I must not assume, dear reader, Christian though you may be, that you have the Christian hope. Doubtless every one who is not an infidel accepts as a fact that the Lord is coming again; but that is a very different thing from having it as a really lively and active expectation in the heart. For most of God's people even yet, it is to be feared that that coming is too far away to be anything else than dim and inoperative. The practical thing - I cannot call it hope with them - is death, which is actually looked at indeed as the coming of the Lord, or at least, if it be not that, something just as good as that. Proposing then, if the Lord will, to look, in a series of papers, at what for us is contained in or dates from His coming, and (in our next) to quicken our anticipations by the consideration of its probable nearness, I feel that I must first of all briefly review the Scriptural evidences for the hope itself.
(1.) That death is the Lord's coming I need say little about. It is but the assertion of those who think themselves wise enough to substitute their own terms for those of Scripture, not one passage of which can be produced, even seemingly, to justify it. "If I will that he tarry till I come,"- the Lord's words as to the apostle John,- would be reduced to simple folly by reading them, "If I will that he tarry till he die"; and the report that went abroad among them that heard it, "that that disciple should not die," unwarranted as it might be, still shows that with them Christ's coming was the very opposite of dying. So the common quotation, "Watch, for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come;" is part of a long prophecy, which, if any one believed to be a prediction of believers dying, it would be really vain to reason with such.
Death is departing to be with Christ, not His coming to us at all; and such texts as "We shall not all sleep," and "We which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord," show the very opposite anticipations to those in the minds of masses now.
(2.) A providential coming, whether to destroy Jerusalem or for whatever else, is not at all more satisfactory as an interpretation. In Luke xxi., the destruction of Jerusalem is Woe, the coming of the Lord, not at it; and in Mat xxiv. 15-31, there is no destruction of the city at all, and it is after the tribulation the Lord comes.
Nor could that be providential judgment in which the Son of man comes in the clouds of heaven, with all His angels, in power and great glory, sends His angels to gather His elect from the four winds, receives the wise virgins, rejects the foolish, and separates the sheep from the goats among the nations.
(3.) A coming by the Spirit will not fulfill these indications either, whether that be placed (as it is variously, at Pentecost, or as yet future, and to introduce the millennium. As to the last, moreover, a future spiritual coining is additionally unscriptural Spiritually. He is here, and not to come.
(4.) There remains the literal unforced rendering of the words, the only thing that is really worthy of Him who does not use ambiguous speech with those to whom as to His children He utters what is in His heart. Other interpretations are but the fantasies of wise and learned men, which the simple have learned from them, no doubt, but which they could never have originated.
(5.) This coming is premillennial, and in order for the blessing of the earth, although judgment upon those who are destroying it must clear the way for blessing. This is proved abundantly by many passages, too many even to enumerate: it is part of the web and woof of Scripture.
I can specify but a few.
The apostle tells us that "the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord," and, as to the way of it, that "He shall send Jesus Christ, whom the heavens must receive until the times of the restitution of all things,"- the times of restoration, not after they have been restored (Acts iii. 19-n).
It is Israel's conversion that is to be life from the dead to the nations of the world (Rom. xi. rn); but Israel is nationally converted only when they look upon Him whom they have pierced; and that is, when "He cometh with the clouds, and every eye shall see Him" (Rev. 1) Zech. xiv. gives us the coming of the Lord in the very midst of Israel's final trouble. His feet standing on the Mount of Olives, and all His saints coming with Him; and in that day the Lord is King over the whole earth; there is then to be one Lord, and His name one. Rev. xix. gives us first of all the marriage of the Lamb in heaven, and upon His wife the fine linen, which is interpreted to be "the righteousness of saints." Then He comes from heaven with His angels, upon which the same fine linen covering the bride is seen. Then there is the judgment of His human, and angelic (xx 1-3) enemies; and then the saints reign with Christ a thousand years before the resurrection of the rest of the dead, and their judgment (xx.). But this connects with a line of truth which must be separately noticed.
(6.) The resurrection of the saints is always connected with the coming of the Lord, and separated not only in character but in time from that of the wicked. The text just quoted, people object to as figurative. There is a vision, no doubt, (what the apostle "saw,") but there is also the interpretation of the vision: "this is the first resurrection" is the interpretation of the vision, and not figure at all; as also what follows in the 6th verse.
But the doctrine of the first resurrection is not based upon this text alone. It is everywhere distinguished in the New Testament as "the resurrection from the dead" (not from death merely); a special, selective one. Thus in the Lord's answer to the Sadducees, "those that shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection from the dead . . . are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection" (Luke xx. 35, 36).
Again, in a passage which speaks of the very "order" of the resurrection, it is said, "Every man in his own order, Christ the first fruits, afterwards they that are Christ's, at His coming" (I Cor. XV. 23). What more misleading, if all were to rise at once?
The idea that only martyrs are spoken of is from want of distinguishing between two separate companies, which are really mentioned, the persons sitting on thee thrones as first seen (and who are not raised first then), and the "souls of those beheaded," etc. The devil I cannot go into here.
(1.) Instead of the Church being destined to convert the world, the coming of the Lord is to be the judgment of Christendom, which by the removal of the wheat becomes simply a tare-field, as the parable I refer to shows, and Israel; not the Church, converted as we have already seen, becomes that which "blossoms and buds and fills the face of the earth with fruit" (Isa. xxvii. 6). That it is Israel, literally, to which these, and the Old Testament promises generally, belong, the apostle Paul states in the plainest terms (Rom. ix. 3, 4).
