Is the coming of Christ for His saints the proper hope of the Church?

J. N. Darby.

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I cannot but feel these tracts of T. M. remarkable, not by their intrinsic character (for their contents are merely a repetition of Mr. Newton's views on the subject), but as presenting afresh the views of his party at this moment, when the power of the evil of the last days is becoming so astonishingly manifested; when everything is gradually taking its own place. I have often said, there are three great positions of Christ to which our christian thoughts answer: on the cross; at the right hand of God; and coming again. The first is the foundation of all for us; the last two give, so to speak, its present christian character to the Church. To Christ's sitting at the right hand of God answers the presence of the Holy Ghost down here. The Church's hope, in reference to the second, is, beyond all controversy, Christ's coming and receiving the saints to Himself; whatever glory or reign may follow, being for ever with the Lord in heavenly places is our proper hope. "I will come again," said Christ, "and receive you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also."

Both these points Mr. M. has taken up. In one tract, he has denied the abiding presence of the Holy Ghost peculiar to Christianity, consequent on the exaltation of Christ, as man, to the right hand of God; in another, he has denied the proper hope of the saint as to the Lord's coming. The system he belongs to presents itself as the denial of the true power of Christianity in what essentially characterizes it, as given in the scriptures of the New Testament.

I have replied to his tract as to the blessed Spirit; I now reply to his tract on the Coming of the Lord. His object is, that we should not constantly look for the Lord without intervening signs. To this end, he denies the difference between Christ's coming to receive the Church and His appearing. "Not only," he says, "are we to serve the Lord until the appearing, but the appearing itself is our blessed hope." "We have distinct proof that the Church remains on earth until the appearing, and is not, as our author teaches, taken up previously." He refers to the exhortation to Timothy to keep the commandment until "the appearing of Christ." "Otherwise," he tells us, "he would have said, until His coming, not His appearing."

258 Now all this is the hinge of the question. But all this shews the evil consequence of drawing conclusions instead of bowing to the word. It is clearly and distinctly revealed, that, when Christ appears, we shall appear with Him in glory; and therefore it is simply impossible that we should be on earth till His appearing, and "at that time;" because we appear with Him from heaven "at that time." Now that the glorious appearing is the hope of believers, and that we wait for it, I accept fully. But why should that not be the case if we appear with Christ, instead of being on earth when He appears? Much more so, I should think. No doubt, the earth will then be set right, and that is a blessed thought indeed; but not less so if we are the companions of Christ when He comes. And this all scripture fully testifies. "The Lord my God shall come and all the saints with thee." (Zech. 14:5.) Again, "The Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints." (Jude 14.) And again, "The armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean." (Rev. 19:14.) And again, "They that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful." (Rev. 17:14.)

Thus the direct positive revelations of the word of God contradict the conclusions of Mr. M., which have not even any foundation in reasonable argument. For I can love His appearing to have the world I live in (which was made for man) set right, without my living in it when He appears; and my appearing with Him does not in the smallest way hinder, but rather increase, this joy. And I beg my reader also to remark, that if Timothy, and those then on earth, were to remain to be able to enjoy it, their hope was vain, for they certainly will not be on earth; whereas if they come and appear with Him, they still will. On Mr. M.'s theory, none but just a few will: the Church at large has nothing to say to it.

But Mr. M. goes farther, and seriously so: "Christ's appearing is the proper hope of the Church," and the distinction of that and His coming, is "an arbitrary distinction." Now, as we have seen, it cannot be the hope of the Church viewed as Mr. M. views it (though scripture does not); for the immense majority of the Church will not and cannot be there: a very small minority indeed have anything to say to it.

Next, Mr. M. should be careful in his way of stating things. He is ill-informed as to these views, and, what is worse, as to scripture. "The coming" and "the appearing" are not put in contrast by those he attacks, though appearing is a definite and distinct thought; so that we have, in 2 Thessalonians 2:8, "the appearing of his coming:" yet "coming" is a general word and which includes all, and this is expressly stated in the tract he opposes. Here are the words (second edition, p. 33), and the same statement has been made in various shapes by many: "It is the latter (His coming to the world which He has not done before*) which is called His epiphany or manifestation, and which is never applied to the rapture, but always to Christ's appearing in glory with His saints, whilst parousia** is sometimes used in speaking of one, sometimes of the other, as the context, or the persons addressed, or the way in which it is brought forward, determines; for He may come, or be present, in different ways to different persons."

