I GREATLY value the truth which we are here to consider, as affording a test of faith. Man is naturally a religious animal. I do not know how this will be accounted for by those who believe that he is developed from that mythical ancestor with a tail and pointed ears; for the evolutionist is face to face with the fact that it is as natural to man to have religion as it is for him to walk upon two feet. Well, one result of this is that everyone has a creed. This is not true only in a Christian country, it is true in every country. But we who have been born in a Christian country, and have grown up under Christian teaching, have of course a Christian creed. Now, I repeat, I value this truth of the Coming, because it enables us to test the reality of our faith in a simple and definite way. With a large number of people the Christian creed points back entirely to the past. But Christianity is not belief in a dead Christ, nor even in a living Christ, if we stop there; but in a Christ who died, and rose again, who is now at the right hand of God (Romans 8:34), and who is coming again. And let all of us, this evening, who profess to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, ask ourselves the question: Do we believe in His coming again?
You remember how, in the first epistle to the Thessalonians (iv. 13-18), the apostle speaks of the great truth of the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ, not as something which they had not received, but as something which was in the very warp and woof of their Christianity, and which he needed to bring up only to make it real and practical to them in circumstances of bereavement and sorrow. He reminds them that in that coming there will be a reunion of all those who have believed on Him. They had turned to God from idols, as we read in the first chapter, "to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven." Are we waiting for His Son from heaven? Pardon me for putting the question more directly. You profess to be a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, are you waiting for Him? Is this fact, that He is coming back, as real and as essentially a part of your creed as the fact that He died and rose again?
In the first epistle to the Corinthians, again, the apostle says (xv. 51), "I shew you a mystery" — 'I tell you a secret,' we might phrase it, because that is the meaning of mystery. It is not something that cannot be understood, but something which is only understood by the initiated, which we cannot know except it be given us. The word in its classical use pointed to those ancient systems into which people were initiated, just as we have secret societies in our day. It is not but that any clown can understand their secrets — that is not the element of mystery — but that no one can know them till he is initiated. Just so with this truth. It is a secret. Paul then goes on to say, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump." It is commonly accepted as one of the most certain things that we shall all die; the secret that God tells us is that we shall not all die, but that we shall all be changed.
Now I want you to notice, first of all, that this is not an eccentricity — if I may so describe it — in our religion, but an essential part of our hope, to become part and parcel of ourselves in regard to our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps it may be well, in passing, to notice that passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews (ix. 27), where he says, " It is appointed unto men once to die," 'Therefore,' you argue, 'this is a Divine ordinance, in the enforcing of which there can be no exception, and from which there can be no deliverance.' Yes, that is the way you argue when you take a statement altogether out of its connection. What it says is this: "As it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear a second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:27-28)."
As a parenthesis within a parenthesis I may explain this also; for people read it as though "appear the second time" meant "at His Second Appearing." But that is not what it says at all.
The truth of the passage is the high priesthood, not the Coming. And when mention was made of the high priest going into the holiest with the blood, the mind of the well-instructed Jew at once reached on to the fact of his being seen by the people to come out again, a pledge and proof that the blood-shedding had been accepted. And he goes on to explain that this is but a type of one of "the good things to come," (Hebrews 9:11; 10:1) that the Lord Jesus Christ, as surely as He has been seen by faith by every believer, as a sin-bearer, so surely will He be seen a second time by every believer apart from sin, "unto salvation." It is the word used for the appearances of the Lord Jesus to His disciples during the days when He still lingered upon earth, between His resurrection and His ascension. "He was seen of Cephas," " He was seen of five hundred brethren at once," and, as the apostle says, " He was seen of me also." (1 Corinthians 15:5-8)
But now look at this again. As "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many," so by those that look for Him — characteristic of His people — "shall He be seen a second time, without sin unto salvation." Here are the two co-relatives of death and judgment. There is a judgment-seat of Christ before which His people shall stand, to receive the things done in the body (2 Corinthians 5:10); but here He is speaking not of that, but of the great ordinance imposed upon our race: first, death; secondly, judgment. For the believer these two find their realisation; the one in the death of Christ, and the other in His being seen again "without sin unto salvation." It is absolutely untrue that death has any claim upon any one of His people.
