By James H. Brookes
THE ONLY HOPE.
The history of man in his relation to God may be divided into seven periods or dispensations. These are the age of Innocence, before the fall in Eden; the age of Conscience, when there was no written rule of life, previous to the Deluge; the Patriarchal age, when Jehovah talked with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, as one talked with his friends; the age of the Law that clearly announced the divine statutes; the age of our Lord’s Personal Ministry; the age of Grace; and the age of the Millennium. The inspired scriptures distinctly show that each of these has ended, and shall end, in failure on man’s part, and in the need of some sudden, extraordinary interposition of God’s personal dealing to save the sinner from ruin.
Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge, D.D., LL.D., was in his day, a few years ago, a leader in the Presbyterian Church of the United States, He was regarded as a man of great ability, and wrote two large volumes on theology, the second of which is called ‘The Knowledge of God Subjectively Considered.” He had a profounder view of truth than most of those who have composed similar works, and that view he expressed in the following forcible language:
First, man was tried in the age of Innocence. Created in the image and likeness of God, with no inherited tendencies to evil, surrounded by the beauties of Paradise, separated from unholy associations, he believed the devil’s lie, plucked the forbidden fruit, and fell into degradation and misery and sin and death. God said, ‘Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life: thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee: and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” Gen. iii. 17-19. Can the race ever be placed in a condition more favourable, or more guarded against the power of temptation? Jehovah God interposed with sovereign grace to save Adam and Eve from the deplorable consequences of their own folly; but we see that the age of Innocence ended in total failure on man’s part.
Second, the age of Conscience followed, for man had obtained the knowledge of good and evil, and was left to himself to test his character and conduct by the rule of right and wrong, implanted in the human breast. The first recorded act, after the expulsion from Eden, tells of the murder by the eldest born of mankind of his younger brother, and in the course of centuries universal depravity spread over the world. Only one household escaped the frightful corruption. ‘God saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination [the margin says that the word includes also ‘the purposes and desires’] was only evil continually,” Gen. vi. 5. “Every,” “evil,” “only,” “continually,” unfolds the sad story of another and deeper and more general fall, and the waters of the flood were let loose upon an apostate and abandoned society, “under the whole heaven.” Thus the second experiment ended in complete failure, but the Lord appears again upon the scene, saying unto Noah, ‘Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation,” Gen. vii. 1.
Third, then came the Patriarchal age, opening with the drunkeness of Noah, the cursing of Canaan and the confounding of speech, the confusion lasting unto the day of Pentecost. The God of glory appeared unto Abraham, summoning him away from his country and kindred, and separating him unto Himself. ~The intimate and familiar relations He established with the Father of the Faithful are most attractive and touching, and His promises concerning one who is three times in the Bible called “the friend of God,” and concerning his seed, are most gracious. Yet we find that seed, after the lapse of a few centuries, the wretched slaves of the Egyptians, and worshipping devils and idols, Lev. xvii. 7; Deut. xxxii. 7; Ezek. xx. 6-8. Hence the third experiment ended in complete failure, but the Lord revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush as I AM THAT I AM, sending Him, in faithfulness to His unchanging word, to deliver His covenant people from bondage.
Fourth, this was succeeded by the age of Law, when God threw around those He sought to bless the restraints of positive enactments, laying down for their government and guidance perfect precepts and plain prohibitions, directing them what to eat and what to wear. Their annals present little else than disobedience, idolatry, rebellion and unbelief, the apostasy commencing with the ten tribes of Israel. “Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah only Also Judah kept not the commandments of the Lord their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they had made. And the Lord rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of the spoilers, until He had cast them out of His sight,” 2 Kings xvii. 18-20 “They mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people till there was no remedy,” 2 Chron. xxxvi. 16. Thus the fourth experiment ended in complete failure; but God “having yet therefore one Son, His well-beloved, He sent Him also last unto them, saying, they will reverence my Son,” Mark xii. 6.