{*That is, at the rapture.}

{**That is, "coming."}

259 I have myself, in the tract "The Rapture of the Saints and the Jewish Remnant," already fully spoken of this point (p. 52): "Do the saints not await His coming to earth and His appearing? Undoubtedly; but not as the time of their joining Him, for I expect they will appear with Him." "Christ's appearing will be the full establishment of divine power in government, and the result of responsibility; the rapture of the Church, and its entrance into the Father's house, the accomplishment of sovereign grace towards the saints," &c. The appearing of Christ is the display of His glory to the world; we shall partake of it with Him. "He comes to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe," for the glory His Father has given Him, He has given us, that we may be made perfect in one, that the world may know that He has sent Him, and has loved us as He has loved Him. So, in the transfiguration, Moses and Elias appear in the glory with Christ; but when they enter into the bright cloud, whence the Father's voice came, the excellent glory, the disciples were afraid. The cloud was known as God's dwelling: that any man should enter there was something new. The kingdom they saw, and its glory: the entrance into the Father's house was a strange thing to them altogether.

What shall we say of those who oppose its distinctive character now? I will quote some passages which give plainly this distinctive hope of the saint: "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:2, 3.) So in John 17:24, after speaking of the glory in a passage which I have quoted, the blessed Lord adds, "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory; . . . for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." So Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:17; "We shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord." Now all these shew, that the proper hope of the saint is not Christ's appearing — is not even glory as displayed to the world, not to be at the right hand or the left in the kingdom, glorious and undeserved as it may be, — but to be with Christ Himself. That is not the appearing. It is another kind of hope, a hope of another nature altogether. It is being with Himself, for ever, and in the Father's house. Hence the apostle, in 1 Thessalonians 4, adds nothing. But that passage intimates very clearly something more. The Thessalonians thought and expected pretty much as T. M. does: only they appear to have drawn the conclusion (a very natural one, but which T. M. has forgotten), that the saints who had died would not be there to see and meet Him. The apostle meets this. How? By saying, Oh, yes, they will be raised, and then they, and you who will have seen Him without them in unchanged flesh (for, if not, then all T. M.'s system falls to the ground), will go up to meet the already visible Lord? Not at all. He says, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." When Jesus comes in glory, He will bring His saints with Him, as we have seen. And then the apostle explains how they will be with Him so to come: they will go to meet Him in the air.

260 I would recall another passage, along with this, that the marriage of the Lamb takes place in Revelation 19, before the Lord comes forth with the armies of heaven. The obliterating, as the author does, the distinction of going up thus to be for ever with the Lord falsifies morally the nature of the Church's hope. The presenting to Himself, the receiving to Himself that where He is we may be, the being for ever with the Lord, without adding anything to such a hope, is swamped in the appearing in glory. This, not being with Jesus, is what, according to T. M., we are waiting for. Now what I desire the reader specially to note is that coming and appearing is all one to T. M., and that being with Christ as the result never once appears in any shape in the tract. The proper hope, the special joy, what is the essence of Christ's coming for the saint who knows what the saint's place is, is wholly, totally, absent from the tract. If this were so truly, coming or appearing would be pretty much alike; and hence they are so for T. M. But what does this shew to one who has learnt from scripture what that place is? Simply this, that not a trace of it has ever entered T. M.'s mind. And that is the whole matter.

261 As regards the dealings and ways of God in government, the day, the appearing of Christ, is the great and solemn epoch set before us; and then we shall appear in glory, each in the place assigned him with Him. Hence this is set before us as the great public announcement to all. But God has something for the affections and heart of those who love the Lord, which is (not the display of glory, but) being with Him in the common and individual joy of His presence, with Him in the Father's house. This is not appearing at all; nor can it be.

