PROPHECY MADE PLAIN
I. Influence of Prophetic Truth upon Character and Conduct.
"AND when he had spoken unto me I was strengthened'' (Dan.
10. 19). That is the statement of Daniel as to the effect upon him of a
prophetic communication. Daniel knowing, as he says, "from books'' (probably
from the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel) that the time for the deliverance
of Israel from the Babylonian captivity was near at hand set himself - by
confession and prayer, confessing his sins and the sins of his people, and
seeking the face of the Lord-to know more definitely the things concerning the
future of Israel, and he describes, in the words of the text, the effect upon
himself of the revelation received. An angel was sent to enlighten him as to
the subject about which he desired to know, and the effect of it was that he
was strengthened. There was, then, a direct result, an effect upon the man
Our theme then is the influence upon character and conduct of prophetic truth. Of course I need not say that there is implied in the influence of any truth the fact that it is really believed to be true. Daniel was strengthened by a prophetic communication. We may very well imagine that there might have stood by him a man with no faith in angels or angelic communications, with no faith in prophecy whatever, and with no understanding of prophecy, and he might have heard the same words which Daniel heard, and yet they might have produced no effect upon him at all, or at least no other effect than to arouse a transitory and passing curiosity. He might have said: "Certainly I have seen a strange thing today; a very singular looking personage, shining with a radiance such as I have never seen before, came to this Daniel, and said some words to him about these Jewish people which seemed to concern their future." There is a great deal of the study of prophetic truth, and a great deal of the hearing of the exposition of prophetic truth, which has no effect upon conduct or character, simply because it is heard or studied without faith. We bring to it a sort of vulgar curiosity. We desire to know what all these images, and beasts, and horns signify, believing in a way that there is in them some unfolding of that which is to come to pass if one can but hit upon the right interpretation. We may come to the study of prophetic truth with that mind and derive no profit whatever. It is therefore a believing understanding of prophetic truth which has an iniluence upon either character or conduct.
I have mentioned these two words, character and conduct. Perhaps it would be well to make a little explanation here. Character is what we are. Conduct is what we do. A great many people seem think that reputation and character are identical things. That is not so. Reputation is what is said about us. Character is what we are. I believe that the long run character and reputation and conduct will all harmonise. For a time our reputation may be better or may be worse than we deserve. Severe things rnay be said about us. If we are with God though, we need not mind that. We need not greatly concern ourselves about it, for in time we shall be vindicated. On the other hand, we may be believed to be better than we are. Now, conduct in the long run springs from character. A man does not habitually do good actions, nor a man habitually do evil actions. We all know three things; they are very familiar to us.....
There are three things which form, in the long run, character:
I. Association. Our intimacies, our associations, perhaps more powerfully than any other influence, determine in the long run what we are. Of course there is a sense in which our associations disclose what we are now. There is a vast deal of, truth in the proverb: "Birds of a feather flock together."
2. Knowledge. What we know forms us; it is impossible for us to be affected as to our character by that of which we remain in ignorance, but we are moulded by our knowledges.
3. Expectation. That which we look forward to; element of hope or of fear, whichever it maybe. I think we shall all admit that these three things more to do with the making us what we are than all other things put together.
I want you then to consider how these influences - association, knowledge, and expectation-converge with all their shaping power upon the believing student of prophecy.
Prophecy and Intimacy with God.
I. It is peculiarly the prophetic part of Scripture which brings us into intimacy with God. Let me detain your thoughts just here for a moment. I say it is the study of the prophetic truths, the receiving from God of the revelations concerning His future purposes in that which concerns us and the world, that brings us into a peculiar intimacy with God Himself. Christ says, "I have called you friends; I have not called you servants" (John 15. 15). What is the difference? What is the proof He gives of having placed us in the relationship of friends? This: "For all things that I have heard of My Father, I have made known unto you." Friendship is an intimate relation, you see, and involves confidences. Abraham was called the friend of God, "And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that which I do?" (Gen. 18. 17). Now when God gives a prophecy He takes us into a wonderful personal intimacy. Let us, then, accept God's invitation to come unto these, His deepest counsels; to sit with Him in heavenly places while He unfolds to us the great secret of His majestic and amazing purposes. if we are ready to admit that there is a mighty influence in association, in intimacy; if we see that illustrated, and feel its effect in the human relationship in which we Stand, need I argue for one moment that that part of the Divine truth which brings us into the most intimate fellowship with Jehovah Hirnself must have the mightiest influence upon our character, and so ultimately upon our conduct?
