SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
"Prophecy is not given to enable us to prophesy, but as a
witness to God when the time (of fulfilment) comes." Even if limits of space
allowed of it, my appreciation of these words of Pusey's would prevent my
indulging here in any forecasts of the future, beyond what Scripture expressly
warrants. Certain extra-Scriptural forecasts have been discredited by the
present war. For example, the language of the opening verses of Zechariah xiv.
were taken to indicate that the future siege and capture of Jerusalem will be
the work of half-savage Oriental troops. For, it was argued, Western
civilisation would not tolerate the excesses hers described. How foolish this
appears in view of the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in this war!
But while avoiding flights of fancy as to the means by which, and the manner in which, the events foretold in prophecy will come about, we may well take note of present-day movements and occurrences, which seem to be preparing the way for their fulfilment. For example, appeal may be made to the probable effect of the war on the future of Palestine. If the Turk be driven out, the attempt of any one of the Entente Powers to seize possession of that land would be the signal for another war! And this consideration will, in all probability, lead to its being constituted a protected Jewish State. And thus the present generation may possibly witness the building of the very temple upon which the Prince of Daniels prophecy will yet sot up his image. But this is merely a probable surmise, and the introduction of it here is possibly an indiscretion.
If Pusey's axiom were construed strictly the study of prophecy would be valueless until the time of its fulfilment. But this was far from his intention. For not only is it of fascinating interest to the thoughtful, but of great practical importance to every Christian. It serves to put us on our guard against evil influences and movements, of which the ultimate development and full fruition are described in the prophetic Word. Spiritualism, Christian Science, and other cults of a similar character, may be mentioned in this connection. These cults are daily winning over not a few, even among those whose Christian profession seemed to be above reproach. And the experience of many gives proof that those who yield to these demon influences soon reach a stage where recovery seems impossible, even if they wish to escape from them.
In view of the genuine miracles by which they are accredited, to denounce them as mere charlatanism is idle. And as their miracles are of a beneficent character their votaries regard them as Divine. In dark days of persecution Satan was as "a roaring lion, seeking whom he might devour." And in that character he will be known in the darker period of the coming age. But now "he fashions himself as an angel of light," even as he did in Eden, and in the Temptation of the Lord.
But, it may be asked, how can this be reconciled with what was stated on a preceding page as to the contrast between the present age and that which is to follow it? Here we must be guided by what Scripture records of former "changes of dispensation." These changes find an illustration in the sphere of nature. For while Science can mark with accuracy the changes of the seasons, the actual transition is unnoticed by the observer. And this has its parallel in the spiritual sphere. The law and the prophets were until John, and then the Kingdom of God was preached. But yet the Lord reproached the Jews that though they could discern the face of the sky they could not discern the signs of the tunes. And so was it again when Israel was set aside, and the present Christian dispensation was inaugurated. The change was a crisis of extreme significance, but yet it passed unnoticed; and many characteristics of the new dispensation had marked the later stages of that which it superseded. And as we observe the present-day manifestations of the sinister spiritualist influences and movements which will be fully developed in the coming age, may we not hail it as giving hope that the present dispensation is nearing its end, and that "the coming of the Lord is drawing nigh?" And that hope will be intensified if we are given to see "the land of the promise" restored to the people of the Covenant.
On yet another ground the practical importance of prophetic study is incalculable. To all who pursue it intelligently it affords full and irrefutable proofs of the Divine authorship of the Bible, and it thus provides an antidote to the poison of the "Higher Criticism." The writings of the eminent scholars who have led or championed that sceptical crusade will be searched in vain for proof of acquaintance with the scheme of Divine prophecy, a scheme that can be traced, like a silver thread, through all the Scriptures. And still more remarkable is their neglect of the typology of scripture. which is so closely allied with prophecy. Indeed, their "learned" writings are notable examples of exegesis on the text-card system. These Critics are like men who empty the works of a watch into a bowl, and then, after examining them in detail, arrive at the sapient conclusion that they present no proof of unity or design!
