Last Updated on : Saturday, October 11, 2014
From The Bible
Page 1 of 1
HOPE IS the peculiar feature of the Gospel. Other systems boast of ethical principles which it is expected the judgment will sanction, and the enlightened will apply to the formation of character; but the gospel excels these in its power to produce the results aimed at by them, through the power of an element of which all systems of human wisdom are necessarily destitute.
Theoretical morality may practically influence superior minds; but it is powerless to raise the fallen or develop moral fructification in naturally barren minds. Its appeals are to trained intellect and moral aspiration; and for that reason, it is impotent with the vast majority of mankind.
The gospel approaches human nature, not with hard reasonings and lifeless aphorisms, but with personal love and inspiring promises. Laden with tenderness and cheer, it subdues the obduracy, and dissipates the lethargy of human hearts, and bears them upward to moral perfection by the influence of its affections and hopes. It is exactly adapted to the necessities of human nature, present and prospective. It only requires to be received with full assurance of faith; and then, unlike human systems of philosophy, it satisfies the heart while enlightening the intellect, and tranquilizes the spirit, which can elsewhere find no rest in this world of anxiety and care.
Nevertheless, it develops these results by an intelligent process. It operates by means of the ideas which it communicates to the mind. There is nothing unaccountable in its mode of operation. Its love is a matter of specific assurance, to be realised by faith, and not a mysterious influence stealing miraculously over the heart. Its hopes grow out of definite promises, understood and assuredly believed, and are not shapeless ecstacies of incomprehensible origin. Its operations are altogether effected on truly rational principles. Designed for human nature, it is adapted to its mental constitution, and powerful on natural methods, to elevate and purify all who submit themselves to its teachings, and give earnest heed thereto.
Now, in the present lecture, we purpose to make manifest the truth of the proposition, that the great hope of the gospel relates to the second (personal) coming of the Lord Jesus; that that event is the central object upon which enlightened anticipation lays hold as the climax of desire, the crisis of reward; and that, therefore, this truth is one of the main influences by which the heart is purified, and the believer himself prepared and made "meet for the Master's use."
By the second coming of the Lord Jesus, is meant the event obviously signified by the language, viz., the return from heaven to earth of our Saviour, who is now at the right hand of God. It will be admitted that Christ was really on the earth during his sojourn among men, and that he ascended bodily to heaven after the resurrection. The proposition, then, is, that at a certain time, he will descend just, as really as he ascended, and appear in person on the earth, as the same Lord Jesus who sojourned in Judea among the Jews and Romans. We assert this to be the teaching of the word of God, and are more especially anxious to demonstrate its essentiality as the true Christian hope.
First, let us realise that the apostles declare there is only "one hope," as there is only "one faith and one baptism." This is the teaching of Paul, in Ephesians iv, 4, 5, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in ONE HOPE of your calling." That this "one hope" is an essential constituent of the gospel, is evident from Paul's words to the Colossians, chap. i, 5, where, speaking of "the hope which was laid up for them in heaven" (Christ being there), he says, "Whereof ye heard before IN THE WORD OF THE TRUTH OF THE GOSPEL." He even goes the length of saying, "We are saved by hope" (Rom. viii, 24), and solemnly assures the Hebrews that their ultimate salvation was contingent upon their adherence to that hope. His words are, "Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of THE HOPE firm unto the end" (Heb. iii, 6). His language to the Colossians is equally striking on this point :--
These testimonies ought to impress us with a sense of the gravity of the question about to be considered. It is no light thing to be doctrinally mistaken as to what we should hope for. What a misfortune to spend our spiritual energies in looking for that which God has never promised! Such a mistake implies ignorance of the real "hope of the gospel "; and this "ignorance," says Paul, "alienates from the life of God" (Eph. iv, 18). What God has never promised no one will ever receive; for how should the idle longings of man divert the purposes of the immutable Almighty? especially when the gratifying of those longings will involve the failure of the promises really given. "According to your faith be it unto you." This is a divine principle (Matt. ix, 29). If a man squander his faith upon that which has no foundation in truth, he sows to the wind. The faith which builds its house upon the foundation-rock of the assured promises of God, will alone withstand the storm that will sweep away" the refuge of lies."