Now a person may make plausible objections to the truth and the special privileges of the saints, difficulties from obscure passages, or where scripture has to provide for public facts and hopes to be unfolded afterwards. Ignorance of this is not to be despised, but the using these passages which may present obscurity, to hinder the minds of the untaught receiving the truths God is leading them to, is Satan's work. And this, I must say, T. M. is doing. Many minds may be ignorant as to a Jewish remnant and the like; nor is it in itself any reproach; but to use passages which require that knowledge to obscure the highest and best hopes of the soul is the enemy's work. T. M. denies the proper hope of the Church in this tract, as he did the present power and joy of the Church in the other. If he has read the tract he comes forward to oppose, or many others, he must have seen that the being for ever with the Lord is the great blessing of this doctrine, and what is insisted on in the difference, "parousia" used for the whole scene, and "epiphany" used for Christ's manifestation before men. But this blessing disappears wholly in his book, written to say the epiphany is all — is what we are to wait for.

A mere difference of prophetic notions would not have made me take up my pen. I do so because the present power and proper blessed hope of Christianity are denied by these tracts. I hardly know whether it is worth while for me to discuss the details. What I have said shews the falseness and the practically infidel tendency as to the hope of the Church, of the tract I comment on; but as many may not have an answer ready, I take up some of these details.

262 The avowed object of the tract is to hinder a present constant expectation of Christ and to put it off, to shew that it is as good if it be held to be far off as if near, that it is wrong, "a sort of feverish and unhealthy excitement, expecting a daily or hourly return;" that, if the early saints had this feeling, "it was a false one" — "the distance of the object in no way enfeebling the power of the hope." This is plain speaking. What the difference is between this and the evil servant saying in his heart, "my lord delayeth his coming," I confess myself unable to perceive. T. M. tells us that servant "makes use of a fact to his own destruction." Is that all the parable teaches us? The Lord is exhorting to watch because men know not the day nor the hour their lord comes, and then applies it to the saints. But it was the evil servant saying in his heart, "My lord delayeth his coming," which set him free to beat the men-servants and the maid-servants. It was the cause of the horrible iniquity the Church fell into.

It is a fact that the Lord has delayed: every one knows that. The question is, Ought the Church to have expected or have waited constantly for the Lord? I say, "have waited constantly for the Lord" — not have said, "My lord delayeth his coming." What does T. M. say? I will tell him what the Lord says; and may the Lord give him grace to heed it: "Let your loins be girded about and your Lights burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord when he will return from the wedding, that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may open to him immediately. 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. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants." (Luke 12.) Was this a "feverish and unhealthy excitement?" T. M. will find in what follows the question of service. He says it will give time for service. Let him read, then, what the effect in service is of thinking of possible delay. And such has been the history, alas! of the Church.

And now let me recall to my reader that that delay which T. M. insists on as the fact to be thought of and meant to be thought of* — the protracted history of the Church's progress in evil — has taken place already, and that it is after this that T. M. is afraid of a present hope. God gave such instruction in His own blessed wisdom as left it as a present hope to the saints; and if there was delay and the scene opened out, left room for that scene in the manner of presenting the thought; still the watchfulness, called for at first, being as possible as at the beginning, and more called for.

{*"It is plain on the face of scripture, that an orderly and detailed system of things is placed before the view of the Church which must be gone through ere our Lord returns," &c.}

263 Thus T. M. alleges the inconsistency of the seven churches being treated as the protracted scene, and yet looking for, or supposing the early saints could look for, an immediate coming of Christ. See now the wisdom of God. All these churches were existing contemporary churches. There was nothing to wait for then, when the revelation was made. When the protracted scene was coming to a close, when the protracted scene is over or nearly so, men can look back and see the progress of evil developed in the professing Church. When given, they were scenes before their eyes in existing churches. I hold still, with a multitude of Christians, that it is a portraying of the progressive history of the professing Church — a history now just over, and that it offered no prospect of a protracted history, but the contrary. "Behold I come quickly" was the comfort of the faithful Philadelphians then, as it is of the true saints now. All I see in T. M.'s reasoning is that unbelief has blinded his eyes as to the holy wisdom of God's ways.