The aphorism that "truth is one" applies unreservedly to Holy Writ. But if we read it on the text-card system we lose all sense of its "hidden harmony." We cannot intelligently apprehend what God has revealed about the future if we are ignorant or unmindful of His revelation respecting the past and the present. We need, for example, to recognise the dual character of this "Christian Age." For, as already noticed, the root error of the Apostasy of Christendom is the failure to distinguish between the Professing Church, the administration of which is committed to man, and the true Church which Christ is building. The Professing Church is for earth and time, whereas the spiritual Church stands related to eternity and heaven. The truth respecting it is a "mystery" of the Christian revelation. And its temporary connection with earth will cease at that Coming of the Lord, which is another of the "mystery" truths revealed in the Epistles of the New Testament.
In this, its higher aspect, the present dispensation is not within the purview of the earlier Scriptures. And, viewed in relation to earth and time, it is an interlude in the great drama of prophecy as unfolded in those Scriptures. To rule out in this way some two thousand years of human history will seem neither startling nor strange, if we remember that, with God, a thousand years are "as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night."
And as regards the past we must keep in view the Divine plan of the ages. The Adamic dispensation was brought to an end by the judgment of the Flood; and the Noachic was marked by the Babylonian apostasy, in which the primeval revelation was utterly corrupted. An apostasy so subtilly adapted to our fallen nature that even Evangelical Christianity is leavened by it. God thereupon took up Abraham and his race to be His agents and witnesses upon earth, and "unto them were committed the oracles of God." But the nation of Israel proved false to that trust; and instead of being light-bearers to the world, they proudly claimed a monopoly of Divine favour. The Holy Temple, designed to be "a house of prayer for all nations," they regarded as their own house, and ended by making it "a den of thieves." Here, then, we have the clue to a right reading of the 11th chapter of Romans. It is a chapter of cardinal importance to the student of prophecy, but it is much neglected. And the Apostle's warning to us Gentiles not to be "wise in our own conceits" is practically ignored, as witness the figment that "the Christian Church" has ousted Israel from the olive tree position. The teaching of the chapter is explicit, that Gentiles are wild olive branches, " grafted, contrary to nature, into a good olive tree," the natural branches being Israelite. But they are only branches. For the allegory of the olive tree points back to the Abrahamic covenant and promise. And it is not as "members of the Church" that we are grafted into it, but as Gentiles, who, in virtue of faith, are become "children of Abraham." In the true Church there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Neither is there in the Vine, which represents a vital relationship with Christ, to be manifested by fruit-bearing.
And this chapter teaches emphatically that the present age is not only parenthetical but, in its earthly aspect, abnormal. And further, that as Israel was cut off because of unbelief, so the Professing Church of this age will be cut off. And then "There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. And so all Israel shall be saved" (v. 26) Not "every Israelite," but Israel as a nation. For this chapter does not deal with the position and destiny of individuals, but with national and dispensational distinctions and changes.
Neither does it deal with Churches in the sense of our English word "denominations," but with the Professing Church on earth as a whole. For Scripture recognises only two Churches, namely, the Church the Body of Christ, which, when complete, will be manifested in heavenly glory; and the Professing Church, "the outward frame of so-called Christendom," now drifting to its "fearful end." Even with knowledge of its evil history and present condition, we can form no adequate conception of what it will become when all true Christians are called away to heaven, and the influence of the Holy Spirit is no longer felt. But with awe we ponder the words of the Apocalyptic vision, that when the day of its judgment comes all heaven will ring with Hallelujahs, and the wonderful Beings who sit around the throne will fall upon their faces in adoring worship as they join in the refrain, "Hallelujah, Amen" "All Israel shall be saved." "And if the casting away of them was the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead!" The cemetery condition in which Christendom will leave the world shall give place to the life and gladness of a summer garden! For when the People of the Covenant have been regenerated in the great revival foretold in prophecy, "the gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world." And the result of their testimony will be the in-numerable multitude of earth's great Feast of Ingathering "out of all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues." Let us then shake free not only from the errors, but from the mean pettiness of Latin theology on this great subject. One of the most popular of its accredited exponents in our own day describes the present age as "the last great eon of God's dealings with mankind," Could we but realise aright the significance of the Ministry and Death of Christ in God's purposes for earth, we might be tempted to declare that this age of ours is the first great eon of the unfolding of those purposes. And the statement, though unwarranted, would not be so flagrantly false as is the "pandemonium and conflagration" theory of this theology.
