Delivered at Toronto, Canada.
J. N. Darby.
The part of the subject which will occupy us this evening, beloved friends, in treating of the coming again of our beloved Lord, is the sorrowful side of it. What we had before us in the previous lectures was the blessings and joys of the saints, founded on the sure promise of Christ Himself that He would come again; and we found that their looking for the fulfilment of that promise was connected with their every thought and action. But it is of the greatest importance that we should look at this sorrowful side as well as the other, that man may see the consequence and effect of his responsibility.
The coming of Christ has a double aspect. As regards the professing church, and the world at large too, Scripture speaks of His appearing; because then it is that the result of their responsibility is manifested. As regards the body of Christ, it speaks of His coming, and our taking up to Himself. It is one thing to own the church as a responsible body in the world - another thing to look at it as one with Him. When we turn to that which has been set by God as a system down here, and see the failure of it, it is to be judged in respect of that failure as every system set up by God has been (each having been first established on the footing of man's responsibility).
There is never anything else but failure exhibited in man. Look all through the Scripture, where we have man's history from the very beginning of creation, and we find nothing but failure. Adam most signally failed in what God had entrusted him with. And then when law was given, even before Moses came down from the mount, man had made the golden calf to worship it. So when Aaron and his sons were consecrated, on the eighth day - the first day of their service - they offered strange fire; and, as a consequence, the free and constant entrance of Aaron into the holy place was stopped. Solomon, the son of David, was given glory and riches by God, but his heart was turned from Him by strange wives, and he fell into idolatry, and the kingdom was divided. God trusts Nebuchadnezzar with power, and he is the head of gold among the Gentiles: he gets into pride, and throws the saints into the fire; he loses his reason and senses for seven years (a figure of the Gentile empires), and eats grass like an ox. So with everything. So it is with the church, and man cannot mend it. Grievous wolves, says Paul, will come in after my decease; and there will be a falling away, and then Antichrist be fully revealed. The church itself as a system, trusted to man's responsibility, has been all a failure.
280 All was set up in the first Adam, who has failed. All will be made good in the second Man, who is perfect, and has overcome. But it is hard to get saints to lay hold of the entirely new position in which all is set by redemption, and by the resurrection of Christ. The first Adam failed, and was cast out; the last Adam, perfect, is come into a better paradise. So of everything. In the same way, law, which man broke will be written on his heart. Christ will be the true Son of David. Christ will rise to reign over the Gentiles. So, as the church has failed, He will yet be glorified in His saints, and admired in all them that believe. In each position in which God has tried man, what Scripture teaches us is, that man has failed in his responsibility, and that God's plans will go on in His patient mercy till all is fulfilled in Christ.
If we now turn to this responsibility, we shall find there are two subjects before us as engaged in it; the professing church is one; power in the earth, shewn in the beasts, is the other. Both are found corrupt, or at open enmity with God that which is called the church will be utterly rejected of God - spued out. The thing which Scripture teaches us is, not that we shall fill the world with blessing, but entirely the contrary The evil introduced by Satan, where Christianity had been planted, will never be remedied until the harvest. Such a thought is humbling, but gives no ground for discouragement, for Christ is ever faithful. It is the occasion, dear friends, for those who have the grace of God to walk more in accordance with it. But it is a solemn thing, if what we have to look forward to is the cutting off of the professing church.
Geographically speaking, Christianity was more widely spread in the sixth century than now; the world as then known was more acquainted with the gospel than it is now. Whatever man may say about progress and the like, a great part of what was then the Christian world had heard of Christ, but is now overrun by Mohammedanism or Popery; and, where that is not so, how far have infidelity and Puseyism prevailed! But it is this very thing that calls for earnestness in those who have the Spirit of God. He is surely working very specially in these days; and in the tide of evil we have the strongest possible motive for energy and activity. It is always right, but the inroad of evil specially calls for it, as in the days of Noah, in the sense of approaching judgment. The false idea of converting the world may give a stimulus for a time, but it destroys the solemn sense of what God is, and enfeebles the authority of God's word, which gives no such hope. When it is gradually found, too, that evil is growing up, and that the world is not converted, the reaction tends to subvert the faith, and cast into infidelity.
