",And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. Luke 26: 34.
WATCHFULNESS was a duty frequently and emphatically impressed upon His disciples by our Lord. He was alive to the danger that the pressure of the material would dull their spiritual alertness. With the centuries the danger increases; " When the Son of Man cometh shall He find the faith on the earth?" Will there be many that wait and look for His coming in the spirit of a great and eager expectancy? Will the Church be ready? Organised Christianity is very little concerned with this outstanding truth of the New Testament. It is muddling on, criticised by the world, dissatisfied with itself, hoping for the best but realising nothing. The number of conferences being held must be legion. We discuss how revival may come, and we acknowledge in our conclaves our message is not gripping. Very glibly it is declared that the old Gospel has evidently lost its power, when in fact the condemnation is of the new " gospel." It can be soberly affirmed that in the vast majority of our churches to-day the young people do not know what the old gospel is. Let ministers preach it for a time and they will find young people coming to them in sheer amazement at the " new " truth.
The truth today is that Modernism is at the Bar. It is due to Modernism, to fantastic speculations utterly unrelated to Scripture that the organised Church is in such a parlous condition. It is surely worthy of notice that wherever the old gospel is being preached there one finds a strong, sturdy, spiritual community. Have ministers the courage in the grace of the Holy Spirit to get back to the Scriptures?
St. Paul, writing to the Christians at Corinth, impressed upon them that in all their work they should be careful to give none offence to the Church, the Gentile or the Jew. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ has a distinct and important relationship to these three. He is coming " in the air " for His saints---the Church. He is coming with His saints in manifested presence to the earth.
In this chapter we shall be concerned with the Secret Coming of the Lord for His Church. St. Paul assured the Thessalonians that He would come " in the air." The dead in Christ shall be raised first and His Church alive on the earth shall be caught up to be forever with Him. That will be the completion of the redemption of the body for which God's people wait.
The Church is a " mystery " hidden from the beginning in the counsels of God. The covenant promises were given to Abraham and his seed, not to the Church. When Christ came He preached the Gospel of the Kingdom for the very obvious reason that the King was here waiting to set up His kingdom. He was rejected and, at His ascension, went to the Heavenlies. The Church was then formed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: a mystery which had not been clearly seen by the prophets of old. Through the Church God is now calling out a witness in the world. This is not the dispensation of the kingdom, it is the dispensation of the Church. The kingdom age will follow the return of the King.
It is not surprising that Christians who have confused the purpose of God in this dispensation are so despondent. How could they be otherwise? Not a single village in all the favoured land of England is yet entirely composed of faithful believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are more heathen in the world than when Carey first went to India. No wonder ministers tell us the world is "quite young"; while scientists aver that the age of man is at least 10,000,000 years!
Let us clearly appreciate the content of that word "church." It is neither the Church of Rome nor the Protestant community; but that company of those redeemed in the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ and none else. St. Paul saw this redeemed Church under three very suggestive figures. He called it the BODY of Christ. A body is for the purpose of functioning the invisible spirit, to manifest that, which is secret. The Church reveals Christ and Christ is revealed through the Church only. No other organisation in the world, however noble its ideals, however wonderful its powers, can reveal Christ. That is the unique privilege of those who are redeemed.
The Church is declared to be the BRIDE of Christ. She has no fellowship in the world, no partner in her hopes, but she waits for the Bridegroom and anticipates with joy the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It is He who will lead her to the banqueting house under His banner of love, and for that priceless privilege she waits patiently, keeping herself unspotted from the world.
The Church is a BUILDING of God not made with hands. Just as Solomon's temple was built in silence without the sound of hammer, so the Church is being built without din or noise. The world always has to make a noise to emphasise important operations, but God's Holy Spirit works in silence, calling out here and there those who are being eternally saved. Meantime the cloud and the fire rest upon the Church, God's home in the midst of an ungodly world.
Are not these figures suggestive? Should there be any surprise that the hope of the Church is in the Coming of her Lord? " Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven." Could anything be plainer? Unless we are blinded by prejudice or have lost the last shred of respect for the Word of God there can be but one understanding of that declaration, He IS coming again. St. Paul assures us in his message to the Thessalonians that the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven. It will be no effusion of His spirit (whatever that may be), but He HIMSELF. And it is no idle word or speculation created in his own mind; for he declares it " by the word of the Lord." We are constantly reminded that it is " only Paul." Such a criticism has obviously a double edge which one in courtesy forbears to use. It is sufficient to observe that we take the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper at the record of Paul when he gives it by the word of the Lord. Are we not in effect raising the question of the Apostle's insanity or honesty? If he declares something on the authority of the Lord which is really his own imagination or fabrication, how comes it that Paul has been at least as mightily used as any modern critic in the service of the gospel?
