The Lord's Coming and the Lapse of Centuries

A Word for the New Year

1910 9 As all that we know about the coming of the Lord has not been incompatible with the lapse of nineteen centuries, some are asking, May there not be as long a period yet to run before His advent? The first reply to this is that faith is never governed by appearances or reasonings, but by the word of the Lord; and that as He has told us to wait, without reference to time, fidelity to Him demands that we should do so, undeterred by the passing of centuries. "We walk by faith, not by sight." "We look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen" (2 Cor. 5:7 and 2 Cor. 4:18).

Has the reader ever noticed that Luke 12 gives a special reward for watching, distinct from that for service? The former is in verse 37, and has a sweetness of its own: it has relation to the heart's affections, which after all are the governing element in looking for the Lord's return. The Lord says, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (ver. 35); and then in ver. 37, "Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching; verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them."

The reward for service is in ver. 44: "Blessed is that servant whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing; of a truth I say unto you that he will make him ruler over all that he hath."

The reward of service is blessed, but it is outward glory rule; that for watching is as it were the internal pleasures of the domestic scene, where the Royal Host, in the most touching manner Himself dispensing His hospitality makes them sit at their ease, while He personally ministers to their enjoyment. It is remarkable that either as to faithful watchfulness for His return, or unfaithful abandonment of that duty, the Lord represents both as a matter of the heart. As to the former he says, "Where your treasure is there will your heart be also"; as to the latter, He quotes the unfaithful servant as saying "in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming." Indeed the very first mention of the rapture in Scripture, is in connection with the affections. The ancient prophecies are full of the Lord's glorious epiphany; but the first mention of that prior event — His receiving us to Himself — is in the 14th of John; and there it is announced as for the fulfilment of His heart's desire "that where I am ye may be also" (14:3).

Leaving now in its due prominence, the important point that what the Lord looks for from us is not the holding of a prophetic theory, but the lively affection of the heart, let us look at the bearing which the long lapse of nineteen centuries has upon the matter.

In the first place, if so long a time has passed, may we not for that very reason be quite possibly at the very eve of His coming? Undoubtedly we may.

All that can be said on the contrary is that, because so long a time has passed, an equally long time may possibly have yet to run. While the possibility cannot be denied, the probabilities are strongly against this. Too much stress should not be laid on the unexpected length of time that has elapsed. For Scripture has with profound wisdom been constructed so as to contain in several places mystical intimations of the unexpected extension of times intimations which can be discerned now, but which could not be given with plainness at first, because to have done so would have put the church out of that attitude of expectancy which the Lord desired to be maintained. Take as an instance the Epistles to the seven churches in the Revelation: addressed to seven actual churches at the time. There is no reason to suppose that they were then seen to have any typical character, though possessing valuable instruction for other churches at all times, just as the Epistles to the Romans, Ephesians, etc. But we in the end of the church-period can perceive that the seven churches afford a type of the whole history of the church from the setting up in first love in Ephesus, on through varying phases of church-history — unmistakably portrayed, though with more or less clearness down to the rejection of the dead profession in Laodicea.

A similar mystical intimation in the end of John's Gospel has been beautifully pointed out by Mr. Darby: —

"In chap. 21. … the special ministry of Peter and John is pointed out, though mysteriously. The sheep of Jesus of the circumcision are confided to Peter; but this ministry was to close like Christ's. The assembly would not be established on this ground, any more than Israel. There was no tarrying here till Christ came. Peter's ministry in fact was closed, and the circumcision assembly left shepherdless, before the destruction of Jerusalem put an end to all such connection for ever. Peter then asks as to John. The Lord answers, confessedly mysteriously, but putting off, as that which did not concern Peter who was to follow Him, the closing of John's ministry, prolonging it in possibility till Christ came. Now, in fact, the Bridegroom tarried; but the service and ministry of John by the word (which was all that was to remain, and no apostle in personal care) did go on to the return of Christ."

Again in Mark 13, "Take ye heed, watch and pray; for ye know not when the time is. For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore; for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch" (vers. 33-37).

