The Believer Established
The Lost Hope
The promise of John 14:3, is on the eve of being
fulfilled; the threefold summons of 1 Thess 4:16 will soon be heard; the wise
and foolish virgins of Matthew 25 are about to be eternally separated: in
short, the Lord Jesus Christ is coming again.
That promise, first falling from His own lips in John 14, formed the substance of a special revelation given to Paul (1 Thess 4:15), and was thrice repeated in the last message which a glorified Christ sent down to the waiting Bride. Rev 22:7,12, 20.
The Lord did not intend these words to be an empty sound, devoid of meaning, power, or effect upon the hearts of His loved ones; they were uttered to kindle there a responsive flame of joyous expectation. And this was the effect upon the hearts of the early believers. The Lord's return was to them a "BLESSED HOPE." It was no visionary prospect, but a reality which commanded their affections and could be seen expressed in their everyday lives. They waited "for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:7); the waited for God's "Son from heaven" (1 Thess 1:10); They "went forth to meet the Bridegroom."
It was this that made them practically a heavenly people. Links with earth were broken; connections with the world were severed. Earth's wealth and splendour, its gilded attractions, all its bewitching sorceries, have lost their charm and power over a man who knows the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour, and who is continually expecting that Saviour's voice to translate him in a moment to endless glory. He is so dazzled by the bright visions which pass before `faith's transpiercing eye,' that this world's glory seems dull and dim. So the early Christians were a separate and an unworldly people. Their hearts had been touched by a Saviour's love; they knew that His precious blood had washed away all their sins, and their whole souls were fired by the expectation of seeing His face and being with Him and like Him forever. The language of their hearts was--
"Oh, worldly pomp and glory!
Your charms are spread in vain!
I've heard a sweeter story,
I've found a truer gain.
Where Christ a place prepareth,
There is my loved abode!
There shall I gaze on Jesus;
There shall I dwell with God!"
Their heavenly mindedness drew down upon them the scorn, contempt, and violence of men. By their separation from the world they testified against it that its deeds were evil, and the world hated, despised, and rejected them, thus affording them the high honor of fellowship with their adorable Master. They could afford to "take it patiently" knowing that His coming drew nigh (James 5:7, 8), when the contradiction of sinners they had to endure. Ah! The Lord's coming was not to them a doctrine, or a theory, but a HOPE of strengthening, sanctifying, transforming power.
Satan sought by every means to quench their testimony. The fiery sword of persecution was unsheathed against them with relentless severity, until Satan found that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church, and "the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew." So when violence failed he tried corruption, and began to seduce the church by offering her the very things which Jesus had refused - the world and its glory.
Would she have them? Would she accept flattery and aggrandizement, at the hands of the world, those very hands which were stained with the blood of her rejected and murdered Lord? Alas! She forsook her first love. She laid aside the gory crown of martyrdom and assumed the glittering tiara of earthly grandeur and supremacy. As the world crept in, the hope of the Lord's return died out. That hope which had burnt with such a vehement and ardent flame gradually grew dim. The heart ceased to long for Him; the eye eased to watch for Him. Solemn words, "While the Bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." A worldly church could not cherish the prospect of the Lord's return. At the same time the glorious truths of eternal redemption, the present forgiveness and justification of all believers and their possession of eternal life in the knowledge of the true God and Jesus Christ, His sent One, were obscured, perverted, or denied; so that all certainty and assurance was taken even from those who were really the children of God; and the thought of the Lord's coming became a terror for the conscience rather than a delight for the heart.
The Lord's coming was referred to the end of the world, and invested with ideas of terror and judgment, which plainly proves that the church had sunk down to the level of the world. The world's guilty conscience can only predict a day of certain judgment if Jesus comes again. But believers know, or ought to know, that there is no judgment for them (John 5:24); Jesus has borne their sins at His first coming, and has whispered the wonderful love-secret into their ears that He is coming again to receive them unto Himself, that where He is there they may be also. He is coming for us not as a Judge, but as a Bridegroom - coming that He may have us where every affection of His blessed heart can flow out unhinderedly upon us. How strangely sad that such a hope should have been lost! Yet so it was for more than fifteen hundred years.
Theologians wrote of the Lord's coming, it is true; but how did they write? They wrote of His appearing as the Judge of quick and dead; of His solemn session on the Great White Throne; of His dividing the sheep from the goats; and they spoke of that day as being the time when we should know whether we were saved or not; for they had not the present knowledge of forgiveness of salvation which God gives in His word to all believers. See Jn 5:24; Acts 13:38, 39; Col 1:12-14.