And He will come with a shout. Whether that triumphant blast will he heard by the world or by the redeemed only, one cannot say. Those on the road to Damascus with Paul, heard the voice, they saw no man. Certainly every believer on the earth will hear it. No one today asks how a voice could be heard over all the world.
"And the dead in Christ shall rise first." There are two resurrections taught in Scripture-the resurrection of those who have died in Christ, and the resurrection of those who have died rejecting Christ. All in the Old Testament who believed the promise of Jacob's Star we believe will be raised with those who died in the faith in Christ. For the believer alive on the earth will be the unspeakable joy of being caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
Incredible as all this may seem, the earnest student, humbly dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will not he left in any doubt. In the patriarchal age Enoch ascended, in the prophetic period Elijah, in the Gospel dispensation our Lord. Neither can one shut the eye to the clear teaching of Scripture. Paul earnestly desires not to be unclothed (by death), but to be clothed upon (by translation). We are assured that this corruptible (which has died) must put on incorruption, and that this mortal (still living, but with the seeds of death in the body) must put on immortality. So when our Lord would raise Lazarus from the dead He declared " I am the resurrection (for believers who are dead) and the Life (for those who are waiting for Him). " He that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." With these great truths in his heart Paul can exult, " 0 death where is thy sting (for those who are raised), 0 grave where is thy victory " (for those translated). The words in parentheses are not, of course, in Scripture, but the writer believes them to be the inevitable implication in each case.
His Coming will be sudden and unexpected, like lightning. That surely rules out the speculation of the gradual extension of the Kingdom over the whole world. Our Lord saw some in bed, some in the field, some grinding, at the moment of His appearing. Some would be taken, some left. The discharge of the common tasks of life is evidently the believer's duty and part of his watchfulness, for no idler was taken. The Jew of our Lord's time might reasonably ask how anybody could be in the field working when others were in bed asleep, but our Lord, who we are assured was just as ignorant as other people, did not seem to be disturbed by the apparent difficulty. And again the schoolboy of today could explain not the difficulty, but the necessity in a world which we know to be round with varying times and seasons all over the globe. One suspects that the schoolboys of the next generation will deal as easily with most of the problems so ponderously propounded in unbelief today.
He is coming as a thief in the night. The thief usually has one purpose. He comes silently, takes possession of most precious things and departs. So the Lord will come for His Church. The world will wake up to find what is in effect and truth its most precious possession (the Church) gone. There will be a sensation for a time as the comparatively few are missed, and then the world will settle down to its business again; the salt of the earth will have disappeared and the last restraint upon iniquity removed.
There are some who think that Christians who are not looking for His coming will not take part in the rapture in the air. But the Church is one, and its unity is in the faith in the precious blood of the Lord Jesus. Those looking for His coming will rejoice to have their faith confirmed. The others will be something like Thomas in those post resurrection days of doubt and uncertainty, and there will be a humbling joy at His feet as they rebuke themselves for their unbelief.
It is a glorious truth that there shall be one generation of the Church that shall not see death. It may be that in the wonderful providence of God this unspeakable privilege is reserved for us in this day. It may be we shall not have to say goodbye to those nearest and dearest to us, but that with our loved ones we shall be translated to be with Him. Rightly or wrongly I live in the hope this may be so.
Yet with this joyful truth in the heart one is solemnised. Since He may come at any moment, one's own walk with God must be without a cloud upon the fellowship, the garments must be white. He who would watch must guard no less his walk. And with this vision in our hearts does not the world call forth our deepest pity and anguish? Nothing stirs up our lethargic natures as this solemn truth than the man to whom we say good-bye at the office at night, we may never see again; the people to whom we preach may not have another chance of hearing the gospel! If we ministers felt that how should we preach? Should we prepare discourses and find texts for them? Should we be content to tell the people what not to accept? I think not. That is why this hope in the coming of the Lord is so downright practical.
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