Before adducing specific testimony as to the coming of the Lord, it will be of advantage to dwell for a little on the personal ministry of Christ when on earth. During his sojourn in the land of Judea, which he travelled constantly for three years, doing wonderful works in attestation of his divine mission, he proclaimed the things of the kingdom of God, and asserted his Messiahship in connection therewith, as has been proved in previous lectures. This proclamation had the effect of drawing around him many disciples, and of causing them to look upon him as the anointed king of Israel in a literal sense, and destined to effect "the redemption of Israel" from the Romans and all other nations, and to establish the kingdom of God in triumph over all the earth. This view of Christ, created in the minds of his disciples by his own teachings, is condemned by thousands of well-meaning but mistaken people. We saw in a former lecture how uncalled for is the condemnation, and how scriptural (with slight modification) is the view condemned.
We now desire to point out that the teaching of Christ on the subject had a further effect upon the minds of the disciples. It created in them an expectation that they themselves should share the kingly honours of Christ at the time when his kingly mission should be manifested. This is also universally admitted to be a fact, although condemnation is as freely administered here as in the other case. The disciples are reprobated as "carnally minded," for having looked for what is generally disparaged as "a temporal kingdom." Now, we shall find that there is as much injustice in this imputation against the taste and judgment of the disciples, as there is in the one which the last lecture was intended to refute. There was, no doubt, a good deal of unhallowed ambition among them, which their divine master repeatedly strove to repress; but this ambition did not show itself in inventing a false doctrine, or carnally perverting a true one. It rather manifested itself in the form of impropriety of spirit, in relation to that which was true. It gave them mistaken ideas as to the object of the kingdom of God, and the principles on which admittance to it was to be granted; but it did not cause them to misapprehend the nature of that kingdom itself. There is a distinction here that is very important; the overlooking of which leads to lamentable conclusions. Their hope of inheriting the kingdom of God in substantial manner, like their estimate of the kingship, was founded both on prophetic testimony, and the express teaching of our Lord himself. In the prophets they had observed such testimony as the following :--
And they had noted the teaching of our Lord himself to the same effect in the following recorded instances: "Blessed is that servant whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily, I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods" (Matt. xxiv, 46, 47). "And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents; behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, l will make thee ruler over many things" (Matt. xxv, 20, 21). "And he said unto him (that had gained the ten pounds), Well, thou good servant, because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities" (Luke xix, 17). Again, Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the Jews, "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matt. xxi, 43).
At the time Jesus used the last quoted words, the chief priests and rulers were in possession of the kingdom of Israel, which having been originally established by God, was called the kingdom of God. Now the generality of people can understand the meaning of this predicted taking of the kingdom from them. They know as a matter of history that the Jewish polity was abolished, and that in fulfilment of Christ's prediction, its rulers were deposed from their seats of authority, and in fact, "miserably destroyed" in the awful judgments that overtook the city of Jerusalem. But when directed to the second part of the statement, they stumble. "It shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." Most people understand the taking, but what about the giving? The thing taken is the thing given; so, the kingdom of Israel, which was taken from the chief priests and Pharisees, shall be given to "a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." This is self-evident. The only question requiring settlement is as to who are the fruit-producing nation; and this is easily answered. Jesus said to his disciples, "Fear not, little flock: for it is your Father's good pleasure to give YOU the kingdom" (Luke xii, 32). He further said, in answer to Peter's question, "Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?"
Here is a complete identification of "the nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." That nation consists of the disciples of our Saviour, who is himself at their head as "THE HEIR." They are styled by Peter (I Epist. ii, 9), "a chosen generation, a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD, an holy nation, a peculiar people"; agreeing with the testimony that they will yet inherit the kingdom of God which was taken from the Pharisees, and which, though now in ruins, is to be restored in glorious plenitude.
If the disciples were so egregiously mistaken as they are supposed to be, in their idea of Christ's Kingdom, and the position which they should hold in it, it is remarkable that we never read of any correction by Christ of that mistake. There were three occasions which would have elicited such correction had it been required.
The first was when "the mother of Zebedee's children" came with her two sons--James and John--saying, "Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom" (Matt. xx, 21). Now, according to the popular view, here was the time to launch forth in condemnation of the earthliness and carnal misdirected ambition supposed to be indicated in the request; and doubtless the Saviour, who was never slow to correct the misconceptions of his disciples, nor even to rebuke with severity, would have done so if the request had really been of the nature to call for it; but how different from anything of this kind is his answer. Not a word of censure! Not the softest whisper of implied rebuke! Rather a direct and signal confirmation of the idea embodied in the fond mother's petition. "Ye know not what ye ask," says he... "To sit on my right hand and on my left, is not mine to give, BUT IT SHALL BE GIVEN to them for whom it is prepared of my Father." So that instead of pronouncing her request inadmissable, he actually declares that the position requested will be given to those for whom it is prepared (verses 22, 23).