At first this would present only a stirring exhortation to watch for the Lord's return, but we in our day can discern more than that in ver. 35. The dispensation is given in the figure of night, beginning with the time of the greatest light, the evening; then sets in the darkness culminating in the "midnight" of the middle ages; but there came the awakening of the Reformation the time of cock-crowing; at length comes the morning for which we are watching still. How plain this seems now; but it was wrapped up and concealed in this brief yet graphic outline by One who knew the end from the beginning.

In the same way the parable of the ten virgins, while constituting in itself the most solemn admonition to watchfulness under all events, contains also an intimation of extension of time. This is somewhat concealed in the Authorised Version by the phrase, "while the bridegroom tarried." It should be, "Now the bridegroom tarrying" (New Transl.). The former makes the tarrying a mere casual incident; the latter mentions it as a distinct intentional action.

This parable also would at first appear merely a moral enforcement of watchfulness; but in the light of events it displays a picture — only too true — of the dispensation. There would be an immense concourse of merely formal Christians bearing the lamp of profession, but no oil, and no real light. Darkness comes down on the dispensation and they all grow slumberous and sleep. That is, all, wise as well as foolish, abandon the hope of the Lord's coming. But at midnight a cry is made, "Behold the Bridegroom! Go ye out to meet Him!" The text is, "Behold the Bridegroom" (not, "cometh"). Attention is called primarily to the person of the Bridegroom, not His coming; nevertheless the summons is, "Go ye out to meet Him." Probably the whole verse (6) covers figuratively, not only the revival at the Reformation, but every subsequent awakening (Wesley, Whitfield, etc.), and more especially that revival, about sixty years ago, of the hope of the Lord's return, till then totally lost. Then only was it, since Apostolic days, that christians were shown that their true calling was "to meet the Lord in the air." Let those to whom it was given to voice this summons at that time, see to it that they hold fast that which they have, that they lose not their special crown (Rev. 3:11); not merely holding to a certain prophetic doctrine, but as those whose treasure is in heaven and hearts there also, who livingly hope for the Lord's coming.

The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) exhibits the same; feature. It state that, "after a long time the Lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them" (ver. 19). These words, "after a long time," have a deeper significance than appeared at first.

Thus then Scripture refutes those who say that the apostles were mistaken, and the early christians mistaken, in looking for the Lord's coming. It shows that it was the Lord's intention to keep the church in the attitude of expectancy, but notwithstanding this that there are clear indications of an intended tarrying of the Bridegroom.

But still, there remains the tendency to think that because so great a time has been suffered to go by, further lengthy time must still elapse before the Lord's return. A counterpoise to this, however, is furnished by the consideration of current events of our day, which the christian cannot ignore, and which in connection with Scriptures which bear upon them, seem to afford striking indication that the Lord's coming may now be near.

One of these is the remarkable action of the Spirit of God in reviving within the last sixty years the truth as to the coming of the Lord. Before that date the coming was universally interpreted to be death; and the statement, "Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh," was explained from all pulpits as meaning nothing more, and nothing less, than death. But God raised up earnest and devout students of Scripture to whom He imparted the knowledge, and also gift to teach it, that the Lord's coming meant nothing of the kind, but that before His appearing to the world He will come and receive the church to Himself. This will not be found in the writings of the so-called Fathers, nor in any writings or sermons between apostolic days and its being educed from Scripture in recent times. It was scouted and strongly opposed by the official ministry of all classes and parties of christians except those to whom God had given it. Now, needless to say, it is fairly well known in Christendom and accepted by the great majority of the godly. A large number of the latter are now earnestly looking for that blissful event — the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Is there no significance in this? Is not the preparation by the Holy Spirit of a remnant to wait for the Lord Jesus Christ an indication that His coming may be about to take place? How blessed to be, when He does come, one of those who are waiting in happy earnest expectation of seeing Him!