Fifth, this brings us to the age of our Lord’s Personal Ministry.. It is needless to dwell upon the result. At His first sermon they “were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust Him out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast Him down headlong,” Luke iv. 29. At a later period in His ministry He likens Himself to a certain nobleman who “went into a far country, to receive for Himself a Kingdom, and to return. But His citizens hated Him, and sent a message after Him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us,” Luke xix. 12-14. Again He said to His brethren, ‘* The world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil,” John vii. 7. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” John i. 11; and they “hated Me without a cause,” John xv. 25. The assembled apostles exclaimed in their prayer, “The Kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against His Christ. For of a truth, against the holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,” Acts iv. 26-27. All that Jew or Gentile ever did for “the Prince of life,” “the Lord of glory,” was to furnish Him a manger amid the beasts of the stall as a cradle, a cross on which to die, and a borrowed tomb to receive His murdered body.
Men talk flippantly and foolishly about the dignity and grandeur of human nature, but look at human nature in the Judgment-hall of the high priest, before the bar of the Roman Governor, standing near the bleeding, dying Son of God, and writing in derision over His head the mocking title, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Betrayed, forsaken, or denied by His little band of friends and followers, He was left alone in His mighty agony, crying out, “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none,” Psalm lxix. 20. God’s fifth experiment with man ended in a more disastrous failure than any preceding dispensation, because there was the rejection of greater light and love. But the risen Lord appeared, and sent forth the disciples to preach the gospel to every creature with the promise of the accompanying Spirit.
Sixth, thus was introduced the age of Grace in which we are now. It might be supposed from the history of the past that it must close, as all previous dispensations have done, in the failure of man,. and in the need of some new and marvellous interference of divine love and ‘ power, and not in the gradual evolution of the Church to established supremacy over the affairs of earth. It may be replied in answer to this that the Lord Jesus Christ assured the disciples of the reception of power, after ‘that the Holy Ghost should come upon them, and that they should be His witnesses unto the uttermost part of the earth, Acts 1. 8. Yes, but did any man ever have the presence and power of the Holy Ghost, and did any man ever preach as He did? Many thousands, “an innumerable multitude,” literally, “myriads,” Luke xii. 1, heard Him proclaim the gospel, and even His enemies said, “Never man spake like this man,” John vii. 46; and yet after His marvellous words and works, “the number of names” of those who professed to follow Him “were about an hundred and twenty,” Acts i. 15.
Will any claim that preachers to-day have any larger manifestation and measure of the Spirit? Three thousand were converted on the day of Pentecost, but at least fifty times that number remained unconverted in the same city and on the same occasion. When the apostles preached, “as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed,” and none others. “But they shook off the dust of their feet against them,” Acts xiii. 48-51. Paul preached to the philosophers of Athens, “and when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them,” Acts xvii. 32, 33. He preached to his countrymen in Rome, “and some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not,” Acts xxviii. 24.- So far from being uniformly successful, the apostle writes, “We are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day,” 1 Cor. iv. 13.
Has there been any greater success since his day, in proportion to the means employed? Where is the country, county, city, or community, all of whose inhabitants have been converted to Christ? In London, the best evangelized city in the world, where the most faithful preaching has been heard for centuries, and where money is munificently given for the spread of the gospel, out of a population of more than 5,000,000, it is estimated that 3,500,000 never attend church or chapel. In New York City with its 1,500,000 people, a census, taken on a fair Lord’s day, revealed the fact that 85,000 attended some sort of church services, and more than 1,000,000 could not have been accommodated if they had desired to be present. It is known that not 10 per cent. in any considerable town in the United States pay the least attention to the calls and claims of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Nor is this all, nor the worst. Vast sections of continents, like Western Asia, Northern Africa and Southeastern Europe, once dotted with Christian churches, have practically become heathen lands. Congregations gathered by the apostles and their successors have disappeared, and the barest semblance and shadow of Christianity remains. God be thanked for the interest awakened in Foreign Missions, and for the 3,000,000 of professed conversions during the century, since the salvation of one soul outweighs in value myriads of worlds. But let us not forget that, according to the best authorities, there are 250,000,000 more Pagans and Mohammedans to be converted than at the beginning of the century. Accepting the extravagant figures given by the various churches to indicate the number of professing Christians in this country, still it will not be denied that there are 50,000,000 more that remain to be saved than there were one hundred years ago. At the same rate of progress, how long will it take to bring the world to Christ?