The parable of the ten virgins teaches us the Bridegroom tarried. How long? The picture is all the affair of one night and of the same virgins. That is, it tells us there must be patient watching for an unknown moment (in which they failed); but gives no idea of any prolongation; but it does give a principle which is of the deepest instruction to us, where we have by facts learned the long delay. But this it clearly shews, that not to have been always watching was the culpable neglect of the Church. While He tarried, they went to sleep, and had to be not only awakened but called out unto their original position. To say that a sudden awakening of sleepers by a midnight cry is the perception of continuous signs by a wakeful heart capable of appreciating them, is worthy of the system. There has been a protracted scene. That the Church was taught to look for it is deplorably false; and to use the fact so as to lead souls to think that such a constant expectation was false, is the work of the enemy. Ought not the virgins to have been watching? Were they taught that an orderly and detailed system of things was placed before the Church which must be gone through? The conclusion is, "watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour."

264 The same is true of the servants. The man went to receive a kingdom and to return. But the servants are the same, and it is, as a parable, supposed to be in the lifetime of the man and the lifetime of the servants. There is no protracted system. Now it is passed, we can say — so it was; but it is always presented as a present uncertain expectation. They are assured by Peter that God was not slack concerning His promise; that it was the patience of His grace which made the delay; that Christ was ready to judge; yea, that the time had come for judgment to begin at the house of God. The last word of scripture for the hearts of the saints is, "Surely I come quickly." I do not doubt that in the book of Revelation there have been analogies in the protracted period; but it applies, I have no doubt (as I believe the churches give the prolonged existence of the Church), literally to the time when the Church is done with.

The scriptures press, then, the word, "Behold I come quickly," and tell the disciples to be as men that wait for their lord. T. M. asks, Can it be gravely said that the Lord would teach His people nearly two thousand years ago to expect any hour an event which He knew would not take place ere centuries had passed over? Would the God of truth produce such a false impression? This is bold enough. My answer is, that the Lord told His disciples to watch, and be ready to open immediately, whenever He came; for of that day and hour knew no man, neither the angels, no, not the Son. I ask, which am I to receive? the folly of Mr. M.'s presumption, or the solemn testimony of the Lord?

When Mr. M. says the disciples had the false notion that the kingdom of God would immediately appear, which the Lord unqualifiedly repudiated, he forgets himself. It was during Christ's lifetime, and not His disciples' particularly; and He tells them that He must go away first, and that they, the servants, are to occupy till He comes. But there is nothing as to any interval; the Lord has always carefully avoided it. They might expect Him at any time, and were to work till He came.

Paul never spoke of wolves after his decease, till his ministry was closed and he was taking leave expecting to see them no more. People might have reasoned from the Lord's word (if they knew of it) to Peter, then an elderly man (for the Lord says, "when thou wast young"), he was to die first. But as regards the Church in general, Peter was dead some thirty years before this account was given; and both he and Paul, just at their death, then say they know or have a special revelation that they were to die. But why so, if the Church's hope was not a present waiting for Christ? Hence when, on the same occasion, the Lord had said of John "If I will that he tarry till I come," the saying went abroad that that disciple would not die. He did not say this; but it shews what they expected.

265 It is a mistake to say, that "there lay between that time and Peter's death a long time of service; for the apostles were commanded to preach the gospel among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." There is nothing of the kind. He made them understand the scriptures, and that this was to be done. In Matthew, they were to disciple all nations, baptizing them, &c., adding there, "And, lo, I am with you alway to the end of the age." But here there was no ascension; and either He must have meant them to look at it as a present expectation during their lifetime, or the time runs on still, which, according to T. M.'s theory, the Lord must have known could not apply to the apostles. He did not expect them to live two thousand years. The apostles, moreover, never accomplished this mission at all, but gave it up to Paul, who then teaches the distinct doctrine of the Church and the rapture. But Christ's coming to receive the Church made no part of the revelation to Peter. For him the Lord was to come as He had gone; and he never goes beyond His appearing, nor teaches the doctrine of the union of Jews and Gentiles. It was not committed to him.