281 The evil which works now was declared from the beginning, and will continue its course (such is the declaration of Scripture) till God interferes - will not be remedied until the harvest. Such is the clear teaching of the parable I have read to you (v. 24-30). It is a similitude of the kingdom of heaven.
People very often take the kingdom of heaven as if it were the same thing as the church of God; but this is in no way the case, though those who compose the church are in the kingdom. Supposing for a moment that Christ had not been rejected, the kingdom would have been set up on earth. It could not be so, no doubt, but it shews the difference between the kingdom and the church. As it was, the kingdom of God was there in the Person of Christ, the King. Only as He was on earth, it was not the kingdom of heaven. But Christ being rejected, He could not take it outwardly then, but ascended on high. Thus the sphere of the rule of Christ is in heaven. The heavens rule, and the kingdom is always the kingdom of heaven, because the King is in heaven; only at the end it will be subdivided, so to speak, into the kingdom of our Father, the heavenly part; and the kingdom of the Son of man, the earthly part. If we understand the kingdom of heaven as the rule of Christ when the King is in heaven, it is very simple. If Christ had set up a kingdom when He was with the Jews, it would not have been the kingdom of heaven, because He was not in heaven. Hence, it is said, "the kingdom of God is among you," but "the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
The gospel is the only means we have of gathering souls into the kingdom, and such are properly the children of the kingdom; but, within its limits, Satan works and sows tares, and they are in the kingdom. Take Popery, Mohammedanism, all manner of heretics: these are tares which have been sown where the good seed had been. Church means, or is rather, simply an assembly - an idea which has nothing to do with the thought of a kingdom. The parable I did not read, where we have Christ sowing the good seed, is not a similitude of the kingdom of heaven. A kingdom is a sphere where one rules as king. Christ is simply there sowing the word in men's hearts. It does not describe the kingdom of heaven, nor even the kingdom begun by the King being on earth; it is individual in its character.
282 The moment He comes to this and the two following parables, we have a similitude of the kingdom of heaven. They describe the outward result in this world of the fact of Christ the King's being in heaven. You will remark that these are spoken to the multitude; the last three, and the explanation of the tares and wheat, to the disciples, shewing the mind and purpose of God - what divine intelligence knows and does, not mere public result in the world. The tares and wheat shew the outward result, in the world, of the gospel. In the next, it becomes a great tree - a great tree, in Scripture, signifying great power. That is what Christianity became in the world from a little seed - a great political power, like the kingdoms of the world. The next shews it as a doctrine pervading a mass of measured extent, as a little leaven penetrates through the lump of dough.
Then the Lord goes into the house, and explains God's mind about these things (v. 36). "Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house, and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field." The servants enquire if they should gather the tares up. They are forbidden to do it. Our part is not judgment or excision in this world. We have not to root evil out of the world by persecution. We have seen often that the wheat was rooted up. They must grow in the field (that is in the world) till harvest. "But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest." We learn from this, not only that Christianity does not spread everywhere, but that where it does spread it becomes corrupted. And, if we look at the state of Christendom, we cannot but see that this is the case. We see how the tares have been sown and sprung up, how false doctrines have crept in, Popery, and all kinds of errors. Then our Lord, having sent the multitude away, and gone into the house, explained the parable to His disciples.
You will now remark that, as I have said, in these parables, with the explanation of the first, you have two distinct things - the outward result, and the unfolding of God's design in it. Thus, with regard to the grain of mustard seed, you have the outward result - it becomes a great tree, which, in Scripture, is simply a great public power. The king of Assyria is represented as a great tree. So Pharaoh is represented as a great tree. And Nebuchadnezzar was a great tree, which was hewn down, but whose stump and roots were left in the earth. In a word, it means simply a great power. And that was what Christianity became in the world - the greatest power in it. The figure in the parable does not raise the question whether it was good or bad, but simply represents that it was a great public power in the world. The little seed of the truth, sown at the first, took root, and grew up to be a great tree. So in the case of the leaven, working within a certain sphere, represented by three measures of meal - it worked there until the whole was leavened. The doctrines of Christendom penetrate through the whole. But no reference is there made to godliness or sanctity. Christianity is represented as a public outward thing, making its way in the world. But, having sent the multitude away, the Lord takes up an entirely different thing, and explains, not the outward effect, but God's mind in the transactions represented by these parables. And He begins by explaining the parable of the tares of the field. Verse 34: "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables . . . . Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man: the field is the world."