It is said that when Dr. Judson was asked with regard to the prospects of converting India he replied, “they are as bright as the promises of God.” No doubt this is true, but the question remains, when will the promises be fulfilled? Is it to be before or after the personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ? That there shall bea wonderful change on the earth is certain. The time is surely coming when “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more,” Isaiah ii. 4; when “the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,” Isaiah xi. 6; “when the inhabitant shall not say I am sick; the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity,” Isaiah xxxiii. 24, when “the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose,” Isaiah xxxv. 1; when ‘tas the days of a tree shall be the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands,” Isaiah lxv. 22.
There are scores upon scores of similar statements scattered through the inspired prophecies, and if the man who desires to know the truth will gather these up, in connection with their context, he will find in every instance that the glorious change which they predict never precedes but always succeeds the visible coming of Christ. In other words the promises of universal triumph for our Lord and His cause can be fulfilled only when He comes back from heaven, and it is constantly associated with the infliction of terrible judgments upon a wicked world. How often we hear the verse quoted: ° “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” How seldom we hear the verse that immediately follows: “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel,” Psalm ii. 8, 9.
There can be no manner of doubt concerning the close of the present age, if the testimony of the Son of God and of the Holy Ghost is to be believed. It was concerning the end or “consummation of the age,” as the Revised Version renders it in the margin, He spoke so fully in His Olivet discourse. The entire interval is filled with wars and rumours of wars, nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes; and all these are the beginning of travailing pangs.” Many shall stumble, and betray one another, and hate one another and many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many, and because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold, while he says to his real disciples: “Ye shall be hated of all nations for My sake.” Meanwhile the only ray of light is found in the fact that “this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” The age closes, then, not in smiles and sunshine, but amid the frightful darkness and disasters of an unparalleled tribulation, when “the slain of the Lord shall be at that day from one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth,” Matt. xxiv. 4-30; Jer. xxv. 17-33.
In another place our Lord tells us that as it was in the days of Noah up to the day he entered into the ark, and as it was in the days of Lot, up to the day he went out of Sodom, when it “rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all; even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” Luke xvii, 26-30. Hence follows the question: ‘When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” Luke xviii. 8. Nor does He fail to describe precisely how the age will end. ‘There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars and upon the earth the distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: For the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And THEN shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory,” Luke xxi. 25-27.
So the Holy Spirit in the last letter He dictated to the apostle Paul utters an equally explicit testimony: ‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” But is there no hope that they will reform? Nay, ‘evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived,” 1 Tim. iii. 1-13. The apostle’s sad farewell is contained in the announcement: “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lust shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables,” 2 Tim. iv 3-4. The word for fables means “fiction, figment,” and when we see professors and preachers and people in the church running after the elusive fiction and empty figment of Higher Criticism, Evolution, Christian Science and other vagaries, we can readily believe that the devil has given them itch in the ears, and that we are in the last days with their perilous times.
It is not strange to find Prof. Agar Beet, a Methodist commentator of great ability and scholarship, bearing evidence concerning the unhappy end of the age. He has been writing a series of articles for an English magazine, The Expositor, on “The Second Coming of Our Lord.” After showing that “the coming of Christ is one of the most conspicuous features of the first Gospel,” that “equally harmonious, and scarcely less conspicuous is the teaching of the second and third Gospels,” and, “still more remarkable is the close agreement both in thought and diction between the synoptist Gospels and the Epistles of Paul,” he concludes at follows:
There is nothing in the present outlook of Church or State that is in conflict with the uniform declarations of Holy Writ. That the former is making progress is certainly true, thanks be to God, but it is a progress resisted and arrested by tremendous forces of evil.