I wish Christians understood this more. We are so accustomed to the sick-bed and the grave, that we fail to realise what an outrage and an anomaly all this is to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. I was reading this morning the ninth chapter of the Acts, where Peter called back Dorcas from death to life, and it struck me that there roust have been an overwhelming sense of this in the infant Church, when death made its first inroad into their number. They realised what an outrage, what an anomaly it was; and there, in the power of faith, Peter called back the dead to life. It is not our part to imitate his act, but let us not lose the sense of the Divine power, and of the reality of our redemption in Christ, which led him to do it " We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed." It is the present state of things which is anomalous, our having to lie down in death, and then to wait for the resurrection. The normal condition of things is that here described, when at the Lord's coming death shall be swallowed up of life, and, instead of being unclothed, "we shall be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven (2 Corinthians 5:2)."
The Certainty of the Hope
Now this is the hope which is to be ever kept before us. The certainty of that hope! Do not, I beg of you, ever allow it to be connected in your mind with any question of chronology. I feel that in these Advent Conferences there is a danger, lest we should try by startling words or by appeals to what is going on in the world, to make these things more real. God's word needs nothing of the kind to give it entrance into any heart that is true to Him. And while we cherish this as a present hope, let us be prepared if it so please God to live out our life on earth, and lie down to rest, passing on the hope to those who come after us, unprejudiced by the delay, whether it be of years, or of centuries, for "He is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness (2 Peter 3:9)." When I hear a word quoted against a truth, I often find it is the strongest passage that can be appealed to in its favour.
The third chapter of the second epistle of Peter is an instance of this. "There shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His Coming?" Now how could that scoff arise if His people were not speaking of the promise of His coming? And God Himself here takes it up and endorses it, that there is a promise of His coming, and that His people are right in cherishing that promise, and looking for it. Instead of telling us that we are wrong in this, He gives us an answer to meet the scoffers with. What the scoffer says is, that "since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." In these things, as in other spheres of argument most people are apt to be silenced by a bold statement, the answer God puts into our lips is to challenge the Statement altogether. They wilfully forget this, He declares that great judgments came upon this earth in the past. And a great judgment is coming upon this earth in the future. In the same epistle we read (i. 16), "We have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eye-witnesses of His majesty." "The power and the coming." It was not His first coming in the flesh that is here spoken of; it was that foretaste they had on the holy Mount of His coming in glory, when all His people shall see Him. They were "eye-witnesses of His majesty," - and they heard that voice from the excellent glory, that testimony from God Himself. Fellow Christians, you and I are heirs of these promises, and we are looking to see that which Peter and James and John saw upon the holy Mount. We shall know His "Power and Coming."
And let it be a hope to keep us from the evil in an evil world, and to prevent us from being blinded or deluded amidst the circumstances in which our daily life is spent.
The Reasonableness of the Hope
And surely all this applies to us with intense emphasis, on account of the special characteristics of the day in which we live. This brings me to speak of the Reasonableness of the Hope. You believe in the power of Almighty God, and in His boundless love, and His infinite wisdom. And as you look out upon the world, and see all that is passing day by day around you, are you never filled with wonder that the heaven above is silent? What proof can you give to one who rejects and refuses the public proofs of God's presence, and even of His existence? Do not misunderstand me. People say there are no miracles nowadays. There are miracles, I make bold to say, wrought within these walls, greater than that recalling the dead to life. Greater and more wonderful than even when our blessed Lord called Lazarus from the grave, is the miracle of dead sinners being born again to God. Why, what is calling the dead from the grave compared with this, the calling of the dead in sin to life in the Lord Jesus Christ? And this miracle you and I have received proof of, and it is a reality to us. But when you go to the scoffer or the agnostic and speak to him about this miracle, he ignores it and refuses to accept it. When you point to the heavens and tell him they are God's handiwork, he sneers at you. You appeal to the proofs which Nature offers of Divine power, but he can account for them all on scientific grounds. How then are you going to prove that God exists? And presently he turns the tables on you, and, pointing to all the wrong-doing and misery in the world, from man in his high position right down to the brute creation, wallowing in a vast sea of suffering and cruelty inflicted one upon the other, he asks, "Where is your God of love, and wisdom, and power, and why does He not intervene?"
I said something like this lately at a meeting of this kind, and I had a letter about it the other day from a Christian minister. He says, "I am not well pleased with your remarks. You say if you should prove yourself as indifferent to wrong-doing in London as God appears to be, you would soon get the right-about-face. Do you imply that God does not reign in His own world?" Well, what answer am I to make to that? I will answer it boldly, and say, Yes, I not only imply it, I assert it. There is a moral government of the world truly, for that God never can give up. But is God reigning in this world? Why then all this sorrow? Why then all this suffering? Why then all this tolerated sin? Ask yourself the question, If you had power to put things right, would you permit them to go on as they now do on every side? Then what is the solution of the mystery?
