TEN SERMONS on the SECOND ADVENT
VI. THE CHURCH'S MOTIVE FOR SERVICE.
"Beloved, now are we the sons of
God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when He
shall appear we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every one
that has this hope in him purithieth himself, even as He is pure." -
I John iii. 2, 3.
"Every one that hath this hope," and only such as have it. For this hope is the peculiar possession of the Sons of God, who know something of "what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon them."
Then, observe, that this hope, though it is the blessed possession of "the Sons of God," is not centred in themselves, but it is fixed upon another. The words "in Him" mean literally "upon Him," i.e., upon Christ. Hence the R.V. translates it "Every one that hath this hope set on Him." It is not who hopeth, for that would refer to the act of hoping, whereas he who has this hope, has it as a permanent possession, and fixed on Christ as the glorious object. Then, its action is ever present; it "purifieth." When we "see Him," " we shall be like Him," therefore if we want to be like Him now, we must behold Him, and be occupied with Him. "He IS pure." Purity belongs to Him, and our purity is secured by occupation with Him in the glory. "We, beholding, are changed into the same image from glory to glory." Here is no restless effort, no anxious toiling. It is simply "we beholding - beholding - are changed." Here is the divine prescription for conformity to the image of Christ: here is that which will transfigure us and make us "like Him."
Now our text lays down this great principle, that the coming of Christ in glory is not a mere doctrine to be preached; not a mere theory to be held; not a mere dogma to be believed, but it is the mighty motive for all true Christian service. It is a hope that is bound up inseparably with all doctrines, all ordinances, all precepts, and all practice. For example, we desire to "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called": we desire to "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing"; to be "fruitful in every good work"; diligent in all service. Then the question is, How shall we accomplish this? "What must we do" in order to attain this desired end?
Man, of course (even the spiritual man), is ready with his various rules for holy living! for he is by nature a Pharisee, and is always ready "to do" something. Even when he confesses that he has been "justified by grace" he would like to be sanctified by works! He forgets that God has "made Him (Jesus) to be unto us, justification and sanctification," and that we are not justified in Christ by grace without an effort, and then left to be sanctified in ourselves by our own effort. Truly, in this - in the highest things as well as in the lowest - in this, as in all beside, God's thought are not man's thoughts, nor his ways our ways (Is. lv. 8). Man says that faith is that which will produce holiness of living; God says it is hope. Man says it is faith in Christ's power to keep me if I can only keep my own faith! but God says it is "hope" in Christ's coming for me, that will purify me, and this blessed hope He has given me as my permanent possession.
At the very best, all this is only man's substitute for God's divine prescription. It shuts out the true way and gives a false way; it shuts out the only efficacious means, and presents powerless means; it shuts out the substance, and gives a shadow. God's way of making our walk correspond with our "holy calling," is to fill us with the blessed hope of Christ's coming, and to occupy us with His glory, so that "we beholding... are changed." Man's way is to occupy us with ourselves: with our spiritual life, which is to be deepened; with our faith, which is to be increased; with our walk, that is to be perfected. God's way is to point us to Christ's glory in heaven; man's way is to point us to Christ's power in us. God says the hope of coming glory will purify us; man says it is the power of present faith that will do it.
Oh, dear brethren, beware of any presentation of Doctrine that takes the eye from Christ! Beware of any phase of it which puts anything, however minute, however plausible, however apparently good, between the heart and Christ. Beware of building on the promises, instead of on the Promiser; beware of being occupied with the blessing instead of the Blesser. If the mere "blessing" be the object of our lives, we shall most certainly never attain it: but having the Blesser we have all He can give, and His richest blessing will be with us without an effort.
Hence, you will observe, here, that it is not the doctrine of Christ's second coming that will do anything for us, but it is Christ who is coming, on whom this, our purifying hope, is set. This necessarily keeps the heart in contact with Christ. This contact secures our "abiding in Him" without striving to abide. This 'abiding' is the source of all fruitfulness and obedience (John xv. 5). Hence the power of this hope. The Buddhists have a saying, that "if you think of Buddha and pray to Buddha you will become Buddha" So the one who looks and waits for God's Son from Heaven will be like Enoch, the seventh from Adam. He will "walk with God," for he knows that at any moment it may be said of him "he was not, for God took him." It is easy for superficial readers and thinkers to pronounce the Apostles mistaken in looking for the Lord in their day. But no one can be "mistaken" who thus realizes the power and blessing of this purifying hope. The Apostles and early Christians were no more mistaken than the saints who, yesterday, fell asleep. For their Christian character was, alike, shapen and formed by having their hope "set on Him." And happy shall we be if we are like them in thus looking for His appearing.
