TEN SERMONS ON THE SECOND ADVENT
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF PROPHETIC STUDY.
"We have also a more sure word of
prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed (as unto a light that shineth
in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise) in your
hearts."- 2 Peter i. 19.
However unimportant the Study of Prophecy may be in the judgment of men, we learn from our text that it is a subject of the greatest importance in the sight of God. It is true that the great majority of professing Christians dismiss prophecy as being at once unimportant and uninteresting. This may be because instead of allowing God to mean what He says, each interpreter declares that He means something very different, and thus the ordinary Bible reader is bewildered with the Babel around him: or it may be that the belief that Christ will not come till at least a thousand years, makes it useless to look for Him or to study the Scriptures which speak of His return: or it may be that the belief that, practically, Christ comes at the death of each believer, renders it a matter of little consequence whether He will return before or after the Millenium. Hence when one and another raises the midnight cry, "Behold the Bridegroom cometh," it is treated as the warning of Lot was treated, when "he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law." They are confessedly ignorant of the subject, and this doubtless is the reason of their confidence that the prophecies are unprofitable, if not dangerous. But we are to consider this great subject together, because we believe in the importance of the "sure word of Prophecy;" and our object is to have this importance impressed on our hearts.
Let us first consider the place which God Himself has given it in His Word. Our aim ought ever to be to hold all "Truth" in proportion, for Truth out of proportion becomes error. Not only must we receive God's Truth because it is the Truth, but we must receive it in the order in which God has revealed it, in the proportion in which God has given it, and with the emphasis which God has put upon it. Now look at Prophetic truth in this light. What was the very first promise in Eden? Was it not a prophecy concerning the seed of the woman, and His victory over that old serpent the devil? What did the faith of the Patriarchs rest on but the word of Prophecy? Abel's was faith in the coming sacrifice, Enoch's was faith in the coming Lord, Noah's was faith in a coming judgment, Abraham's was faith in a coming heir and a coming inheritance, Isaac's was faith in "things to come," Jacob's was faith in a coming Blessing, Joseph's was faith in a coming Exodus, Moses' in a coming "recompense of reward;" while all looked and waited for "some better thing," and the "better resurrection." Their faith was based on the "sure word of Prophecy," and in the strength of faith in this, they suffered and they overcame. The Pentateuch is filled with Prophetic word and type. The ceremonial law, the Tabernacle and its ordinances, were all "shadows of good things to come." The Psalms are full of "the testimony of Jesus" which is "the spirit of prophecy." Of David we read, that "He being a prophet" - "He seeing this before," spake of Christ. And besides the Psalms, there are seventeen books (out of thirty-nine) directly and wholly prophetic. If we come to the New Testament we find that there are 260 chapters; and in them, what one other truth or doctrine will you find mentioned as this is 318 times? If we take verses instead of chapters, we find one verse in every twenty-five referring to this great doctrine. If we take its separate parts, we find that prophecy formed the one subject of John the Baptist's ministry; that the Discourses of our Lord were permeated with prophecy; that nearly all the epistles contain prophecy; and that the last book in the Bible is nothing but prophecy.
As to ourselves, all our hopes are built on prophecy. The promise of future victory, the pledge of Resurrection, the joys of Heaven, the hope of glory and all that we know about them is nothing but prophecy. Surely, if we may judge of the importance of a doctrine by the prominence given to it in the word of God, then we may say that we have in prophecy a subject "whereunto ye do well that ye take heed in your hearts." If we need an example as to our proper attitude with reference to it, we have only to look at DANIEL. God had made him a prince among prophets. As a scholar, a statesman, and a saint, he was pre-eminent. He was "a man greatly beloved," and "highly favoured," with no "howbeit!" Well, how did he treat the "word of prophecy"? Jeremiah had preceded him and foretold the captivity of his people in Babylon. Did Daniel say it did not concern him? That it was not important? No! He "did well" and "took heed in his heart" to the word of prophecy:- "I Daniel understood by books the number of the years whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolation of Jerusalem." (Dan. ix. 2) What was the effect of his prophetic study? See the next verse, "And I set my face unto the Lord God...and I prayed unto the Lord my God." The study of Prophecy drew him to his God and laid him at His feet. The same may be said of SIMEON. He was among those who were "waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Ghost was upon him." He found his rest in Christ as God's salvation "prepared" to be "a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel." (Luke ii. 25-32) The same may be said of ANNA: She was among those who "looked for redemption in Jerusalem," and this looking drew her very near to the Redeemer; for He was the burden of her testimony - she "spake of HIM." (Luke ii. 38) These saints had been diligent students of Prophecy, and God honoured them both by a vision of Him for whom they had waited and looked.