This hurried and imperfect statement should suffice to show that the coming of the Lord is not an unpractical doctrine at least, but connects itself with a number of important truths. To call any Scriptural truth unpractical is to dishonour the love that has made it known to us, and to ignore the fact that truth links itself with truth, as error with error. And how little unpractical can that truth be which is to characterize our attitude as Christians: "Let your loins be girded about and your lights burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord, when he will return from the wedding, that when he cometh and knocketh, ye may open to him immediately" (Luke xii. 35, 36)! How the Lord Himself appreciates such a spirit of watchfulness, the words that follow in this chapter sufficiently declare.
But let us trace a few of the practical consequences which flow from the real reception of this truth; for we are bound to admit that it may be as inoperative as any other whatever may be, if the mind alone, and not the heart, be concerned with it. If the heart be in it, it is not too much to say that its influence will be exerted over the whole walk and ways. In the first place, then, as to the gospel itself, the reception of the true doctrine of the Lord's coming clears it from all suspicion of legality with which the common view almost of necessity imbues it. For, His coming being put off to the end of the world, the resurrection and the judgment of saint and sinner are necessarily thrown together. All stand at the same time before the Judge to be "judged according to their works," and, by a sentence given upon this principle, are received to everlasting blessedness or depart to everlasting fire. In this case who but must hesitate to account his salvation a settled thing before the judgment of the great day settles it? And if that be still according to works, what good of talking about our present justification or salvation being "not of works?" "Enter NOT into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord," is the psalmist's cry: "for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified!" But how can we even plead, "Enter not into judgment," when we know, in fact, He will enter into judgment, and that with His servants; and then, what? if the psalmist's words are true.
Now I do not pretend here to take up the texts out of the confusion of which this doctrine has been manufactured; they will come before us in due course. But it is plain that the doctrine of a pre-millennial coming, and of the resurrection of the saints a thousand years before the wicked, separates widely and at once between these two, and takes the saints out of all possibility of coming into the judgment according to their works, which will be the portion of the latter. Nay, the character of the resurrection and its connected events clearly separate them, as the saints are "raised in glory," and caught up to meet the Lord in the air, before He even appears to the world at all: for "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory" (Col. iii. 4). Certain it is, then, however and whenever we shall (as all shall) "give account of ourselves to God," no question can be raised as to the title to glory of a saint who is dedared a child of God by being a child of the resurrection, and already glorified!
But again, as to our character here, what more suited to keep our hearts out of the world than the assurance that He may come at any moment actually to take us out of it and introduce us into all the joys and glories of the Father's house? People ask, I know, does not the knowledge of an ever-impending death act in the same way and with equal power? I ask them in turn, can they really believe it does? and do facts show that it does? The very enthusiasm that they often deprecate as connected with the expectation of the Lord's coming, do they often have to complain of such enthusiasm as connected with death? Even to him who is able to say, with the apostle, that "death is gain," and "to depart and be with Christ is far better," (and doubtless every Christian may and should be able to say that,) death is not, and cannot be, what the coming of the Lord is. Death is the dropping of the body, not its redemption. It is personal gain, which may be almost balanced to one's mind (as in the apostle's case) by others' loss. The coming of the Lord is pure gain, pure joy, and no loss whatever. It is the confirmation forever of every spiritual tie. It is the blessing of all believers from the beginning of time. It is the time for which the Lord Himself is waiting, as the gathering of His own purchased people,- the fruit of the travail of His soul. It is the time too when He shall take His great power, and bring to an end the misrule and disorder under which the earth so long has groaned - the time for which creation looks as for its enfranchisement.
The assertion that death is as powerful a lever as the Lord's coming for the soul, comes only, in fine, from those who have never known what the latter is; and I think I may safely add, who think it scarcely worth the trouble to inquire. The Lord Himself has settled, for him who will listen to His word, what couples itself with the thought that He delays: "If that evil servant shall say in his heart, my Lord delayeth His coming, and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken." And has not this effect followed in the Church's history? Who that knows anything about it will say that it has not? A third practical consequence connects itself with this. If the world, according to the common thought, is to be gradually leavened with the gospel, of necessity its character will be changed in that proportion. The numerous scriptures, too, which speak of the "course of this world" being "according to the prince of the power of the air,"- of "all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,"- of the world treating the disciples as it treated the Master, and kindred things to these, cease to apply in the present day, as they did of old. Conformity to the world becomes proportionately more in place, and in a Christian world perchance even a duty. And when, to supplement and confirm all this, the promises of earthly blessing to an earthly people, Israel, are taken as applying literally to a people who belong to heaven,- the climax of carnal ease and self-indulgence is simply and surely reached.
How different all becomes when we are made to see the real future of the professing Church, and that He who is at the very door judges this alliance with the world only as departure from and lukewarmness to Himself! If Christendom is to be judged and not approved, how earnestly shall I take His word to test the whole state and condition of things around! how little being with the multitude of even his professed followers will assure my heart as to my path being with Him!
Be assured, beloved reader, the truth of the Lord's coming is one of the greatest practical importance to the Christian. To make light of it is to make light of Christ's own reiterated and emphatic testimony to His people, and to walk by the light of our own wisdom, gone astray from Him. How emphatically, just at the present time, He is calling upon us to awake to the reality and nearness of His approach, we shall, if He permit, consider in our next.