Note now, some of the practical uses which the Holy Spirit makes of this blessed hope in the Word of God.
1. It is a powerful motive with the sinner to make him turn from his evil ways. The command to repent stands frequently connected with the Lord's coming (Matt. iii. 2; Acts iii. 19, 20; xvii. 30, 31). All the passages which speak of the nearness of the day of the Lord, its suddenness, its terrors for the ungodly; all appeal powerfully to the neglector of the great salvation. If this doctrine be really true, it is evident that it is not merely a question of the uncertainty of life (which is the point of most pulpit appeals), but of the certainty of Christ's coming. "When once the Master of the House hath risen up and shut to the door," &c. All depends on this:- the movement of Christ! while He is seated at God's right hand the door of mercy is open, when once He is risen up, it will be shut! And yet preachers neglect this powerful motive, and introduce another which the Scriptures do not urge.
2. Again, why is a man not profited if he "gain the whole world and lost his own soul?" (Matt. xvi. 26). Why? Because the next verse tells us "FOR the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels and then shall He reward every man according to his works." That is why. If a man could gain the whole world, it would be useless for the Lord is coming to judge it.
3. Why is the case of mere professors, who say "Lord, Lord," so hopeless? (Matt. vii. 21) Because the next verse tells us, that "in that day... then will I profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from Me." That is why!
4. How does Jesus warn us not to be ashamed of Him and of His words now (Mark viii. 38). By reminding us in the next verse, that "of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels."
5. What is the true comfort for those who are "troubled" at Christ's absence? Not, you shall die and come to me, but "I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also" (John xiv. 1-3).
6. What is true comfort in bereavement? "Comfort one another with these words." What words? Words which tell of the reunion of those who have fallen asleep with those who are alive and remain, when the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven to receive both into His presence. "So (lit., thus, in this manner) shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thess. iv. 13-18). The Great Comforter Himself likewise connected true comfort with Resurrection. "Thy brother shall rise again" (John xi. 23). But man has improved on that; and has quite a different mode of comforting bereaved ones now. He quite dispenses with the hope of the Advent and of Resurrection, and bids all mourners to comfort themselves with a kind of Christian Spiritualism, which quiets everyone, good and bad alike, with the delusion of all going to heaven when they die!
7. The hope of a groaning creation is bound up with the manifestation of the saints with Christ in glory. "For the earnest expectation of the creature (creation, R.V.) waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God... because the creature (creation, R.V.) itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty (R.V. into the liberty of the glory) of the children of God" (Rom. viii 19-23).
8. With what motive are we urged not to judge one another now, and not to be moved when others judge us? (I Cor. iv. 3, 4) Because the next verse says, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God."
9. If we are exhorted to draw near with faith and take the bread and wine in memory of our Lord's death at His first advent, we cannot, or ought not to do it, without connecting it with His second advent (I Cor. xi. 26), "For as often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till He come."
10. Is love for the person of Christ set before us as the greatest and most important of all things? It is so in consideration of the fact that He is coming again. "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be Anathema [accursed], Maranatha [our Lord cometh] (I Cor. xvi. 22). It is the fact of the Lord's coming which puts everything in its right place. The apostle had much to complain of in this first epistle to the Corinthians. In chapter i., divisions; iv., false judgments; v., uncleanness; vi., brother going to law with brother; x. xi., errors in ritual; xv. 35, errors of doctrine; but when he comes to the last verse in that epistle; when it is a question of Maran-atha; when things are weighed in light of that all-pervading fact of the Lord's coming, then he does not say, if any man be not moral or orthodox, &c., but "if any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ." As much as to say - Nothing but love for Christ will stand us in any stead when "Our Lord cometh." A man may be perfectly moral, orthodox, and correct in ritual, and yet have no love for Christ! This fact of the Master's coming puts all these things in their proper place, and tells us that the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day, and only those who have His love shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Ghost shall be exalted with Him.