283 Mark how perfectly absurd it is to think, as some do, that it is the church which is here spoken of. The Son of man comes to sow the gospel, the word of God, in the world - not in the church. The church has received it already. The church is composed of those who professedly or really, as the case may be, have already received the good seed. He does not sow it in the church, which would be repeating what had been done before, but in the world. "The field is the world"; and nothing can be more absurd than to apply this to the church, or to bring it up in connection with any church question.
"The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one." It is not that the wheat is spoiled. The Lord will gather that and have it in His garner. But the crop is spoiled. Christianity, as an outward thing in the world, has been corrupted through the prevalence of all kinds of error and wickedness. "The enemy that sowed them is the devil: the harvest is the end of the world" (that is, "of the age"). It is not the end of the world, in the ordinary sense, that is spoken of; it is "the end of the age": there is no dispute about that for anyone acquainted with the original: "And the reapers are the angels. As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world" - of this age. "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." That is, the mischief which Satan has done will go on until the Lord executes righteous judgment on the world. The corruption of Christianity, the spoiling of the crop - not of the wheat, because God takes care of that, and gathers it into His garner, but of the crop (the public outward thing, which Satan has set himself to corrupt and spoil) - will go on until the harvest.
284 And indeed on this point we get a little more precise information. The first thing, we learn, will be the gathering together of the tares (those who have grown up as the fruit of the corrupt principles, sown by Satan where the gospel had been planted) in bundles to be burned. And then He gathers His wheat into His garner - takes His saints to be with Himself. This is all the parable states. The explanation goes farther, and gives the manifested result when Jesus shall appear, "Then shall the righteous shine forth" - they have been gathered already - "then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father"; as the wicked are cast into a furnace of fire, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. We have first, then, the tares growing till harvest; and then the Lord gathers out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity. There is much instruction here, but I will not detain you now with entering into more than the general idea. We have this, however, very distinctly brought before us, that while the Lord gets His own wheat in the garner, yet the crop sown in the world is spoiled; while men slept, the devil comes and spoils the plan by sowing false principles of Judaism or legalism, and immorality or Antinomianism, and false doctrines about Christ. By all these things the crop is spoiled, and this is never mended in the world until judgment comes.
285 You will now see, by comparing other passages, that the church, having a certain responsibility entrusted to her in the earth, has not fulfilled what that responsibility made incumbent upon her, and comes under judgment. Turn to Romans 11 and you will see distinctly this principle laid down: as to the facts we shall refer to other passages. There, after speaking of the cutting off of the Jews, the apostle says, "Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well, because of unbelief they were broken off; and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear. For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off . . . . For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." It is exactly through being wise in its own conceit that the professing church has fallen. It has looked on the Jews as entirely set aside, forgetting that "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" - that He never changes His mind - that, though He can create and then destroy, He never sets aside His own design and purpose; and that, God having called the Jews as a nation, He never will lay aside that purpose. But the church has been wise in their own conceits, thinking that the Jews are set aside, and that the church never can be.
But we shall find exactly fulfilled, as regards the church as an outward thing in the world, what is stated in this chapter, that, if it continue not in God's goodness, it will be cut off. This is the specific instruction contained in this passage, with reference to those brought in by faith, after the natural branches were broken off, that is, Christendom, that they are placed on this ground; that, if they do not continue in God's goodness, they will be cut off like the Jews. The only question is, how long forbearance may be extended to them. "Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off that I might be graffed in." Quite true, the apostle replies, but "because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear. For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold, therefore, the goodness and severity of God," etc. Now, what I ask is this: Has the professing church continued in God's goodness? Do we not see Popery and Mohammedanism prevalent where Christianity was originally planted? Have they continued, then, in God's goodness? There is nothing said about being restored. This will not do: what is required is to "continue." It is the same as when a man who has broken law, says, "I will do right for the future." This does not meet the law's claims; he has not "continued in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them."