If only we knew more of God, and if we realised that earth's history runs its course in open view of all the great intelligences of heaven, the mysteries of both the past and the present might perchance seem less perplexing. And we should be led with eagerness to scan the prophecies still unfulfilled, to find there that this sin-cursed earth is yet tc be a scene of blessedness and peace - all that we should expect a God of infinite goodness and power to make it:
"When a King, in kingly
Such as Earth has never known,
Shall assume the righteous sceptre,
Claim and wear the holy crown."
Let us then, with the intelligent enthusiasm of faith,
take our stand by the side of the inspired Apostle as, surveying this glorious
vista of the Divine "plan of the ages," be exclaims, "0 the depth of the riches
both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments.
and His ways past finding out!"
But no intelligent student of these prophecies, and very specially of this eleventh chapter of Romans, can fail to recognise that before they can be realised there must be "a change of dispensation" as definite and drastic as that which was signalised by the call of Abraham, and again by the "casting away" of Israel, and the welcoming of Gentile slum-dwellers, and tramps of the highways, to partake of God's great supper of salvation. The reader of these pages, therefore, will appreciate their second title, and the prominence here given to the Coming of the Lord. It is not intended to suggest that "the hope of the Church" is within the scope of the Hebrew Scriptures. But the realisation of that hope will usher in the age to which the great field of unfulfilled prophecy pertains. And therefore it provides the only standpoint from which that field can be surveyed in a true perspective.
As noticed in preceding pages, there will be not less than
three future Comings of Christ.
(1) That Coming by which this Christian dispensation of the reign of grace and the heavenly Church will be brought to an end;
(2) "the Coming of the Son of Man," in fulfilment of Messianic prophecy, to bring deliverance and blessing to His earthly people; and
(3) His Coming to judgment in a far distant future, at the close of the kingdom dispensation. But though the Coming of Christ is the hope of His people in every age, Theology gives us nothing but the "Second Advent" of His coming to judgment; and thus disposes, not only of the Christian's hope in the present dispensation, but of Israel's hope in the dispensation which is to follow it.
For while Christianity is based upon the teaching of Holy Scripture, "the Christian religion" depends largely upon the teaching of the Latin Fathers. And before the era of the great Patristic theologians "the hope of the Church" had already been forgotten; and Messianic prophecy had been so perverted or "spiritualised" as to shut out Israel's hope altogether.
But here a question of extreme importance claims attention. The saints of the Apostolic age were taught to live "in constant expectation of the Lord's return." How then is the delay of nineteen centuries to be accounted for? The Infidel's answer is that the Apostolic teaching was false. And some Christians would have us believe that, although the saints were divinely taught "to live looking for that blessed hope," it was settled by a Divine decree that the Lord would not come until long centuries had run their course. If these be the alternative solutions of the problem, most of us will take sides with the Infidel. For though the loss of the Epistles would be a disaster, it would be infinitely worse to charge the God of truth with flagrant untruthfulness of a kind that would not be tolerated in our fellow-men. But we reject both alternatives with scorn. Some, again, would tell us that owing to the evil history of the Church on earth, even from the earliest times, the promise is cancelled, and the hope it engendered is lost. But though God is often said to have "repented" in regard to threatened judgments, Scripture records no instance of His failing to fulfil a promise of blessing. Many a case, however, can be cited where the fulfilment was delayed because of unfaithfulness or sin on the part of His people. And does not this suggest the right solution of our difficulty?
