By James H. Brookes
HIS COMING MAY BE NEAR.
A who read the New Testament carefully must perceive that our Lord, and then the Holy Ghost by the apostles, represent His second advent as possible at any time. ‘Watch, therefore; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh,” Matt. xxiv. 42-44. This sounds like His admonition to the unfaithful Church of Sardis: “I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard; and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee,” Rev. iii. 1-3.
“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 cockcrowing, or in the morning; lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch,” Mark xiii. 33-37. Here the word for watch in the first verse means “to lie awake, to be sleepless,” and in the three other places it means to ‘“awaken, wake up, rouse, stir,” as if the Lord would say, at even “lie awake,” at midnight, at the cockcrowing, in the morning, “wake up.” He seems to anticipate the discoveries of modern science, for if He should descend at this moment from heaven, and call His scattered saints to meet Him in the air, to some it would be at even, to others at midnight, to others at the cockcrowing, and to others when the morning had further advanced. But it is obvious that He wishes us to be on the look-out for Him every hour.
“Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning: and ye yourselves like unto them that wait for their Lord, when He will return from the wedding; that, when He cometh and knocketh, they may open unto Him immediately. 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. And if He shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. . . . Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” This is followed by a very solemn warning against the present common habit of saying that He cannot come for a thousand years, or, as some assert, for one hundred thousand years. “If that servant say in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming; and shall begin to beat the men servants and maidens, and to eat and drink and be drunken; the Lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for Him, and at an’ hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” Luke xii, 35-46,
The epistles also are full of the thought that the coming of Christ may be at hand. ‘Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body,” and the redemption, we know, can occur only at the second advent, Rom. viii. 23. “Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Cor. i. 7. “Let your gentleness be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand,” Phil. iv. 5. “Ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, who delivered us from the wrath to come,” 1 Thess. i. 9, 10. ‘The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout; . . . and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air,” 1 Thess, iv. 16, 17. It is evident that the apostle hoped to be alive at the descent of the Lord Himself from heaven to summon His waiting ones to meet Him in the air.
We are not suprised, therefore, to find him describing the proper attitude of the believer as “Looking for that blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ,” Titus ii. 13. “Unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” Heb, ix. 28. “For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry,” Heb. x. 37. ‘Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh,” James v. 8. ‘The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober; and watch unto prayer,,” 1 Peter iv. 7; upon which Calvin remarks, ‘The end he speaks of is ‘not merely that of each several individual, but the entire rennovation of the world; as if he said, that Christ will shortly come, and put an end to all things . . . . Did the trump of Christ sound in cur ears, it would keenly smite all our senses, nor suffer them to lie thus torpid. It might be objected, however, that a long series of ages has elapsed since Peter wrote this, and still the end is not yet seen. I answer, that to us time seems long for this reason, that we measure its length by the spaces of the present life, but that could we have respect to the perpetuity of the life to come, many generations would be for us as it were a moment (2 Peter iii, 8), Moreover, it must be held as a first principle, that, ever since the appearance of Christ, there is nothing left to the faithful, but with wakeful minds to be always intent on His second advent.”
“Little children, is the last time; and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many Antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time,” 1 John ii, 18. “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown,” Rev. iii. 11. ‘Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame,” Rev. xvi. 15. “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book,” Rev. xxii. 7. “Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be,” Rev. xxii. 12. “Surely I come quickly; amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” Rev. xxii. 20.
From this it is plain to the unprejudiced reader of the Bible, that Christ, and after Him the Holy Spirit, sought to make the impression that the second advent might occur during the generation which immediately followed the death and resurrection of the Saviour. It is needless to say that no deception was intended or practiced, for apart from the fact that such a thought would be blasphemy, we must remember that Jesus Himself tell us, “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father,” Mark xiii. 32. As Dr. Joseph Addison Alexander truly remarks, “That such a declaration should be made at all, is wonderful enough, but scarcely credible on any supposition, or in any sense, it made in reference to the date of the destruction of Jerusalem.”