286 And I ask, Has the church continued in God's goodness? Is that which we now see in Christendom what God set up in His church in the beginning, or anything like it? Has not the professing church turned to ceremonies and sacraments, and all kinds of things other than Christ, in order to be saved by them? They have not continued in God's goodness. You can see that most plainly. Our own consciousness testifies to it. But, if they continue not in God's goodness, the whole of Christendom, the apostle says, will be cut off, and the Jews will be graffed in again. There cannot be the least doubt of that. "And they also, if they abide not in unbelief, shall be graffed in; for God is able to graff them in again" . . . "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in." As soon as the Lord has gathered the real church of God, and taken them up to heaven, He sets up the Jews again.
Turn now to the positive testimony. What I have been reading is conditional; it shews what will take place if they continue not in God's goodness. We shall see now if they have continued. You will find that Jude brings it out in a very striking way, because he takes up the whole history of Christianity from beginning to end. "Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called" - that is, the true saints - "Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied. Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." That is, I would have written in order that you may be built up in the truth, but through the coming in of evil I am obliged to exhort you that you should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation; ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ."
287 We see, then, the cause of the falling away - that already in Jude's time these men had crept in unawares into the church of God, and were bringing in corruption. And he warns them that the same thing had happened in the case of Israel, when brought out of Egypt, and had caused them to fall in the wilderness: they had not maintained faithfulness. He refers them also to the case of the angels who kept not their first estate, because the principle of apostasy crept in. And mark the way in which he speaks of these men that had crept in unawares - of these tares that Satan had sown. Look at verse 14: "And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all; and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him."
That is, under the inspiration of the prophetic Spirit of God, he sees the mischief and evil done by these persons, and sees that it was to grow and ripen up to judgment, as we shall soon see appears elsewhere. And he tells the saints that the mischief has begun, and therefore he warns them that they "should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." And the Lord executes judgment, because, instead of the world becoming filled with the blessedness of the gospel, the church has got corrupted. That it is prophesied that the filling the world with blessedness is to be brought about by Israel and not by the church, you will see, and that very distinctly indeed, when we come to other passages. But here we get a remarkable prophecy, shewing that (as in Romans 11 was declared that, if they did not continue in God's goodness, they should be cut off) they will not continue in God's goodness; and it gives us the history of the church in the world from the beginning to the end of it, when the Lord shall come with ten thousands of His saints to execute judgment. It is as plain and distinct a declaration as it possibly could be; and you will find that the whole testimony of Scripture concurs, as of course it must concur, in the same truth.
288 Turn now to Habakkuk, where you have one of those passages which are constantly in people's minds, as shewing that the gospel is to go on and spread until it fills the world. I refer to them merely for the negative purpose of pointing out that they shew nothing of the kind. Habakkuk 2:12: "Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and establisheth a city by iniquity. Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity? For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." The people are all labouring in the fire, and wearying themselves for very vanity, and then the glory comes and fills the earth.
Turn now to other passages, where it is not stated conditionally, or in a general prophetic manner, but where distinct details are given of that which would come about. Turn to 2 Thessalonians, and you will find there the connected details of the course of that of which Jude has already given us the beginning. But the general fact we also have stated in the Philippians, where the apostle says, "I have no man likeminded; for all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." That surely was an early period in the history of the church to say that Christians were in a state of such decline and decay that they were not seeking the things of Jesus Christ, but their own interest. When we return to the second epistle to the Thessalonians we get this very distinctly brought out. "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter, as from us, as that the day of Christ [rather of the Lord] is [not "at hand," but] here." The expression "at hand" makes it almost impossible to get at the sense of the passage; it means "here or present," the same word being used as when things "present" are contrasted with things "to come."
