By the present period I mean the time that has elapsed since the departure of our Lord to heaven, and to the throne of the Father, where for these nineteen centuries He has been seated, and where He will sit until God begins to make His enemies His footstool.
No doubt, ere that beginning, the church—that is, the saints who believe on Him during these centuries, as well as all who “sleep in Jesus”—will have been caught up to meet the Lord in the air and to be for ever with Him; but thereafter they come with Him, and that coming will introduce a new era, and a very different state of things on earth. It will be one of government, rule, authority, power, and the sway of a sceptre whose exercise will admit of no disobedience, no self-will, no anarchy. Then a “king shall reign in righteousness”—One in whose mighty arm omnipotence shall rest, whose wisdom is perfect, and whose enemies shall therefore “lick the dust.”
It will be the reign of righteousness, and such a reign is quite conceivable.
Place in the hands of the ruler these two qualities, perfect wisdom and perfect power; grant an absolute monarch possessed of these two essentials for government, then such a rule is intelligible. The absence of them is evidently the cause of the breakdown of rule in every nation in the world.
Such a reign will be seen in the thousand years of the millennium. It is not seen, nor can be seen today. And why not? Because the King sits, not on His own throne but on that of the Father—a purely heavenly throne, so that, instead of being King on earth, He is Head of the body, the church—that wonderful vessel which, called by grace out of all nations to be His companion in suffering now, shall be His Body and Bride in glory when this peculiar period has passed away.
Now, in what way is this period peculiar? Wherein lies the puzzle? It is the day of grace. Grace reigns through righteousness and is, to use a figure, the buffer which prevents collision. Did pure righteousness reign, there could be no mercy nor long-suffering. The commission of sin would involve immediate judgment, as the millennial day will prove. But today and throughout these centuries, grace has reigned in the work of salvation. God does not interpose in judgment. Things take their own course, nations are allowed to plan their own destiny and to fight their own battles. Heaven does not intervene. Governments rise and fall. Man may choose them as he pleases. He may adopt a form after his taste, be it monarchic, or republican, or any other. God overturns in view of His predetermined King and Ruler. Nations may have self-determination today, and make a mess of it. They will all have to accept God’s determination, and the place designed for each by-and-by.
Hence the state of things is enigmatical. Often in pious language it is said that “the Lord reigns.” But does He? That He will do so is certain; but the prince and god of this world is His great enemy and ours—Satan. “God is behind the scenes, but He moves the scenes behind which He is,” as another has well said. That He overrules is also certain, else He would not be God, but He is out of our sight, while, in Divine wisdom, His people walk by faith.
This period has been called a parenthesis in the dealings of God. Other ages (and this can hardly be called one) have run their well-defined course under clearly marked administrative order, whether patriarchal or Mosaic, with highly pronounced dealings in varied ways by God. Not so this period. The silence is significant. The absence of miracles and signs should awaken attention. A Stephen suffers martyrdom while a Nero may play his flute. The ever-blessed Son of God may be spat upon and nailed to the cross, while the world pursues its course and heaven is silent.
All true, but not for ever! throughout this long and peculiar day the Spirit of God has quietly but very effectively moved over the peoples of the earth in one unerring line. He has been calling out of each nation, whatever its political status, and irrespective of its moral condition, a people for the name of the Lord. This, in the aggregate, forms the church of God; and it is this, and not the special aspirations or aims of the nations, or their leaders, that is the chief interest of Heaven.
The root of the controversy between God and man is the crucifixion of Christ. That is the terrible crux, while sins innumerable and intensified call loudly for the righteous judgment of a thrice holy God. To be right with God on this point is supremely important, so much so that we read: “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life; he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides in him” (John 3:36). In the light of this fact, the ups and downs, the fortune or misfortune of nations, nay, of the world itself, is exceedingly insignificant.
To those, however, who look and labour for the permanent adjustment of things down here, during this period of heaven’s apparent indifference, there can be only disappointment. Their attention is not fixed on that, or on Him, who is God’s prime Object, and to whom, spite of all opposition, “every knee shall bow.” It is clearly this that explains the enigma of the present dealings of God. It is the key. His hand, which is full of mercy to the penitent, is against the world, which, as in the days before the flood, is devoting all its energy to matters of self-interest and pleasure, to the neglect of the call of God.
Hence, there need be no complaint if such things and worse are put in preference to Him. The apparent puzzle is easily unravelled: the blame rests on man himself.