11. Are we exhorted (Eph. iv. 30) to "grieve not the Holy Spirit of God"? it is added, "whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption."
12. Are we exhorted to "be sober"? the exhortation is based on the same motive. (I Thess. v. 2-6).
13. Are we exhorted to forbearance and gentleness? (for this is the meaning of the word in Phi. iv. 5), "Let your moderation be known unto all men"? The reason for it is "The Lord is at hand," and He therefore will put all right that is now so wrong. And if His coming be so near, such things are not worth contending for.
14. Have we "need of patience that after we have done the will of God we may receive the promise" (Heb. x. 36)? The motive for it is found in the next verse:-"For yet a little while and He that shall come will come and will not tarry." And again, "Be patient therefore brethren unto the coming of the Lord." (Jas. v. 7).
15. Are we exhorted to mortify the flesh? This is still the mighty motive, "When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth," etc. (Col. iii. 4, 5)
16. Does the apostle pray that his Philippian converts "may be sincere and without offence"? It is with reference to and "till the day of Christ." (Phil. i. 9, 10).
17. If John exhorts his "little children" to "abide in Him," the exhortation is pointed with this motive "that when He shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming." (I John ii. 28.)
18. If our faith be tried, it is that it "might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ." (I Pet. i. 7).
19. We are bidden to "rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings." Why? "that when His glory shall be revealed ye may be glad also with exceeding joy." (I Pet. iv. 13.)
20. If we are exhorted to "watch unto prayer," it is because "the end of all things is at hand." (I Pet. iv. 7)
Here are twenty examples, and a hundred might easily be given. But these will be sufficient to show that the doctrine is no mere visionary enthusiasm, or fanaticism; but is one of the most practical of all the truths revealed in the Word of God.
But there is one aspect which we must consider at greater length, and that is its connection with Missionary work. There is nothing more urgently and frequently laid to its charge, than that this doctrine tends to paralyse missionary effort. But "the tree is known by its fruit," and so far from this being the case, we find one among the Primitive Churches which is indeed a Model Church, the church of Thessalonica. It received abundant and almost unqualified praise; and it was emphatically a missionary church. "Ye were ensamples (the apostle writes - I Thess. i. 7, 8) to all that believe, in Macedonia and Achaia, for from you sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad." And this church was all this because of the Christian character of its members. That character was formed on "all truth," and hence it was not deformed. It was perfect in its threefold completeness.
(I) They had "TURNED to God from idols,
(2) to SERVE the living and true God, and
(3) to WAIT for God's Son from Heaven" (I Thess. i. 9, 10). Yes. They waited for God's Son from Heaven. Not for Death, or Providence, or Titus, or the World's conversion, or the Restoration of the Jews, or for the reconstruction of the Roman Earth, but for God's Son from these two Epistles to the Thessalonians. One verse in four! a dozen passages in four or five pages which speak of the coming of God's Son from Heaven! Every chapter contains a reference to it (I Thess. i. 10; ii. 17-20; iii. 11-13; iv. 13-18; v. 1-6, 13; 2 Thess. i. 6-10; ii. 1-12; iii. 5). No wonder it was a Model Church!
Again, there are facts which none can gainsay. The Early Christians were characterised by two things, (1) their doctrine was intensely Millenarian and (2) their practice was intensely Missionary. They waited and looked for the Lord, and "they went everywhere preaching the Word." And the period in the later history of the Church was marked by the absence of these two things which generally go together. A man may have a missionary spirit and yet not look for Christ's return. But it is impossible for one who "waits for God's Son from Heaven" not to do his utmost to "sound forth the word of the Lord in every place."
Did not the Saviour tell us that it was "the wicked servant" who said in his heart "My Lord delayeth His coming"? Did He not warn us of the three great dangers which flow from the "Evil" heart that cherishes such a thought?
(1) Self-indulgence: he begins "to eat and drink with the drunken."
(2) Self-assertion: he begins "to smite his fellow-servants." And
(3) Self-delusion: "the Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for Him, and in an hour that he is not aware of." (Matt. xxiv. 48-50. Luke xii. 45, 46.)