289 The whole point of the apostle's statement rests on this, that the Thessalonians thought that the day of the Lord was "here" - that it had already come - that their having got into so much dreadful tribulation and persecution proved that it had come. The expression "the day of the Lord is at hand" is often made use of as occurring in this passage, while in fact there is nothing of the kind in it. The Thessalonians thought, not that it was at hand, but that it had come, and therefore the apostle says, "Let no man deceive you by any means, for that day shall not come, except there come the falling away first" - that is, the not continuing in God's goodness.
Therefore, as the apostle had stated that, if they did not continue in God's goodness, they would be cut off, we have here the positive revelation or prophecy that they would not continue in God's goodness, that there would come the falling away, and that the day of the Lord cannot come until that falling away or apostasy takes place. So it is plain on the face of it that, in place of the church continuing in God's goodness, the distinctly opposite is the case. The apostle shews how the declension goes on: "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. Remember ye not that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work." That is the important point here, that already, as to its general principles, it was going on in the apostle's day. Even then the enemy was at work, sowing tares. Only it was a mystery; it was going on secretly, in a hidden way. There was Judaism, and Antinomianism, making high professions of grace with a corrupt practice, and various other forms of heresy, as the denial that Christ was a real man, etc., all of which are mentioned in Scripture - we do not require to go to church history at all to find them. They denied the humanity, quite as soon as they did the divinity, of the Lord.
We find then that this mystery of iniquity was already at work in the time of the apostle, and it was then only hindered from going on; it was not to be set aside. The time will come when it will be set aside, when Babylon will be destroyed, but not by the word. I may first refer for a moment to this point. In the book of Revelation (chap. 17) you find that it is the ten horns and the beast which shall destroy the great whore, and burn her with fire, and then men will be given up to even still greater evil - giving their power to the beast; and then judgment.
290 Returning to the passage in Thessalonians, we find the apostle says, "The mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." We get here this very important truth, as regards the responsibility of the church, that what was working to corrupt it in the time of the apostle himself would go on until what hindered the full development of iniquity was removed, and then that wicked would be revealed, etc. This, as I have said, is the very opposite of continuing in God's goodness. It is intimated to us, that what was mysteriously working then would ripen and mature up to the open revelation of the man of sin, whom the Lord will consume and destroy - "Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie." That is the way in which the professing church will be dealt with. Having refused to retain the truth - the real truth of God, God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie - "that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
The Lord then comes and destroys the wicked, the evil being open and evident; it is no longer a mystery. This is for us a very solemn view of God's dealings. It is not the pleasant and bright side. The pleasant bright side is the blessedness the saints will have at the coming of the Lord Jesus, in being gathered together to Him. The apostle says to the saints, You will all be taken up to meet the Lord in the air, and therefore you cannot think that the day of the Lord is here, for that day will not find you here at all. That day is the execution of judgment on ungodly men. It is as if a rebellion were going on at Toronto, and the Queen were to say, I will have all my loyal subjects with me at Montreal first, and then judgment will be executed. And so long as you were not at Montreal, it would be evident that that day of judgment had not arrived yet. That is the reason why, when it is said Lo here and Lo there, we know it does not apply to us. To a Jew it is different. If you say to a Jew who is expecting Christ, Lo here or Lo there, it is a snare to him. But if it is said to us, we can only answer, It is impossible, for we are going up to meet the Lord in the air, not to find Him here; and I am not there yet. So he beseeches them by our gathering together to Him not to be troubled as if the day was come.
291 In this passage then which I have read you have the positive declaration, that what had begun in the apostle's time goes on, until Christ comes to execute judgment; and you find another distinct and definite declaration of this kind in 1 Timothy 4. "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron."
Then, in 2 Timothy 3, we have very definitely and distinctly stated what the last days will be: "This know also that in the last days perilous times shall come" - not that the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord (that is a blessed time), but that "in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." That is the character of the last days. There will be a great form of godliness, much superstitious worship, but a denial of the power of godliness. That is not a continuing in God's goodness, when the professing church in the last days, with a great form of godliness, denies the power thereof.