All this did not hinder Paul saying, "We which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord," not affirming that he would be actually there, but he was then of that class which were justly so expecting Him. And he has not lost by it. There was no revelation that Christ would come immediately, but there was a positive instruction to be always waiting for Him. If the time had been over, Peter might have been taken up and crucified while they were talking about it. If Christ could not come till Peter died, Peter might have died at any moment. This did not affect the general expectation of the saints then. Now it has no application, and is used simply to discredit what Christ most certainly taught — that we should always be waiting. Peter is dead; and to use it now is proof only of the will to destroy the expectation of Christ's coming.

As to John 16:2, 4, they are told they would be persecuted; but how that should hinder them in the persecutions waiting for Christ to take them out of them, I cannot see. Nobody speaks of a fixed near time, but the contrary — that it was an unknown time, so that men should be always expecting it, never to arrest their service, but to sustain them in it. To say that neither time nor suddenness has anything to do with the genuine hope of the Church, if it mean that the Lord's coming is not sudden and at such time as men think not, is a bold defiance of scripture. I know that the surprise is to the world. But to say that the Lord does not come suddenly is too bold. "At such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh." Mr. M.'s assertions are a defiance of scripture. Mr. M. cites 2 Timothy 3. He forgets that this was an instruction just at the very close of his life (chap. 4:7, 8) to Timothy, himself then living, how to get on. Mr. M. may think it was a false idea of the apostle thus to present these things as a matter of immediate practice, and perhaps that John was wrong in saying "we know that it is the last time," antichrists being there already; that if Christ knew that there were two thousand years of an orderly and detailed system to be gone through, the apostles were blind about it all and mislead the Church, the Timothys, and the saints at large. We believe it is inspired scripture, and that the last days are come, however a thousand years may be with the Lord as one day, and one day as a thousand years. It is all profoundly sad this.

266 As regards the parable of the tares and the wheat, it proves exactly the contrary of what Mr. M. says. "From this parable," he remarks, "then, it is manifest that God's wheat remains on the earth up to Christ's appearing in glory." I have already shewn that Colossians 3 states, in terms, the contrary — that they appear with Him. Is gathering into the garner appearing? They are taken away out of the field and hidden in God's garner — the opposite of appearing. The wheat is not gathered home before the tares are disturbed; it is before they are burned. The righteous shine forth in the kingdom, but they are previously gathered into the garner, which is not shining forth. The shining forth, moreover, is a continuous act. The tares are, first of all, gathered by the angels into bundles ready — not burned then; the wheat gathered into the garner. Afterwards judgment is executed. This is the time of the harvest. The harvest is the end of the age. No man can say that the tares are not being gathered together now; I believe they are. It is not said that Christ's appearing in glory is the end of the age, as Mr. M. says. They synchronize as a general period; and it may be the grand closing act. Yet even then the wicked on the earth have still to be judged. The harvest is the end of the age here in this passage at any rate.

267 I now turn to Matthew 24. I cannot of course expect T. M. to know anything about the Jewish remnant and God's dealings with this world. But I can expect him to understand that the Lord was speaking of Jerusalem and the temple, and that the age has nothing to do with the christian dispensation, so-called, or the Church. The Lord was speaking of the temple. Their house was left unto them desolate, and they, the Jews, would not see Him till they said, Blessed be He that cometh. And the disciples were shewing Him the buildings of the temple. That was what was "interesting" the disciples, whatever T. M. may dream of, and this was their question: "When shall these things be?" They knew nothing of the Church, nor thought anything of it in their questions. They connected the end of the age with the desolations of Jerusalem and the temple. And so the Lord answers them, only telling them that that gospel of the kingdom would be first preached in all nations before the end of the age came. The age was the time of Jewish polity up to Messiah, of which it could be then said (as in Matthew 13) this age. Christianity is not the age, nor an age at all. Hence they are told, when they see the abomination of desolation set up, those in Judaea are to flee to the mountains, and those on the housetop are not to come down. Does Mr. M. think that this is a warning to the Church of God or for those at Jerusalem? There are no signs but the sign of the Son of man in heaven; but there are events which identify those spoken to and of with Jerusalem and an earthly deliverance: the saving of flesh; the time of Jacob's trouble, but he shall be delivered out of it; the great tribulation of Daniel 12, to which our Lord expressly refers us; snares as to Christ which have no application to Christians, because they do not expect Christ in the desert or the secret chamber, but to be caught up to meet Him in the air. I do not expect Mr. M. to apprehend how it is impossible to apply it to the Church, because he does not believe in the Church. But I have a right to expect that, when the blessed Lord speaks of Jerusalem and Judaea, and fleeing to the mountains, he should apply it to what the Lord applies it to.

