relies on such passages as “watch therefore” (Matt 24:42), “be accounted worthy” (Luke 21:36), “attain to the resurrection of the dead” (Phil 3:11), and “the first resurrection” (Rev 20:4, 5) for this position. The rest of the saved are resurrected at the end of the thousand years of kingdom rule and enter the “eternal kingdom” (p. 212). The publishers themselves felt constrained to add in the preface and in a concluding note their disagreement with this position. At the same time they affirm the great contribution these men have made in the past and can have on present students of the Word. This reviewer must concur with the publisher on both points.
Lang begins with an explanation of God’s kingdom program, and the place of Israel and the church (which are distinct) in that program. Israel as a nation will be the focal point of that future kingdom, with the Gentiles, through the church, sharing in the fruits of that era. The bulk of what follows is an examination of the glories of the millennial kingdom and the conditions for securing participation in those glories. Rewards include earning the title of “son,” being identified as part of the holy bride of Christ, inheriting the kingdom, ruling and reigning at Christ’s side, and increased intimacy with the Lord Himself. In reference to the “bride,” only the faithful believer who has kept himself unspotted from defilement (Eph 5:26; Jas 2:27) will be part of the glorious bride of Christ as pictured in Revelation 19. The bride is clothed in “the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev 19:8) and if one has not lived righteously how can one attain to that position, Lang asks? Extensive treatment is given to the following passages: Rom 8:14–17; Col 1:21–23; 2 Thess 1:5, 11; Phil 3:11, 12; 2 Tim 2:10–13; Heb 3:12–14; 6:1–12; 12:14–29.
Overall, this is a very helpful and challenging work. It clearly presents the privileges and risks of our birthright as children of God. Though one may not agree with all its particulars, it sharpens one’s focus of the kingdom’s rewards as motivation for faithful service. In all the striving for rewards Lang never loses the perspective of God’s grace as is evidenced by this statement: “No matter what is the privilege now known, or hereafter to be gained, all our standing and hope is based upon the atonement of Calvary” (p. 86).
Grace Bible Church
College Station, TX