Another event of unmistakable significance is the alarming movement towards what will, when the church is gone, develop into THE APOSTASY, i.e. the absolute abandonment of Christianity. This has already been somewhat explained in a previous article in this journal.* The New Theology of the present time is not "the apostasy," inasmuch as it still claims to be Christianity. It does not renounce, but shelters under, the name of Christianity. It indeed denies all the essential doctrines of Christ, but claims that it is a "rearticulation" of them.** It says that "there is a beautiful spiritual truth underneath every venerable (sic) article of the Christian faith, but as popularly presented, this truth has become so distorted as to be falsehood."*** The English of which is that the hitherto known Christianity is false. What the said "re-articulation" is may be judged of by the following: — "Briefly summed up the position is as follows: Jesus was God, but so are we. He was God because His life was the expression of divine love; we too are one with God in so far as our lives express the same thing."****

{*Bible Treasury, December, 1908, p. 188. Art. "The Time of the End, but the End not yet."

**"The New Theology," by R. J. Campbell, M.A., minister of the City Temple, London, p. 3.

***Ibid, p. 19.

****Ibid, p. 94.}

Ex pede Herculem. Anyone who has had the painful task of looking into the book from which these quotations are taken will know that they are fair specimens of its system of veiled apostasy and blasphemy. The so-called "Higher Criticism" of the Bible is all of a piece with this; as its exponents admit without a blush that twenty-five years ago it would have been deemed "subversive of the foundations of the faith."

The object here, however, is neither to criticise nor denounce such movements, but to point out their significance. The instructed Christian can scarcely doubt that we have in them the commencement of that working of error, which will become in its maturity "the apostasy" of 2 Thessalonians, and will bring eternal condemnation to those who accept it. But this development cannot occur while the church, in which the Holy Ghost dwells, remains below (2 Thess. 2:6). But who shall say the moment, when this restraining power will be removed, by the catching away of the church? The popularity of the new tenets amongst all denominations of christians is unquestionable. Here then we see the mind of man being prepared for the delusions to follow the removal of the church. May not this too be significant of the Lord's coming being now near at hand?

The two indications which we have been considering have relation to Christianity. First, prior to the outburst of the awful New Theology, the Lord, as if to prepare and strengthen His own against what was coming, causes the hope of His return to be brought to light, together with a body of heavenly truth calculated to gird up the church and direct the minds of Gods children to their true and heavenly calling. Second, the virtual abandonment of Christianity preliminary to the open apostasy which is to follow the rapture of the church.

But outside the ecclesiastical sphere, premonitions may be observed. From the slumber of centuries the Jew seems to be awaking. Zionism and the so-called "Ito" movement* have been referred to in a previous number.** There is, no doubt, a revival of national aspirations amongst the Jews, though it is damped by two influences. Many of them have no sympathy with anything further than an improvement of their worldly condition. Then again some of the Gentile powers are jealous of their forming any organisation amongst themselves. But the Jewish movement likewise is one which will probably receive an impetus from the termination of the earthly existence of the church.

{*"Ito" is simply the initials of "Jewish Territorial Organisation" founded by Mr. Israel Zangwill, the author of the book, "Children of the Ghetto."

**Bible Treasury, August, 1908, pp. 310-312.}

The effort to obtain Egyptian independence has also significance; for Egypt (the "king of the south" of Daniel's prophecy) is to be a prominent power in the post-church period. The unrest in India, the unexpected revivifying of Turkey through constitutional reforms and other progressive operations, have each of them important and scriptural bearings on our subject. Space, however, forbids details. But whether we look at the state of the church, or of what is called the christian world, or the condition of the nations, the world seems ripe for the coming of the Lord, and an intelligent survey of the situation seems to furnish an overwhelming answer to the question about His coming with which we started. "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear." "Behold I come quickly" (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20). E.J.T.

1910 13 If at the Saviour's birth the world had "no room" or welcome for Him! on the other hand, what a welcome has the Saviour secured for us to the "many abodes" of the Father's house on high (John 14:1-3), where indeed is no "scant room." Cast out by the world, there has He gone, and thence will He come again to receive us to Himself, that we may be where He now is and with Himself for ever. For Him then, we wait, who comes quickly. Even so; come, Lord Jesus.