I confess with shame that there was a time in my Christian life when I thought lightly of prophecy; when I said to myself, if not in words, at least in fact, what has that to do with me? What I wish to know is how I may be saved; how I may get blessings; how I may get to Heaven. Never mind what God intends to do with the Jewish people; never mind what His purposes are towards the world; He will due time fulfil all these things. Why should I care particularly what He is going to do with Israel? I'm not an Israelite." I say there was a time when that was my attitude towards the prophecies. Do you not see that I was actually refusing the most intimate fellowship with the Lord?
Suppose that in one of our families a father should say to his son or daughter: "Come with me apart, I wish to tell you what my great plan of life is; to tell you toward what all my endeavours tend, that which I purpose to achieve, that for which I am planning and shaping this and that event; and I wish to bring you into fellowship with me in these things." And suppose that child should say: "I care anything about that; it is not a matter that concerns me; all I care about is to know you in character of a provider; I like to sit at your table and eat the good things which you have provided and to know that you will continue to provide me with all the things of which I stand in need. As to these purposes you talk about, I don't know anything about them; they don't concern me." That child thus shut out all the larger part of the father's mind, the father's purpose, and the father's thought from his life, how formative upon the character of that child could that father be? That is just what we do when we refuse to give attention to prophetic truth; while, on the other hand, nothing brings us into such moulding intimacy with God as the believing study of prophecy.
Prophecy an Ennobling Power.
II. Think again how the knowledge acquired in this peculiar intimacy is inconceivably large and ennobling; think what the prophetic student is occupied with; think of the vastness of the subject with which the prophetic Word deals; think what a pageant that is which passes before the eye of the student of prophecy.
We open the pages of the prophetic Word, and we see passing before us the magnificent panorama of the future of the nations. Our God unfolds to us that which He is doing here and there in this world; and not only that, He lifts the veil and shows us that which He is going to do in the future. Through the prophetic Word, and through that alone, we look over into the great hereafter, and see that which is to be. We look into an open Heaven with all its joys and glories, the goal of our own desire; and we look into an open Hell. All this is in the prophetic Word. The mightiest subjects, the greatest thoughts that can possibly fill the mind are those with which the prophetic Word is occupied. Think of it! We are permitted to see in prophecy the unfolding of God's majestic purposes as regards His ancient people. We are permitted to look to the end of our own age, the church age. We see the kingdom age unfolding beyond the Church age. We are permitted to see the establishment upon this earth of a universal monarchy under the rule and reign of the Son of God Himself. Why, if it is possible for any kind of knowledge to lift us up above ignoble things, to give us thatbreadth of vision and of thought which certainly are essential to all noble character, it is the prophetic Word which will do it, and the prophetic Word only.
Prophecy a Moulding Influence.
III. I want you to think especially, if you will, how prophecy lays hold upon expectation as a moulding influence. Did you observe in your study of the Bible that more than. three-fourths of prophecy is yet unfulfilled, and that there is absolutely nothing in all the purpose of God, as it unfolds itself in the prophetic Word concerning the illimitable future, with which we, who are Christians do not stand in some way connected?
Suppose we shut out from our hearts all that vast s of expectation and hope, will you think for a moment how impoverished these Christian lives of ours must inevitably be? You know how we are influenced in the affairs of this life by that which we hope for. Take hope from a man, and what is left to him? You can do nothing with him. It is impossible to get a noble effort out of him. On the contrary, the more hope you can put into his heart the larger you make the man and all his desires.
These are the great truths with which God lays hold upon us who are His children. He unfolds for us the magnificent future, and shows us our relation to that future, and then says,.in effect, now let that rnould you here; let that react upon what you are now. He tells us, for example, that in the age to come we are to reign with Christ. Now if we believe that, the inevitable effect of it is to make us, first of all, think what is the kingly character; and as we think and meditate upon that, and get into our souls some conception of what it is to reign with Christ over this earth, there inevitably comes into the character something of the kingly. In the same way, when He tells us that we are priestly by office, how inevitably, if we believe it, do we begin to meditate upon priestly position; and so there comes into our lives and characters the priestly element.
There is nothing in the future, except Hell, to which the Christian has not a relation. Oh, think of it! Think what a vast field of thought is opened up in what we are told of Heaven itself; of its occupations, of its inhabitants, of its duration, of the condition of life there, and of all those things at which we are looking. Suppose all these things were shut out at once from the formative influences which go to make up our characters.
In. conclusion, permit me to dwell a few moments upon this question of hope. I do this because the Christian's hope is peculiarly the theme of New Testament prophecy.