Jesus will appear as the Judge and every eye shall see Him; but this is not the character of His coming for believers. Before He comes as the Judge to the world, He will come as the Bridegroom to call away His saints. Hence we find that when He appears publicly in glory and power, His saints appear with Him. Col 3:4; Jude 14; Rev 19:8-14. His coming as the Bridegroom is the Hope of the church, and this was lost sight of when the church became worldly in the time of Constantine; and all through the dark ages of papal supremacy, and even in the brighter days of the Reformation, it was never recovered, and might truly be called
THE LOST HOPE
A little over a century age, God was pleased to restore many precious truths from the obscurity into which they had been driven. Amongst others, the full present knowledge and enjoyment of the forgiveness of sins, and the possession of eternal life, were seen to be the portion of every believer on the Lord Jesus Christ. The perfection of the atoning work of the Son of God in clearing all believers from all their sins was apprehended more fully than before. The fact that believers are seen of God as dead and risen with Christ, and now by the Holy Spirit have power to reckon themselves dead indeed unto sin, was discovered to be the secret of liberty, and of a holy life. It was also seen that believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and thus united to Christ in glory as the members of His body; then shone forth again that blessed Star of hope which had been hidden so long by clouds of worldliness and unbelief. The Lost Hope began to burn again in a few loyal and devoted hearts. The midnight cry began to ring out -"Behold the Bridegroom; go ye out to meet Him."
It was at once felt that conformity to the world's fashions, customs, and conversation was inconsistent with The Hope; in fact, as it was cherished it exerted its purifying effects (1 John 3:3) upon the hearth and lives of those who had it, and they were marked by separation from the world, by simplicity in life, and by godliness in conversation. Their watchword seemed to be "Let us watch and be sober." They were a holy, happy, heavenly people.
Years passed on. From those in whose hearts the cry first sounded it went forth to a sleeping church. What numbers of slumbering ones were aroused by that cry! What a trimming of lamps; what a girding of loins ensued! Thousands will have cause to bless God throughout eternity that it reached their ears. Professors who had but an empty lamp, were led to obtain a supply of the precious oil of which they were destitute; doubting believers to rest in the finished work of Christ, and to rejoice in a known and accomplished salvation; and many dear saints of God saw new glories in Christ as the Head of His body, the Church. God was preparing the way for the return of His Son.
Yes, a hundred years and more are passed and that "blessed hope" remains unfulfilled. The Lord is still seated on His Father's throne, and His people await the moment of His rising and descent into the air. Precious and true as ever is His closing word -"Surely I come quickly!" and He looks for the fitting response -"Even so, come Lord Jesus."
Can it be untimely or inappropriate to ask, is this the present attitude of His bride? Alas! even yet many saints are actually ignorant of the fact that "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh"; while the scoffer asks boldly, "Where is the promise of his coming?" On the other hand, multitudes in Christendom have heard that Jesus is coming, and have been convinced from Scripture of the truth of the doctrine. Some have heard that midnight cry, and it has had the effect of causing them to go forth "to meet him"; hence, for more than a century small companies of believers have gathered to His name, to remember Him who was once offered to bear their sins, and who will appear the second time, apart from the question of sin, to effect the salvation of the body; to these latter a few words are now addressed.
Are you, beloved, WAITING and WATCHING? Is such the character which is expressed by your lives? Very loth should we be to give up the doctrine of the Lord's coming, but do we know the reality of it as a HOPE? Lest the truth be faced and owned. Do our words, our ways, our surroundings bear testimony to our profession that we have "turned to God form idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven"? Does He who reads our hearts and discerns our secret thoughts know that we dearly cherish this precious truth, possess in power this blessed HOPE, and day by day eagerly await its fulfilment? Must we not confess that in many cases where the truth of the Lord's coming is held, it fails to detach the heart from the world, to separate it from earthly things, and connect it with brighter things above? Surely in such cases, though the truth is held,
THE HOPE IS LOST.
For aught we know the Lord may come today. If so, in what state will He find us? With what are our hearts taken up, and on what subjects are our tongues moving? The Lord Himself? His unchanging love? His speedy return? The Lord grant that we may be in a state
"Like that which was found in His people of old,
Who tasted His love, and whose hearth were on fire
While they waited, in patience, His face to behold."
And what was the spiritual state of that "people of old "- THE Simeons and Annas of that day? The Spirit of God tells us (Luke 2) that they were "just and devout"; serving God "with fastings and prayers night and day"; speaking "of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem"; men and women in the power and current of the Holy Spirit. Oh! Saints of God, what course can we adopt other than to bow low before Him, and own that we have lost the reality and freshness of "that blessed hope"; that we have allowed the things of earth to enter our hearts, and frustrate its separating power; meanwhile praying that in His great mercy He will revive again in our hearts, and restore in sanctifying power to our souls, this most precious HOPE? Nor let us forget that cheering word -"Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them."
Oh! Beloved saints, let us awake to the fact that He is just about to return! Let us re-trim our lamps, if need be, again and again; let us "be fille with the Spirit," that we may possess, enjoy, and exhibit the effects of this HOPE in living power; meanwhile seeking, in the power of the same Spirit, to "occupy" till he come.
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