Yes, Jesus is "the spirit of prophecy," and no study of it can be right, that does not lead to, and end in Him. You may see the effect of mere head-knowledge, in "the chief priests and scribes." (Matt. ii.) They knew the letter of Prophecy. When Herod "demanded of them where Christ should be born," they could take the sacred roll, and put their finger on Micah v. 2, who prophesied that out of Bethlehem should come the "Governor." But there it ended. They had no love for that Governor, while the wise men, truly wise though ignorant of the written word, could not rest till they found their place in worship at His feet. Thus those who had mere head-knowledge (that only "puffeth up") placed that knowledge at the service of Herod to compass the destruction of Jesus; while those who had true heart-love (which "buildeth up") were Divinely guided and found their happy place at Jesus' feet.
Surely we should not lightly esteem that part of God's word to which we are specially exhorted to "take heed in our hearts;" and on which He has thus specially set His seal. Nor can it be right to speak of those who "love His appearing" as eccentric! Alas, that they are eccentric is only too true, but this only shows how far the bulk of professing christians have drifted from the Divine order and the Divine importance of God's word.
If this doctrine which holds so large a place in the Bible is neglected, and unheeded by the majority of professing christians, we need no other evidence that the Church is departing from the faith, and has entered on the "down-grade."
If we were asked to name the subjects which are put forward to-day with the greatest frequency and urgency, we should say, they are Baptism and the Lord's Supper. But note the place which these occupy, and the position given to them in the Epistles, which were written specially for the instruction of the Church. Baptism is mentioned only 19 times in 7 epistles (the noun 5 and the verb 14), and it is not once name in 14 out of the 21 epistles; and as for the Lord's Supper there are not more than three or four references to it in the whole of the New Testament. In 20 (out of 21) of the Epistles it is never once alluded to! From the prominence given to it by man, one would imagine the New Testament to be filled with it. It is not a question of one subject being important, and another not; but it is a question of proportion and relation; and certainly if the Scriptures contain twenty references to the one subject of the Lord's Coming, to one reference concerning another, we may say that God has settled for us what He deems profitable for us, and important.
And is it nothing that the Father has revealed to us the things which He hath "prepared for them that love Him?" Is it nothing that Jesus has assured us that He is coming to receive us into that place which He has gone to prepare for us? Is it nothing that the Holy Ghost has caused Holy men of Old to write these things for our learning and has been sent on purpose to "guide us into all truth," and to show us "things to come" (John xvi. 12, 13)? Alas, alas, the need for these questions shows us the character of the times: and shows how the Enemy of the Word of God is succeeding in his one great object. What has been the great device of the Enemy from the very beginning till now? Has it not been to deny, pervert and hide the Word of God? What was it that caused the overthrow of the old world? Disdain of the Prophetic warnings of Noah! They thought Prophecy was of no importance! But "As it was in the days of Noah....as it was in the days of Lot....even thus shall it be when the Son of man is revealed" (Luke xvii. 26-30, Matt. xxiv. 37-39). Israel received warning after warning from God's inspired Prophets; but it was of no importance they thought; and so men say to-day, but their end will be the same, and the word that God hath spoken, the same shall judge them in that day.
Note again, the words of our text, "We have a more sure word of prophecy whereunto ye do well that ye take heed (as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise) in your hearts." I call your attention to the parenthesis in which I place this clause, and connect the words "take heed" with the words "in your hearts." We have many examples of such parentheses in the Scriptures.*
* See Eph. i. 19 ("according...all in all") to end of chapter. Then ii. 1 takes up the theme. So that it reads thus: - i. 19, "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe" .... "even you who were dead in trespasses and sins."
See another illustration in Eph. iii., Sermon No. 5.
An important example is found in I Cor. xv. where, if verses 20 to end of 28, are put into a parenthesis, the sense reads on thus If there be no resurrection then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished, and in that case, what is the good of anyone being baptized into Christ to take the place of those who have only perished (This is the force of the word translated "for" see Rom. v. 6, 7, 8. Gal. ii. 20. Eph. v. 25. Philemon 13. Heb. ii. 9. I Pet. ii. 21, etc. where it means instead of, or taking the place of).
We ought to observe that these parentheses generally arise from introverted parallels in the structure of the Originals, e.g., Gen. xv. 13, "Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them, four hundred years." Where this parenthesis is disregarded, the day-dawn and day-star rising in the heart, is usually explained as meaning conversion. But this explanation infers that prophecy should be well heeded until conversion, and then it may be neglected; but this clearly cannot be the meaning! The parenthesis must be observed if we would get any sense from this passage. No wonder that the verse should come to be taken as though it said prophecy is a dark place which ye do well to avoid! for people do call it dark indeed, and most certainly they avoid it. But the Holy Spirit describes this world as the dark place, and states that this word of prophecy is the only lamp in it: the only light that can show us where we are and whither all is tending.
