H. H. Snell.
Christian Friend vol. 14, 1887, p. 180.
"Behold, I come quickly: hold that FAST which thou hast, that no man take thy crown."
It is often said we are in the closing days of the history of the Assembly of God on earth, and that the coming of our Lord must be now very near; but the question is, Have we any instruction that we can gather from Scripture as to this?
It need scarcely be said here, because it is so generally accepted, that what is written as to "the last. times" and "the last days," in the inspired letters to Timothy, has been manifested for a long time; and John speaks of the day in which he lived as "the last time," because there were "many antichrists." In one sense the whole of the Church's history on earth since the time of the apostles, and even the coming of the Saviour into the world, is comprehended in the expression "last days." Hence we read, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son." But by the often-used expression "closing days" we understand something more definite than "the last times," or "the last days;" it seems to speak of the time just before the Lord comes with His assembling shout for those that are His at His Coming.
If we turn to the second and third chapters of Revelation we there find details given, not only of the actual state of seven assemblies then existing in Asia and the ways of our Lord with them, but we are also told there is some "mystery" as to the instruction communicated by them. Besides their obvious application to the then existing assemblies, there was a line of teaching which was a "mystery," or not revealed. We read, therefore, of the mystery of the seven golden candlesticks. (Rev. 1:20.)
It is now clear enough that what was then a prophetic sketch of the course of the Assembly on earth, as God's corporate witness, is now an historic sketch; so that in these seven epistles we can easily trace seven phases of the Church's history on earth. We have declension (Ephesus); persecution (Smyrna); alliance with the world in Constantine's time (Pergamos); Popery (Thyatira); Protestantism (Sardis); saints gathered to Him who is the holy and the true (Philadelphia);* self-satisfaction and lukewarmness, or indifference to Christ (Laodicea). Every one who knows anything of Church history must be able to trace these seven striking epochs of its course.
*The reader will do well to note that the characteristics of Philadelphia are - a little strength, keeping the word of Christ, and not denying His name - all of which are expressive of condition. - Ed.).
It is also obvious that these seven epistles are presented to us as divided into three and four. In the first three epistles the overcomer is mentioned last, or after "He that hath an ear," because their state seemed capable of restoration; but when, in Thyatira, the flesh and the world were openly accredited and associated with the name of the Lord and His truth by His professed witness on earth, the Lord exposes their sad state, and refers to His coining; and the overcomer is mentioned before "He that hath an ear," etc., because the faithful have to overcome allowed evil in the house. The last four assemblies are thus marked off from the previous three, and in these four only the coming of the Lord is announced, which shows they go on to the end; and to each of them the Lord presents Himself and His coining in an aspect suited to their state. These four phases of the Church's history on earth, we judge, then, will continue till the coming of the Lord, and their principles may be traced at this moment in almost every city, town, and village. All these four assemblies being associated in some way or other, in the Lord's ministry to them, with His coining, seems to intimate that it would be so. Hence we have in Christendom, Popery, and Protestantism, some who are true to the Lord, who is holy and true; and, lastly, lukewarmness to Christ, with self-satisfied profession, which He must reject as His corporate witness on earth when He comes and takes His own unto Himself. "I will spue thee out of my mouth."
If, then, these four assemblies set forth the fourfold character of the professing Church, or Christendom, till the Lord come, of which, we judge, there cannot be a doubt, is it not clear that the fourfold way in which Christ presents Himself to these assemblies must plainly show what His special lines of ministry will be in the closing days of the Church's sojourn on earth? If, therefore, we find that these presentations of Christ do and have for some time past characterized the ministry given to His saints, the inference is undeniable, that we are in the closing days of the Church's history on earth. But let us look further at this point.
As we have before noticed, the coming of the Lord is presented in an aspect suited to the state of these assemblies; and to the brightest and most devoted of them He says, "Behold, I come quickly." Besides this, we may observe that to the first of the last four (Thyatira) He presents Himself as the "Son of God;" to the second (Sardis) as "He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars;" to the third (Philadelphia) as "He that is holy, and He that is true;" and to the fourth (Laodicea) as "the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, and the beginning of the creation of God."
It is well known what uncertainty and darkness even true believers were in for many centuries; and even in the early part of this century superstition, priestcraft, unitarianism, and all kinds of false doctrine, were common enough. Few even of the saints were clear of these things, till God raised up faithful servants to set forth, according to Scripture, the person of the Son of God.