Turn with me to the book of the Revelation. We read, in the tenth chapter and the seventh verse, that the mighty angel sware by Jehovah that "in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, as He hath declared to His servants the prophets." This is the mystery of God, a great secret, the explanation of which He gives us in His word. And now let us turn the page, and see what happened when the predicted event took place, when the seventh angel sounded. In the eleventh chapter and the fifteenth verse we read, "The seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying "— I give it as it is in the original — "the sovereignty of this world is become our Lord's, and His Christ's; and He shall reign for ever and ever." But, you say, has not God got all power? Yes, truly, but read what follows: "And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their thrones, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, saying, We give Thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because Thou hast taken to Thee Thy great power, and hast reigned." God truly has the power; the mystery of God is that He does not take it, that He does not exercise it. But this is not to be for ever. There is a time coming when He will take and enforce His power, when, as the 18th verse declares, He will openly judge the evil and reward the good; in a word, when He will do that which men taunt Him with not doing now, and this it is which calls forth the praise of those wonderful beings enthroned around the throne of God.
Is there some Christian here who is conscious of still being filled with wonder and confusion of mind at the thought that God has all power, and yet that He does not put forth His power? The explanation of it is this: He has sent the Lord Jesus Christ into this world; but men have taken Him, and with wicked hands have crucified and slain Him. God has raised Him from the dead, and recalled Him to His throne (Acts 2:22-30). And now, what is His attitude? All power is His in heaven and on earth. And in the gospel of John (v. 22, 23) we learn that "the Father judgeth no one, but hath committed all judgment to the Son: that all should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father." If you get hold of this, you will understand the mystery. There is no one in the universe of God who can judge a sinner, save only the crucified of Calvary, and He is sitting upon the throne of the universe, and His presence there has made that throne a throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).
And now the divine amnesty has been proclaimed. They were to go out, and beginning at Jerusalem, to preach to all nations repentance and forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38). There was to be no limit, the wide world over, to this testimony. What then is God's attitude to be to the sinner? Is it to send out this gospel and beseech men to be reconciled, and at the same time, even while the amnesty is being proclaimed, to deal with them in judgment for their sins? No; the two are wholly incompatible. "He is not imputing their trespasses unto them, and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19)." The appeal of the gospel is, "Be reconciled to God." Therefore it is we have a silent heaven, therefore it is the sinner is not now, as he once was, openly and publicly punished for his sins. The writer of this letter goes on to say, "I often say that if people committed such sins under Moses as they are guilty of now, they would be stoned to death." Exactly! It was the character of that dispensation. But people commit sins now, and instead of being stoned to death, repentance and forgiveness of sins are proclaimed to them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no stoning, no judgment.
But mark this, when God again breaks the silence it must be in judgment. I know how many there are in our day who teach that God has still sealed up some great message of peace, some divine store of grace, that He is going to unfold in the eternity to come. But there is no hidden store of grace, there is no reserve of love in God. He "so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish (John 3:16)." Grace is manifested in this, that Christ has died, and that forgiveness of sins has been proclaimed to all, even to the very men who were guilty of His murder. But if grace be unmixed now, judgment shall be unmixed then. The heaven is silent just because He who alone can judge the sinner is now a Saviour, and the fullest message of mercy and grace and love that God can give is being proclaimed. And when that silence is broken it will be in judgment. And the first act, if I may venture to use such words, in this vast drama of the future will be the Lord's coming forth to call His own to be with Himself, before ever these vials of His wrath shall be poured out upon the world that has rejected Him. Thank God, though that is not my subject tonight, there is blessing as well as judgment still to come. The church is being stirred up now to send out this gospel of His grace to the millions of the heathen. But there is a coming dispensation in which, just as He will take the government of this world upon Himself, so He Himself will send forth the messengers of the gospel of the kingdom, and all the heathen nations of the world shall hear the glad tidings that God is reigning.
Now I have tried to put thus imperfectly before you these two leading thoughts which have been on my mind, "the certainty of the hope," for it is not a "cunningly devised fable," but part and parcel of our most holy faith, and, secondly, "the reasonableness of the hope." I have sought to give you the answer to doubts and difficulties that every thoughtful person is conscious of, the answer to the scoffer's scoff, and the infidel's objection to the divine system now obtaining in the world. Grace is reigning, judgment is tided back, and though all power is His He has not yet assumed the sovereignty of this world. The time for that anthem has yet to come, "Thou hast taken Thy great power, and hast reigned (Revelation 11:17)."
God bless whatever has been said in accordance with His mind, and forgive any word that has been unwisely or wrongly spoken.