The second occasion occurred after the resurrection. Jesus joined two of his disciples as they walked to the village of Emmaus (Luke xxiv, 13), but held their eyes that they should not know him; and they conversed with him on the subject of his own death. In the course of conversation, one of them, giving expression to the view shared by the disciples generally, said: "We trusted that it had been he WHICH SHOULD HAVE REDEEMED ISRAEL" (verse 21). Here again was the time to explain their misconception, had it been such; but here again there is an entire absence of any remark of that nature. He uttered a rebuke, but it did not refer to what they did believe, but to what did they did not believe. "O fools," exclaimed he, "and slow of heart to believe ALL that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" (verses 25, 26). He reproached them for disbelieving in his sufferings, and not for believing in his kingly glory.
The third time was immediately prior to the ascension. It is stated in Acts i, 6, that when Jesus and his disciples were come together, the disciples asked him, saying, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" They had had their eyes opened to the fact and necessity of his sufferings; but seeing that these were now accomplished, and that he had been gloriously resurrected from the dead, they evidently thought that the time had at last arrived when their cherished hope of national restoration under the Messiah should be realised; and so they asked him if he would at that time bring their desires to pass.
Now it is a notable circumstance, that this question was put after Christ had spoken to the disciples of "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" during forty days (verse 3). This fact suggests the supposition that the question was based on the teaching they received during that time. At any rate, how was the question received? With discouragement and rebuke? Nay: but, as in the previous case, with confirmatory answer: "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power" (verse 7). This was equivalent to affirming that "times and seasons" had been provided for the event contemplated in their question--that is, that the event, "the restoring again of the kingdom to Israel," would really come to pass in process of time, but that it was not proper for them to know when. How inappropriate would such an answer have been, had their supposition as to the fact of such restoration been mistaken.
But the fact is, there was no question as to the event itself. Jesus had been enlightening them during forty days, in reference to it. Their enquiry related purely to the time of the event, and his answer was confined to that same thing. They supposed the event would then transpire. "They thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear" (Luke xix, 11). This was the peculiar error of early times. They did not err in believing that God would establish His Kingdom on earth, and that Christ should visibly manifest himself as the "king over all the earth" (Zech. xiv, 9); for these things have been abundantly testified in the prophets and proclaimed by Jesus himself. Their mistake lay in supposing that they would be accomplished in their own day.
The modems have gone Just to the other extreme. They do not look for the kingdom of God at all. They magnify the sacrificial into unscriptural proportions, and omit the kingly altogether. They exclude the kingdom of God, knowing nothing of it, and believe in nothing concerning it, while the death of Christ over-shadows and ensanguines every doctrine in their religious system. The disciples only saw the king in Christ, and expected his manifestation in their own times; the moderns only see the sacrifice, and consider his mission accomplished in the saving of supposed immortal souls at death.
The mistake of the disciples was corrected in due time. The occurrence of Christ's crucifixion and subsequent resurrection and ascension, supplied the lack in their knowledge, enabling them to see that the promised glories of the future age were not attainable by mortal man without a sacrificial intervention--a tasting of death for every man, by which "many sons might be brought to glory." But this addition to their knowledge did not divert their attention from these glories. Far otherwise; the death of Christ, apart from its prospective relationship, had no attractiveness; its interest and importance arose out of its connection with the glorious result it achieved. So that instead of shutting out the kingdom from their mind, it only intensified their appreciation thereof, by showing them its value in the greatness of the sacrifice necessary to secure it. It gave eagerness to their ardency, leading them intensely to desire the consummation of "the glory to be revealed." They therefore said, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" They evidently had no idea of Christ leaving them again. They had forgotten the many parables in which he had taught them his approaching departure into "a far country" from which he should afterwards return, to take account of his servants. (Luke xix, 12; Matt. xxv, 14, etc.). Only one feeling was uppermost in their minds--a desire that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.
When, therefore, "he was taken up and a cloud received him out of their sight, they looked steadfastly toward heaven," evidently struck with wonderment at the unexpected and inexplicable occurrence. Christ taken away from them again! They were utterly unable to understand the new disappointment. Their hopes had been raised to the highest pitch by a companionship of forty days, and the grief which had overwhelmed them during their master's incarceration in the tomb, had been effaced by a sweet communion on "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God "; and now again, their Lord and Master, their best friend, their hope and salvation, he on whom their whole affection and the most yearning desire were concentrated, had left them. What were they to do? They were again cast upon the world; again thrown into perplexity. But this time relief was at hand:--
And here begins the specific testimony in support of the proposition of the lectures. The disciples were comforted in their perplexity by being assured that Jesus would come again; this was the balm administered to their troubled spirits; this, the hope by which they reconciled themselves to the absence of their Lord and Master. From that day forward, it became the central doctrine around which all their teaching revolved, the constantly prominent and essentially distinguished feature of the glad tidings they proclaimed.