I believe the gospel of the kingdom will be preached to all nations before that end comes (though the apostle speaks of it as done in principle in Colossians 1), but the gospel of the kingdom will. But when Mr. M. says these signs were to be their warnings of His approach, What signs? I answer; and a warning to whom? Signs and events which were to happen as a warning to those in Judaea, who could not take more than a sabbath-day's journey. It is a sign of judgment on Jerusalem and the temple, in the place where the carcase will be; not a word about heaven, or being caught up to meet the Lord, but what could not be if that be believed; for the temptation was Christ's being in the desert or secret chamber. It is deplorable the labour those take who reject the doctrine of the Church and its being caught up to meet the Lord in the air — take to reduce the Church to the level of Jews, even when Judaea and Jerusalem are named as the exclusive scene of what is passing and the events which are to take place.

268 I know not that I need add more. I write more as a testimony than as an elaborate discussion; for it is ground which has been often gone over. The question cannot be separated from the doctrine of the Church. Paul alone, as to apostolic doctrine, teaches as to the Church, alone the rapture. The general thought, viewed from earth and as to the order of God's government, is Christ's coming and appearing. Paul has taught a special connection of the Church with Christ, ending in His receiving it to Himself. This these doctors diligently deny, and seek to bring down the Church, as far as they can, to the level of Judaism. They, consequently, deny the special mission of the Comforter, as the fruit of Christ's exaltation. In the Gospel of John we have the same truth of the rapture as to individuals. This, of course, is denied too. The glorious truth of the exalted Man, and all the consequences of that exaltation, present and to come, they seek to depreciate as much as they can. They dare not deny there is some difference; they admit there is a corporation on earth which there was not before; but they do all they can to hinder the saints from knowing the glory of Christ's position, and its consequences for those who believe. I am conscious this may seem hard; but there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. We are come to a crisis in the ways of God, and the world's history. Evil is not ashamed, and truth ought not to be. I believe it is a time to speak.

I cannot but feel that the appearance of these two tracts of Mr. M.'s is providential, and that it is well to say I am satisfied that they are precisely and directly the opposite to the testimony of God which He is giving at this time; that what God is bringing out to His saints and teaching they are laboriously seeking to set aside. I have nothing to do with the intentions of Mr. M., but with the teaching of his tracts. I admit the quickening of all saints, of course. I admit the Son to be the blessed source of life at all times, His blood, to be the forgiveness of the sins past before His coming, as of all time. I admit the general thought of Christ's appearing as the hope of this weary world. But the peculiar glory of the exalted Man, its consequences in the sending the Holy Ghost, the union of the Church with its Head, the indwelling of the Comforter in the individual saints, their being members of His body, of His flesh, and His bones; the taking the bride up and presenting it to Himself, and the rapture of the saints: all that constitutes distinctively Christianity, in distinction from piety and life in general — that by which God is acting on the affections and filling the hopes of the Church of God now — is diligently set aside.

269 Such is my thorough conviction; and if it be so, Mr. M. himself cannot be surprised if I have spoken plainly.

I believe the Church may judge of signs; as the Pharisees ought to have discerned "this time;" I believe she ought of herself to judge what is right. She has all the advantage of them as warnings, but she knows they precede the judgments of the world; and her own heavenly and peaceful character is maintained, and the heavenly character of her hope, by the rapture, which takes her out of the scene in which she has to keep the word of Christ's patience. I cannot think it a privilege to be in a time of trouble which is caused by unfaithfulness and rejection of Christ; yet it is the time of Jacob's trouble, but trouble which he is in through subjection to the Gentiles, through sin.