There were also serious mistakes as to the Holy Spirit; so that His personality, Godhead, and operations were little known, and by some openly denied. But, as regards this, we know how faithfully some contended for the truth as to the person and deity of the Holy Spirit. There can be no doubt when souls lost the truth of the personal glory of the Son of God, they necessarily lost also the hope of His coming; and when they lost the truth of the Holy Spirit being a divine Person on earth during our Lord's absence, they turned to education, university degrees, and formal ordination as qualifications for ministry, instead of gift. And even at the Reformation, when, by God's mercy, some truth was recovered, when Sardis, or Protestantism, came in, those carnal ways as to ministry were not given up; so that it is worthy of remark, that there the Lord presents Himself as the One who, as Son of man glorified, had received the Holy Spirit, and as having the seven stars, or holding all ministry for the Church in His own hand, and communicating it through gift from Himself. Even to this day some believers are praying for the Holy Ghost to come, instead of thanking God for the abiding presence and power of the Holy Ghost in the professing Church, and in every believer. Still, at this time, through God's mercy, the reality of spiritual "gifts" from Christ, apart from man's arrangement altogether, has been largely recognized; and its importance can scarcely be overrated, because "the body is edified [from the Head] by that which every joint supplieth," and those who practise it know well the truth of it.
Of late years, while almost every one in Christendom has been saying that they meet in Christ's name, God has remarkably wrought in many souls to show the amazing difference between the adoption of it as a part of a creed, and the reality of the Lord Jesus being "in the midst" of those who are really gathered to His name. No doubt the Holy Spirit is the Gatherer, and He only gathers to His name who has been made in ascension both Lord and Christ. But what has so greatly added to the priceless value of this foundation-truth is the recovery of the knowledge of the blessed fact that He who is in the midst of such so gathered is "holy" and "true;" so that He looks that His word should be kept, and His name not denied; and also, that those so gathered, should be in all their ways suited to Him. How could it be otherwise, if we think of it for a moment? And how could we associate any other name with His, lest we grieve and dishonour Him? This has been a remarkable blessing from God in these closing days.
Moreover, at this time, when every thing is being questioned, and an immense machinery is at work to exalt man in the flesh, and to undermine divine revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ is being made known to souls as "the Amen," whose word is decisive, will never pass away, and is for ever settled in heaven. That we may well trust Him, and rely upon His faithfulness to His own word, for He is "the faithful and true witness;" and be assured that the first man is not recognized by Him since the death of the cross, for He is "the beginning of the creation of God;" so that, "if any man be in Christ," there is a "new creation." This truth has exercised many souls during the last half century, and is, we believe, the teaching God is pressing on His saints today; and the believer's comfort and blessing, and his service and pursuits, will be characterized, according as in heart and conscience he is either going on trying to mend and improve man in the flesh, or has accepted God's verdict and ways in the cross of setting aside man in the flesh altogether; and at the same time making us a new creation in Christ, and has seated us in Him in heavenly places - the only proper Christian position.
The great point of controversy today in Christendom is whether the Christian is merely an improved or changed man in the flesh, or whether he is a new creation? Those who hold the former are still of the world, more or less legal, and self-occupied, with self-satisfaction and indifference to the claims and honour of our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who accept the latter know they are in Christ, and He in them; that all their blessings, strength, and completeness before God are in Him, risen and ascended, and that their old man is crucified with Christ, so that they have died, and their life is hid with Christ in God.
Now the question is, What has characterized the Lord's ministry to His saints during the last fifty or sixty years with the testimony to the Lord's coming, which has been going on all this time? Can there be a doubt that the infinite glory and perfection of the person of the Son of God have been largely set forth? Christ too, as having received in ascension the Holy Spirit, and Himself there the source and sustainer of spiritual "gifts" for the edification of His assembly on earth? Who can question also the clear and solemn way in which "there am I in the midst," the "holy," and, the "true," has been pressed on the conscience, and lovingly owned by many hearts for amazing comfort, blessing, and some increase of separation and devotedness? Nor need we go far to discern the Laodicean element coming in like a flood, with lukewarmness to Christ and indifference to His word, His claims, and His coming. If these things are so, surely the closing days of the Church on earth are really here. If this fourfold character of the ministry of Christ to His saints on earth till He comes is still going on - of which there cannot be a doubt, and we are here instructed that it will be so till He comes - then it is unquestionable that we are not only in the closing days, but that there is nothing more to be looked for till we see His face. Saints may be unfaithful to the testimony, and be laid aside, and others be raised up for it; but it is clear there is nothing different to come till we hear the assembling shout.
What then are the practical lessons we are to gather from all this? Is it not that we, as already called into the fellowship of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, should stand for His personal perfections and glory, and honour Him? That we should be subject to the Holy Spirit He has received and sent down to form and energize His assembly, while thankfully acknowledging "gifts" for building up as from Himself, and caring for His household? That, as gathered to His name, we may faithfully own Him in our midst, and His claims, as the holy and the true? And knowing that the first man has been set aside, and has no place in His service, have no confidence in the flesh, but rejoice in the blessed fact that we are a new creation in Christ Jesus, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and waiting and watching for Him who says, "Behold, I come quickly"? H. H. Snell.