Jesus himself had repeatedly taught them the doctrine of his return, even previous to his crucifixion. The parable of the nobleman (Luke xix, 11, 12) was intended for this very purpose, for it is said that he used it "because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear." Its teaching is very manifest--
By this the disciples were informed that Jesus should be taken up to heaven to do a work of preparation, and be invested with power, and should afterwards return to the earth, and THEN judge his servants; awarding to them the rulership of ten cities, or the ignominy of a shameful rejection, according to their deserts (see rest of the parable). It was an amplification of his other statement: "Thou shalt be recompensed AT THE RESURRECTION OF THE JUST "--a resurrection which does not take place until "the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout" (I Thess. iv, 16). The parable of the ten virgins is to the same purport. The absent bridegroom is put for the ascended Christ, and the waiting virgins for those who "look for his appearing." Besides other parables of a like effect, Jesus had plainly said, "The days will come when the. bridegroom shall be taken from them (the disciples)" (Matt. ix, 15); and had assured. them. without a figure: "If I go and prepare a place for you, I WILL COME AGAIN AND RECEIVE YOU UNTO MYSELF" (John xiv, 3).
But they were not able to understand the simple lesson, for the reason that Christ was with them, and they never expected him to leave them. They could not see what his "return" could mean, when they knew nothing of a going away; but when the days came that the bridegroom was taken from them, "then remembered they his words." The announcement of the angels would doubtless revive the many lessons which Jesus himself had taught them as to his purposed departure and his intended return to establish the kingdom; and thenceforward did the second coming of the Lord become their cherished hope --the great event to which they looked for salvation. It was the thing they preached and wrote about, the thing they hoped and. prayed for, the top-stone of the system of faith which they promulgated.
Of course, it did not, and could not exclude, but rather involved and necessitated the doctrine of Christ's sacrifice for sin, and the necessity for contrition and personal regeneration; for the second coming of the Lord was only good to those who loved him, and who were prepared to meet him, and were fitted to be with him. Yet it was the great doctrine to which the others were subordinated. We find Peter teaching it in one of his first addresses after the ascension of Christ:--
And the same apostle, in writing to the elders among "the strangers scattered abroad," repeated the doctrine in the following connection :--
Thus, as regards the immediate disciples of our Lord, it is proved beyond all question, that his second coming was their great hope,--in fact, their only hope, for what other hope could they have? They loved their master dearly, and knew that his return to them would be their own deliverance from the imperfections of a sinful body, and the afflictions of wicked men, and not only so, but the establishment on earth of "glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men." To what other event, then, could they look with Christian hope than to the coming of Christ?
To what other event could they look with any hope at all? No event in their lifetime had promise for them; and what was there in death except a lightning-bridge to the resurrection? For them it had none of the fascination with which modern preaching has invested it. They did not recognise in "sudden death .... sudden glory." Death to them, instead of being the "portal of bliss," was "the gate of corruption." It was the bondage of that hereditary mortality from which Christ had come to deliver them--the bereaving grave-sleep in which they should deeply slumber till the return of their master to wake them to an incorruptible resurrection, when they should say, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
No; their hope was not death, but the return of the Lord, to which all their personal hopes and fears, and all their expectations concerning the fulfilment of God's promises, inevitably directed them. Now, as it was with the apostles, so did it become with those who were afterwards converted to the Christian faith. The gospel preached, conveyed the same hopes which filled the bosoms of the preachers. Having proffered immortality for its basis, Christ's sacrifice as the means presented for faith, and the promised kingdom as "the inheritance" in which immortality would be enjoyed, it naturally led then minds to the coming of Christ as the great realising event; for all the promises contained in it go forward to "the revelation of Jesus Christ" as the time of fulfilment. Did Paul desire to attain to the resurrection from among the dead? (Phil. iii, 11). He expected to be included among "they that are Christ's AT HIS COMING" (I Cor. xv, 23). Did he look forward to "a crown of righteousness" to be received from "the Lord, the righteous judge"? (II Tim. iv, 8). He did not expect its bestowment till "HIS APPEARING and his kingdom" (verse 1), referred to as "that day," in verse 8.