But if the Lord delays His Coming until "the Church" is what it ought to be, is not the promise practically cancelled? Yes; but it was not to the Church that He gave the promise, but to His elect people scattered throughout the Church. And nowhere is it given more explicitly than in the very Scriptures which foretell the Church's apostasy and doom. Plain words are needed here. For in these days, when the Protestant spirit is waning in our land, there is no influence, perhaps, more harmful to Christian life than the prevalent superstitious and errors respecting "the outward frame of Christendom," "the Christian Church," as it is called. Our position in it and our attitude toward it ought to be akin to that which the Lord taught His disciples to maintain toward "the Jewish Church." They were in it, and yet, in a real sense, not of it. For though Divine in its origin and as to its responsibilities, it had apostatised. It was, in fact, "the world" of His prayer on their behalf (John xvii. 16). And as Bishop Westcott wrote of "the Christian Church," the world got into it in the fourth century, and has never since been got out of it. The crisis to which he referred was, presumably, the Conversion of Constantine. When wolves are about, the sheep keep near to the shepherd. And so, till then, the danger of persecution kept the Christians near to the Lord. But the century which followed was marked by such apostasy that, even in the sphere of morals, "the Christian Church" sank to the level of the heathen world.
The account given of it in Salvian's celebrated treatise on "Providence," written in the middle of the fifth century, is appalling. Here are two typical sentences from it:- "A very few excepted who flee from evil, what else is almost every assembly of Christians but a sink of vices. . . . I put it now to the conscience of all Christians whether it be not so, that you will hardly find one who is not addicted to some of the vices and crimes which I have mentioned; or rather, who is it that is not guilty of all ?
(Footnote - full extracts in "The Bible or the Church")
The first Divine warning which Scripture gives of the apostasy of the Church is the Apostle's Paul's address to the Elders of Ephesus (Acts xx. 29, 30). And it is an extremely significant fact that while his Epistles written prior to that epoch were addressed to Churches, his "Captivity" Epistles were addressed to "the Saints at Ephesus "; "the Saints at Phiippi "; "the Saints at Colosse."
In these evil days we need to hold fast the great truth which Bishop John Ryle, of Liverpool, championed so fearlessly, that "there is only one true Church," the spiritual fold which includes only those who are Christians in the deeper sense. His Christian Leaders of the Last Century is, incidentally, a grave indictment of "the Christian Churches" in our land. He shows, indeed, that at that epoch they were the enemies of Christ and of His people. When toward the end of the eighteenth century William Carey sought to excite interest in missions to the heathen, among his brethren in the Baptist Ministry, he was put down as a troublesome faddist. For "if the heathen were elect, they would be saved without their help; and if God wished them to send out missionaries He would renew the gift of tongues." And when Carey and Thomas sailed for India in June, 1793, they went out as emissaries, not of "the Christian Church," but of a dozen Baptist Ministers- "troublesome faddists "-assembled in the low-roofed back parlour of Widow Wallis, at Kettering, in October, 1792. Thus was launched, to quote Sydney Smith's sneer, by a few 'consecrated cobblers,' the first English mission to the heathen in India.'
If the men who took the initiative in work of this kind had waited for "the Christian Church " to promote missions to the heathen, the heathen would possibly be still unevangelised. For even the Church Missionary Society was the offspring of the despised "Clapham Sect." The meeting at which it was founded was held in neither Westminster Abbey nor St. Paul's, but in a hired room in a poor sort of City inn. And it was not till forty years afterwards that Ecclesiastical dignitaries accorded it their patronage. For by that time all the Churches had begun to feel the influence of the Evangelical revival of the early decades of last century.
Still deeper and far more widespread was the influence of the revival which marked the middle of the century. But no sooner did the spiritual power of that revival begin to wane than a new apostasy set in. And as the result our National Church has been so thoroughly corrupted by Romanising influences that it is no longer Protestant, and the great Evangelical Party is but a memory of the past. And all our British Churches have been leavened with the Kultur of that German infidelity which has reduced that nation morally to the level of savages.
But what bearing has all this upon the truth of the Lord's Coming? It is owing to a false estimate of "the Church" that so many devout Christians neglect that truth, seeing that it is ignored in all our doctrinal standards. It will be said, perhaps, that it has no place in the "dogmatic theology" of the Epistles. True, for it is a fact of great significance that the Coming of the Lord is never mentioned as a doctrine that needed to be expounded, but only as a truth with which every Christian was supposed to be familiar.