Rationalism and infidelity of the most dangerous kind are diligently taught in theological seminaries, and preached in a thousand pulpits. Formality and worldliness have invaded the pew, and there is no difference between a vast majority of those claiming to be Christians and decent people who make no profession, except a meaningless name. Theatres, card parties, the revelries of the ball room, a life given wholly to pleasure, neglect of the Bible and prayer meeting, absolute indifference to all spiritual work, fashion, and the worship of money, are as common to the one as to the other; and the marvel is that the insulted and indignant Lord does not say: “I will spew thee out of my mouth,” Rev. iii. 16.
In the State nothing is settled and established. There is no Government on earth, monarchical or democratic, that has the slightest security for continued existence during the next twelve months, Discontent, restlessness, lawlessness, socialism, anarchy, assassinations, are rapidly spreading, and the most thoughtful men in every country are the most anxious. Those who are known as labourers or wage-earners, although it is difficult to understand why they are thus designated, are gaining power in all civilized lands, and they will use thatpower with vengeance in the day when control passes into their hands. It is conceded by intelligent persons who have cared to inform themselves that crimes of various kinds, murders, suicides, divorces, prostitution, far outstrip the growth of our population; and, notwithstanding the strenuous efforts of temperance men and women, the manufacture and sale and use of, intoxicating liquors have increased from £180,000,000 to £240,000,000. Look where you will over the world at large, the signs of the times are ominous.
There seems to be a conviction that somehow or other, in some form or other, things will grow better, and that evolution will carry the nations to a higher plane of civilization. Those who thus thoughtlessly imagine do not compare ancient Egypt, with its military prowess and magnificent cities, and splendid architecture, and proud achievements in art and culture, with modern Egypt; nor ancient Babylon with modern Babylon, nor ancient Persia with modern Persia, nor ancient Greece with modern Greece, nor ancient Rome with modern Rome. They do not consider that whatever has been accomplished has been acquired as the result of hard work, and that few would work at all if the stern hand of necessity was not laid upon them. They do not reflect that a field or garden or lawn will naturally bring forth thorns and brambles and noxious weeds, unless constantly subdued by hard toil. All history and all nature unite in saying that the tendency of fallen man is still downward, and “that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now,” Romans viii. 22.
Seventh, even the Millennial age will close, like all previous dispensations, in man’s failure. Antichrist and the false prophet shall be undisputed masters of the world, when the King of Kings AND Lord of Lords shall descend from heaven; and “these both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.” Then the devil is hurled into the bottomless abyss, chained, with a seal set upon him, “that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and after that he must be loosed a little season.” Meanwhile the happy Millennium is fully established at last, when the risen saints shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Evil shall be put down, or if it lifts its head shall be instantly punished. ‘There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner, being an hundred years old, shall be accursed,” Isaiah lxv. 20.
“When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth.” During the Millennial age human nature remains the same, and our Lord in the spirit of prophecy says more than once: “As soon as they hear of Me, they shall obey Me: the strangers shall submit themselves unto Me,” or as it is in the margin, “shall yield feigned obedience,” Psalm xviii. 44. They shall be conquered but not changed, and pretend a loyalty to the reigning monarch, for “the Lord shall be king over all the earth,” Zech. xiv. 9. Hence when their infernal leader shall again appear, they will be ready to follow him in the last desperate attempt’ to defeat and destroy the saints, as if God would show the deep-seated depravity of man and the ineradicable enmity of the mind of the flesh, and make these the dark background on which to display more illustriously the shining of His sovereign grace.
Again He interposes; Satan is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, and “tormented day and night forever and ever;” the great white throne is seen, and the dead who lived not again until the thousand years were finished are judged; Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire, and eternity begins. Then “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said: Behold, I make all things new,” Rev. xix. xxi.