Now, were not these the hopes communicated in the Gospel to all who embraced it? Resurrection to eternal life, and inheritance in the kingdom of God, is the salvation offered to every son of. Adam without distinction of age or station. If a man receive that promised salvation in the sense of believing it, he "rests in hope." Of what? Of its fulfilment. He may labour in the work of self-preparation with great devotedness--working out his own salvation with fear and trembling; he may follow righteousness with ardour, nursing moral life with enthusiasm; he may busy himself in the prosecution of every benevolent work, and take delight in pressing the gospel upon the attention of his fellow men; not only may do, but must do, if he would be an accepted servant when his Lord comes to take account of his stewardship; but what is the inmost feeling of his nature, if he be a true man? Hope--nay, constant longing desire--for the salvation he preaches to others. That is, tired of his own imperfections and faults as a perishable human being, he yearns for the immortality promised, and grieved with prevailing perversion and injustice, as politically and socially exemplified around him, he longs to be a witness of and partaker in, the perfection of the kingdom of God.
Now as these "things hoped for" cannot be attained till the coming of the Lord to bring them to pass, is it not plain that that coming will be the uppermost anticipation in his mind? It matters not that it is unlikely to occur in his lifetime; because, whether he live or die, it will be the time of his deliverance, and equally important as a matter of prospective contemplation a thousand years before the event, as to a Christian contemporaneous with it.
It is only the popular dogma of immortal-soulism, as involving the belief in a conscious death-state in which spiritual destinies are sealed, that deranges the harmony of New Testament teaching on this point. If Christians at their death are really transported to heaven, to enjoy reward in the presence of the Saviour, the doctrine of his return to the earth cannot have any practical interest for them, because their salvation is altogether independent of it. They die, and are SAVED, according to the common teaching; they go to heaven and see Christ; therefore, their attention is naturally concentrated on death, as the great revealing event, and diverted from the coming of Christ, which they come to look upon as a sort of profitless and even questionable doctrine. In fact, the great majority of religious people go the length of rejecting it altogether, as a carnal conceit, and interpret all references to it in the New Testament as meaning the occurrence of death.
What a mighty perversion! What fatal unbelief !--Yet the natural fruit of the corrupt tree on which it grows. If popular belief as to the death-state be correct, then the other is the logical result, and "orthodox" people who go to that extreme, are only consistent. But take away the doctrine of the immortality of the soul--the root of all evil in a theological sense--and harmony is restored. We see the righteous dead asleep in corruption, and perceive the necessity of the Redeemer's advent to wake them to incorruptibility and life, and the essential importance of that event as the object of hope during their lifetime.
We are endeavouring to show that the second coming of Christ was the hope of Christians converted by the preaching of the apostles. We shall now follow up the arguments advanced by quoting a number of passages from the epistles addressed to them in which the doctrine is set forth with a plainness which must carry conviction to every ingenious mind:--
It is superfluous to comment upon these eloquent testimonies. Their scrupulous explicitness leaves no room for argument. They show that the hope of the early Christians was different from that of modern professors; that it laid hold of the coming of the Lord as an object of personal solicitude. Jesus himself had exhorted them to be watchful:--" Behold, I come as a thief; blessed is he that watcheth" (Rev. xvi, 15). He had also said:--
Now, in the professing Christian world of the present day, we see none of this anxiety about the second coming of Christ. There is a universal indifference to it. One is reminded of the statement in the parable, "While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." Very few care about the approach of the bridegroom; very few believe in it. When spoken to about it, their language is practically that of the scoffers of whom Peter wrote, "Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." Ah, but the day comes when this apathy shall be rudely dispelled. "As a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth," said Jesus (Luke xxi, 35).
How is it that men are so blinded to the most obvious doctrine of the New Testament? Because, under the guidance of a false theory, they look upon death as the eternal settlement of every man for weal and woe, whereas death settles nothing. It consigns us to darkness and silence, to await the coming of Christ. That is the great settling time "when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ" (Rom, ii, 16). Blessed are all they who are prepared for its arrival. Happy are they who "look for his appearing"; thrice happy they who "love it"; for it is only to such that he is to "appear the second time unto salvation."
Oh reader! repent thee of thy worldly follies! Give heed to the good message that speaks to thee out of thy Bible! Learn the truth from its neglected pages, and casting thine errors and thy thoughtlessness behind thee, give obedience to the heavenly requirements; and then wait with hope for the coming of the Son of Man, that thou mayest be His in the day when he maketh up His jewels.
The Second Coming Of Christ
The Only Christian Hope