And the reason of this is clear. For the very first day on which a convert was privileged to enter a Christian assembly he heard the words, "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till He come." And if "unlearned in doctrine," he might well ask, "But has He not come? ", and then all would be explained to him; and ever afterwards, as week by week he heard those charter words, the hope of the Coming would be inseparably linked with the atoning death of Christ.
But with Christians generally all this is now forgotten, and the Lord's Supper points only back to Calvary. And it is too commonly associated with "the cult of the Crucifix," which reaches the Pagan level in "the reservation of the Sacrament" and "the Mass." Indeed, there are many, even among spiritual Christians, who habitually speak of the Supper as "remembering the Lord's death." We do thus "proclaim the Lord's death "; but the vital and essential element in the sacred rite is that to which the Lord's own words give emphasis: "This do in remembrance of ME "-not a dead Christ, but an absent Saviour and Lord.
If then, shaking free from every false or superstitious estimate of "the Church" and its theology, the Lord's Supper regained its right place in Christian thought and Christian experience, the truth of the Coming would be restored to the place it held in Apostolic days; and a vague sort of intellectual faith in a "Second Advent" in a vastly distant future, would give place to a real heart-belief in the Lord's return, as a present hope, to cheer and oomfort us in sorrow, and to influence character and conduct in our daily life.
Of days in Israel when their religious leaders failed them it was written, "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord listened, and He heard it; and a book of remembrance was written before Him." And in these days of ours let us remember that it was not "the Church" or its leaders that promoted missions to the heathen, but a few lightly-esteemed Christians who were fired with the enthusiasm of faith in God. And if even a very few spiritual Christians in every place would begin to "speak often one to another" about the Coming of the Lord they would soon come together to pray for His return. And from such small beginnings, it may be that, for the first time in the history of Christendom, companies of His people shall be found meeting together to claim 'the fulfilment of His promise, "Surely I am coming quickly," and to pray the prayer which He Himself has given us, "Even so, come Lord Jesus."
It is due to the "text-card" system of Bible study, and the resulting ignorance of "dispensational truth" (see page 40 ante), that so many Ohristians ignore, and some vehemently reject, "that blessed hope" of the Lord's Coming. For they are thus betrayed into confounding His Coming as Son of Man for the deliverance of His earthly people, after "the great tribulation," in a future age, with His Coming to call home His heavenly people, and to bring this Christian dispensation to an end. And this "text-card" system is harmful in a wholly different sphere. No pulpit utterance of recent years obtained a wider publicity than the "Love your enemies" sermon preached in St. Margaret's, Westminster, on the 25th March two years ago. The Lord's teaching for the guidance of His disciples in their "Gospel of the Kingdom" ministry was used to indicate what our attitude ought to be toward our enemies in this war, entirely ignoring His words to those same disciples on the eve of His leaving them (Luke xxii. 35, 36). And yet even a village Sunday school might be expected to notice that He then bade them to provide themselves with swords! Neither did the preacher notice the Lord's emphatic statement that His teaching was not to be taken as cancelling one jot or tittle of the law, i.e., the Mosaic Scriptures. And by those very Scriptures it is that our public affairs, whether national or international, should be regulated. This question, moreover, may become a burning one if, as we hope, our armies invade Germany and seize Berlin. Are our troops to fraternize with the Germans, and declare their love for them? Or is their bearing toward them to be akin to that of our police and magistrates toward our criminals at home? We may rest assured that there will be no reprisals in kind for the hideous atrocities inflicted by the enemy upon peaceful citizens in the lands they have invaded. But if the Governments of the Allies should see fit to inflict exemplary punishment upon Germany as a nation, by rifling and destroying all national property, let no British Christians bring discredit upon Holy Scripture by raising a protest based upon perversion of the teaching of our Divine Lord. And what is to be our attitude as Christians toward our German brethren after this war? If by condemning and deploring the crimes committed by their nation against humanity and law they give proof that they are indeed followers of Christ, our course is clear. But otherwise we may fitly act toward them in the spirit of the Lord's explicit words recorded in Matthew xviii. 15-17, and refuse definitely to acknowledge them as Christians.
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