To this it may be added that such a declaration could not be made in any other than the Gospel according to Mark, where the purpose of the Spirit is to describe the Son of God as the obedient servant; and “the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth,” John xv. 13. It is not a denial of our Lord’s divine ominiscience, but simply an assertion that in the economy of human redemption it was not for Him “to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath appointed by His own authority,” Acts i. 7. Jesus knew that He will come again, and often spoke of His second advent, but it did not fall to His office as Son to determine the date of His return, and hence He could hold it up before His followers as the object of constant expectation and desire.
In the second place we are not competent to understand what is meant by “quickly” from the heavenly standpoint of view. There is “no night there,” Rev. xxii. 5; no revolution of the earth upon its axis, no dragging of wearisome hours, but everlasting bless and glory in the presence of Him with whom ‘a thousand years as one day” pass in perfect peace, 2 Peter iii. 8. Hence as time is counted in the bright skies two days has not yet gone by since Jesus ascended from the mount of Olives.
In the third place, the church is presented in the New Testament, not as detached particles of sand, but as a unit, “and every one members one of another,” Rom. xii. 5. When it is a question of life she is called the body of Christ, when it is a question of love she is the bride of Christ. Considered as an organism or person, the measure of the nearness which the second advent has to one member is the measure of its nearness to all the members, and the’ first believers are no less concerned than the last in the blessedness of His personal return. The body will not be complete, nor will the bride be perfectly builded from the wounded side of the second Adam, nor will the deep slumber of the grave be broken, until He comes again.
In the fourth place, the Redeemer’s second appearing is “the hope set before us,” Heb. vi. 18; in the language of Dr. David Brown, “THE VERY POLE-STAR OF THE CHURCH.” The object of hope to one is the object of hope to all, or the unity of the church is destroyed, and it could no longer be true that “there is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are‘ called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all,” Eph. iv. 4-6. Hence it was unavoidable, from this unity, that the early Christians also should be incited to fidelity by a hope that is common to the entire church,
In the fifth place, if our Lord referred to His second coming at all, it may be said reverently that He could not have spoken of it otherwise than He did without defeating the end for which He proclaimed it to the apostles. Archbishop Trench has well remarked, “It is not that He desires each succeeding generation to believe that He will certainly return in their time, for He does not desire our faith and our practice to be founded on an error, as, in that case, the faith and practice of all generations except the last would be. But it is a necessary element of the doctrine concerning the second coming of Christ, that it should be possible at any time, that no generation should consider it improbable in theirs.” Rev. John Ker, D.D., also says, “It is in the New Testament the great event that towers above every other. The heaven that gives back Christ gives back all that we have loved and lost, solves all doubts, and ends all sorrows. His coming looks in upon the whole life of the church, as a lofty mountain peak looks in upon every little valley and sequestered house around its base, and belongs to them all alike. Every generation lies under the shadow of it.”
It is not strange, therefore, to find Jesus Christ and the Spirit teaching the early disciples to look for the second advent of our Lord, nor is it strange to find the apostles in their inspired writings expressing the hope that He might return in their day. The fact is that there is no predicted event between this passing moment and the coming of the Lord for His saints, although prophecies remain to be fulfilled between the present hour and the appearing of the Lord with His saints. The first Christians were precisely right, as we are, in maintaining an attitude of constant looking for Him, without having their minds diverted by current events. On the first day of the week they met to “show the Lord’s death till He come,” 1 Cor. xi. 26. It was not revealed to them when He will come back, but it was revealed that He desired them to be in a posture of ‘constant waiting and -watching for Himself. Whether we can understand the reasonableness of His will or not, it is wise to heed His command. “Behold, to obey is better than to sacrifice, and to hearken, than the fat of rams,” 1 Sam. xv. 22. An order of godly monks, known as Sleepless Ones, was founded on the Bosphorus A. D. 430. They numbered 300, and were divided into six choirs, so that day and night their hymns ascended to our risen Lord. They sang and watched continually for the coming of the Bridegroom. But at last silence and sleep succeeded song and vigilance, and spiritual life was dwarfed in Europe for a thousand years.