No! Our Lord's coming when held in the power of the doctrine, is the greatest possible incitement to Missionary work, and to Pastor fidelity, integrity, and zeal. Look at I Pet. v. 2-4 "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind, neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock, and when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." And 2 Tim. iv. 1, 2 (R.V.) "I charge thee in the sight of God and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the quick and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and teaching." And Phil. ii. 16, "Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain."
These are the appeals of Scripture as to Ministerial and Missionary work and zeal; and how powerful is the message, carried under such motives! Look at the appeal to the heathen idolators (Acts xvii. 30, 31), or to the scoffers and mockers (Jude 14, 15). How powerful and weighty are these motives for, and subjects of preaching. And the consolation for the workers, how sweet, based on the same blessed truth: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day; and not to me only but unto all them also, that love His appearing." (2 Tim. iv. 7, 8). No, dear brethren, there can be no paralysing of missionary effort when its very key note is "I must work while it is day for the night cometh when no man can work."
On the contrary, the doctrine of the Lord's speedy coming puts all work in its right place. It tells us that the great object of the preaching of the gospel is not the conversion of the world, which would put off that coming to an indefinite day, or for a thousand years at least. The professing church has told the world that its mission is to convert it, but she deceives the world, and the world can turn round and taunt her with her failure, while it can point to the awful fact that it is fast converting the professing church to its own worldliness.
It all depends, however, on what the gospel was sent and meant to do. If the gospel was meant to convert the world, it will be a failure if this is not done. But if the gospel was meant "to take out ... a people for His name," then it is not a failure, for this is being done. If it was sent that God might in mercy "save some," then it is not a failure. If it was given that a company which no man can number might be saved out of every people and kindred and nation, then it is no failure, for that is being done. If it was sent that it might be "preached for a witness unto all nations," then it is not a failure for this is being done." And these are the objects of the gospel, and therefore of Missionary labour "according to the Scriptures."
All the Prophets and Apostles agree in testifying that the world will never know blessing without the Blesser; will never know peace till "the Prince of Peace" shall come, and will never know Righteousness until "He comes whose right it is;" until "a King shall reign in Righteousness." The Prophets and Apostles of old were animated by no such false hopes. One said "Lord, who hath believed our report." (John xii. 38. Rom. x. 16). Another said "The love of Christ constraineth us" (not the hope of success). They strove as "Stewards" to be faithful (I Cor. iv. 1-3), and looked for the commendation "Well done good and faithful servant" - not good and successful. Yes, it is "the love of Christ," the love of a crucified, risen, ascended, and returning Saviour which alone will enable any one to obey the last great command "GO! preach the gospel to every creature." There our commission begins and ends. We have nothing to do with results. As stewards we must be found faithful and no apparent failure can dishearten us if we only bear in mind that "known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world;" and that His word cannot return to Him void. It must prosper in the thing whereunto He hath sent it; and that His purpose and counsel must stand for ever.
Thus, this mighty motive breathes its peace into the hearts of Christian workers, takes away all anxiety, and removes all fear. Need I contrast with this, the powerlessness and inadequacy of any other or lower motives, which lead to the frantic efforts of but too many in the present day who believe the world is to be converted before Christ comes, and that man can do it if he likes! No wonder that such are tempted to lose faith in the power of the simple Word of God, and take up every new scheme, adopt every fresh novelty, and try every fresh panacea; aiming at Reformation rather than at Regeneration, hardly touching the fringe of the masses; and then leaving those whose characters they have improved and reformed, just as far from the kingdom of Heaven.
No - dear brethren - "that which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit ... Ye must be born again" (John iii. 8, 9). And the gospel has lost none of its ancient power. It is, as much to-day as when it was first preached, "the power of God unto salvation." It needs no pity, no help, and no hand-maid. It can overcome all obstacles, and break down all barriers. No human device need be tried to prepare the sinner to receive it, for if God has sent it no power can hinder it; and if He has not sent it, no power can make it effectual.
Dear brethren, let us as Christian ministers and workers esteem it our highest privilege to be "workers together with God" in a work that cannot possibly fail. Let us receive into our hearts this mighty motive for holy living, and effective service. Remember how it is used by the Holy Spirit in the Word as the ground of its appeals, the point of its arguments, and the basis of its exhortations: and "knowing the time that now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our Salvation nearer that when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand, let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on THE ARMOUR OF LIGHT." (Rom. xiii. 11, 12)
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