First of all, what is the Christian's hope? I suppose a large number of my fellow-believers would say: "That we may get to Heaven at last; that we may find, when the Book of Life is opened, that our names are written there; that we may discover before the great white throne, with wonder and rejoicing, that we are saved; that our sins have been forgiven." It would be impossible for you to find in Scripture one line, one syllable, which makes the believer's hope to be Salvation.. How often I have asked Christians if they are saved, and they have replied: "Well, I have a hope." It is a hope of an ultimate salvation; it is a hope that somehow everything may turn out all right at last; it is a hope that Christ may not let go, and that they may get to Heaven at last. I repeat it, there is not a line of Scripture which makes Salvation the believer's hope. Let me read you a passage from Titus: "For the grace of God that bringeth Salvation hath appeared" (Titus 2. 11).
Salvation is not away off yonder at the gates of raven; Salvation is at the Cross. The grace of God that bringeth Salvation hath appeared, and it brings Salvation all the way down to where the sinner is - right there. You know our Lord's own picture of it. It is the illustration to which my mind recurs most instantly, that illustration of the Good Samaritan. You know how beautifully that shadows out this blessed truth, that just as the Good Samaritan went down the Jericho road and ministered to the wretch who lay there half dead, pouring oil into his wounds right there where he lay, just so the grace of God that brings Salvation has come to the sinner at the place where he lies in his sins. No matter how great a sinner he may be, if he can be persuaded to turn the eye of faith toward the Cross, there Salvation comes.
"The grace of God that . bringeth Salvation hath appeared," says Paul, "teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world." A saved sinner ought to live soberly, righteously, and godly because he is saved. Scripture does not tell an ungodly man to live godly; it. would be an impossibility. Then Paul goes on to say: "Looking for that blessed hope" (Titus 2. 13). Ah, that is what we are after! Let us see what that "blessed hope" is. Is it Salvation? Oh, no! "The grace of God that bringeth Salvation hath appeared." Looking for the godly life? The grace that saves us teaches us to live godly. "Looking. for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." That is the blessed hope. Never, never does the Scripture point the believer toward Heaven as the place where he is going to find out whether he is saved or not. In Romans 5 there is a wonderful summing up of the results of grace. Let me read it: "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." We are not hoping to have peace with God. If we have faith we are justified, and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. "By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (Rom. 5. 2). Grace is unmerited favour. Where does the believer stand? In the undeserved, unmerited favour of God. He does not deserve to be kept, but, blessed be God, he is kept. Then where does hope come in, "and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God?" Not the salvation of God, but the glory of God. We find in Colossians that the glory of God is brought unto us at His appearing. The glorious appearing of the Lord is pointed to as the believer's hope. It is the first to,be fulfilled of all the unfulfilled prophecies.
Suppose now you believe it. I don't know whether you do or not. But suppose you believe that Jesus meant what He said when He told us to "watch, for know not what hour our Lord doth come" (Matt. 24. 42), would it have no effect upon your character and condqct? Let me turn to Colossians 3: "If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory." That is what we hope for. Well, you say, what has that to do with conduct or character; is not that a mere prophetical statement? May we not say: Well, I am glad that when He appears I shall appear with Him? Let me say here that there is not such a thing as an abstract doctrine in Scripture. There is a proposition of truth which is not intended by Almighty God to have an influence upon conduct. "We know, and believe, and expect we shall be like Him when He shall appear; that we shall see Him as He is, "and every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." True, the doctrine may have no effect upon us whatever; but it is really a hope. If it is a hope in the heart, then, according to the Inspired Word itself, that hope will be a purifying hope, it will lay hold upon character. Let me read James 5:7,8
"Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until be receive the early and later rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." You see how that hope, that expectation, is used as a basis for the exhortation of patience. In Philippians it is used again in another way. Take, for instance, this passage: "Let your moderation be known unto all men." Why? "For the Lord is at hand." Therefore be yielding, be moderate; let your moderation so characterise you that it shall be known to all men.
I am using these passages illustratively. What is true of this unfulfilled prophecy is true of all unfulfilled prophecies. It is designed powerfully to affect conduct and character. There is no declaration in the prophetic Word which, if believed, will not begin to do its silent, effective work upon character, and then upon conduct. According to that which we believe and look for, so shall we be. Shall we then shut prophecy from out those formative influences which tend to shape our characters? Shall we shut out this whole body of Divine truth which brings us into the closest intimacy with God, and which fills us with the holiest and happiest of expectations?
ADDRESSES ON PROPHECY. II.
God's Purpose in this Age.
Just so that you know what comes next....
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