Prophecy is the light that shines during this night (which, thank God, is "far spent") "until the day-dawn and the shadows flee away," until that "morning without clouds," when the day-star shall rise (Rev. xxii. 16). Then we shall have the "True Light" itself of which "the Prophets did write." Surely, if it is written, "whereunto ye do well that ye take heed," we do not well if we treat it as of little or no importance. Foreseeing all this the Holy Spirit has pronounced a solemn and emphatic blessing on all who obey the precept of our text: "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein" (Rev. i. 3). He does not say anything about understanding it, but reading, hearing, and keeping it; in other words, taking heed to it in our hearts. It follows therefore that those who do not thus heed it, must of necessity lose the promised blessing. Again it is written (2 Tim. iii. 16, 17) "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable," etc.* How many treat Scripture as though it were not "all profitable," as though one quarter at least were not profitable. They cannot believe that "all Scripture is profitable," without condemning their confessed neglect of so large a portion of it!
* The Revisers translate this, "Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable," etc. But this is not English, to say nothing of the Greek. For it can no more be "Every Scripture" than Eph. ii. 21 can mean Every building. The word "also" is meaningless unless a previous assertion has been made. (Note, and stick to the AV -Ed.)
Heb. iv. 13 is strictly parallel in its structure and in the arrangement of the words, but the Revisers have emphasized the rendering of the A.V. "are naked and laid open" and have not said "all things naked are also laid open"! Likewise in I Tim. iv. 14. They have said "Every creature of God is good and nothing is to be rejected," and have not said "Every good creature of God is also nothing to be rejected"! Thus they themselves condemn their rendering of 2 Tim. iii. 16. But it does not end with neglect; for while most neglect it, many pervert it, others merely speculate about it and treat what they call "prophetic language" according to their fancies and imaginations. They thus make the word of Prophecy of none effect and put it to an open shame. Not that this can form any excuse for our neglect of that Word. For this treatment of Scripture has characterized every age of Ecclesiastical History. What important truth or fundamental doctrine has not suffered from the follies of writers who have speculated and reasoned about Spiritual truths. All through the ages men have been "turned to fables" and have "given heed to wandering spirits and doctrines of demons." Hence the Deity and Atonement of Jesus, Justification by grace, and nearly every other article of the Christian Faith has been denied or perverted. But surely this is all the greater reason why we should contend for them and "take heed" to them; and if the great doctrine of the Second Advent of our Lord has been covered over and obscured with the teachings of men, there is all the more reason why we should seek to separate what God has said from what man has taught, and bend our devout and earnest attention the more earnestly to this great and important subject.
There is one other consideration which I might urge, if another be needed; and perhaps it is second to none in its powerful conclusions. It is the one which is to form the subject of our sixth Sermon and therefore I need not do much more than mention it here. It is this: The importance of prophecy as seen in its practical effects on Christian life. "The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of Prophecy," and therefore the right study of it necessarily links us with Jesus, and occupies us with Him. Those who love Him will long for His appearing, that they may see Him; and this longing will re-act and increase the love. We are exhorted to wait and watch for Him, so that nothing may come between our hearts and Himself, and that thus our character may be formed. "We beholding...are changed into the same image." No restless efforts, no anxious toiling, but simply "We beholding...are changed"! Christian life is not molded by precepts, or regulated by ordinances. The Law which was "holy, just and good," only proved the impotence of the sinner, in order that he might cast himself on the omnipotence of the Saviour. Hence we find that the Grace that brings salvation (Titus ii. 11-14) also teaches us how to live, and what to live for. The Law only commanded, but Grace "teaches" and gives the ability to learn; and it teaches us to look "for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the Great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ who gave himself for us." If any fail to look "for that blessed hope," it is clear that they either know nothing of the Salvation which grace brings, or that they have not learned the lessons which grace teaches.
This view of the subject lifts it completely out of the region of mere theological strife, and gives it its true position as the Divine means for the formation of Christian character. It shows that it is quite as much a question of piety, as it is of prophecy. And what is more, any theory or system of doctrine which has the effect of causing those who hold it, not to look "for that blessed hope," or to "wait for God's Son from Heaven," is thus shown to be contrary to, and subversive of, the great lesson which Grace teaches. There are many books from which this lesson is omitted, but they are not Divine. There are many Sermons in which you never find it, but they are neither Apostolic nor Primitive. They are the outcome of fleshly wisdom and human learning; or the products of minds who do not believe that "all Scripture is...profitable," and who do not obey the injunction of our text.
Dear brethren, may we give this great subject the place it ought to occupy, in our minds, in our hearts, and in our lives, and remember that after all it depends not so much on wisdom in the head, as on grace in the heart. It is a heart subject. See how it is thus presented in Titus ii. 13-14 - "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us," and I Thess. v. 9, 10, speaking of waking or sleeping with reference to the appearing of Jesus, the Apostle says: "for God hath not appointed us to wrath but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us that whether we wake or sleep we should live together with Him," and again: I Thess. i. 10, "To wait for His Son from Heaven, who He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivered us from the wrath to come."
It has been said of a vast mountain that what is transcendently great, seems constantly near. And we may say the same of this great doctrine. Oh that this "blessed hope" may be ever great, and ever near; great in its importance to our minds, great in its influence on our lives; and ever near in its preciousness to our hearts.
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