It is a remarkable proof of the power of Satan, that in the face of these passages, men, wise in their own conceits, will bring reasoning to prove that they are to go on and fill the whole world with the gospel - that, at the very time that judgments are hastening upon them, men will cherish the expectation of the earth being filled with a widespread blessedness - is the strongest possible evidence of the power of that delusion of which the apostle speaks. It is not that God is not working, and turning men from darkness to light. It was the same before the destruction of Jerusalem; three thousand were converted in a day. If we had three thousand converted in a day now, would it be a proof that the millennium was coming? No, but rather that it was judgment which was coming. It was because the judgment was coming that this happened. It was the Lord's gathering out His saints before the judgment, and adding to the church such as should be saved. And, if He is now working in a special manner to gather out souls, it is not because the gospel is to fill the world, but because judgment is coming upon the professing church.
292 The apostle shews that the declension will go on, that it will not be set aside. For "evil men and seducers," he says, "shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." And then he gives the resource under such circumstances. "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus." It is as much as to say, You cannot trust the church, which will have but a form of godliness, denying the power; your resource must be the holy scriptures of truth.
You will find, again, how this mystery of iniquity began to work at the very outset, by turning to 1 John 2, where this very question is treated of. "Little children, it is the last time." It seems a remarkable thing for the apostle to speak of the very time when Christianity commenced to be diffused as the last time. God's patience has nevertheless continued to go on from that time to this day; for with Him one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. "And as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many Antichrists." It is not the Antichrist whom he speaks of, but he says that already there were many antichrists - already the mystery of iniquity, the spirit of evil, was working - "whereby we know that it is the last time." We have seen that the last days are a perilous time; and here we see that the apostle knows it to be the last time, because there are many Antichrists. Is it possible then that the last time will be a time when the whole world will be filled with such blessedness as some speak of? The whole testimony of Scripture is as plain as can be to the contrary: "Whereby we know it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." They adopt false principles: their Christianity becomes corrupted; and they go out.
293 Turn now to Luke 18, which occurs to my mind in connection with this, shewing how far the professing church is from continuing in God's goodness (v. 6): "And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" That is not like having the world full of the gospel. He puts the question, Will there be some individuals Still expecting His interference and intervention? but He does not say there will be. The church will be gone, and the question is, Will there be any looking for His interference? will there by anyone expecting the Lord to descend on the earth?
It may be well now perhaps to turn to a few passages - because they rest in people's minds, in looking at this subject - about the gospel being preached to all nations and the like. I believe that this ought to have been done from the beginning by those to whom God has given grace. But that is not the question. The question is, whether there has not been a failure on the part of the church, as to the discharge of its responsibility. It is not a question whether they ought to diffuse the gospel - of course they ought. In the sixth century, Christianity was the all but national religion of China, and there are fragments of it there still. The limits of nominal Christendom are now very much contracted from what they were in former times. Formerly they embraced all the north of Africa, and in a measure all Asia. Now they are almost confined to Europe, except that in these modern times they include also the scattered populations in America.
Let us turn then to the passages which speak of the prevalence of the gospel. That in Matthew 24 is one of them. "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations, and then" - not the millennium, but - "shall the end come." There is nothing here about filling the world with blessedness. But the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached for a witness to all nations, and then will come the end - the judgment, the end of this age. It is not said that the world is to be filled with blessing. To suppose so is being wise in your own conceit. It is said that the knowledge of the glory of the Lord will fill the world, but it is not said that the gospel will; although men, fancying that they have the power to bring it about, speak as if it were the gospel that was to do this.
294 If you look at Revelation 14 you will find this brought out still more distinctly and clearly, that the end comes when the gospel is sent for a witness to all nations. You often hear the passage quoted to shew that the gospel is to be preached to all nations, which is no doubt a blessed truth in its place. But, to see the effect of it, we must take the whole passage: verse 6, "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation and kindred and tongue and people, saying, with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come." It is almost a miracle how people read Scripture without understanding it. Whoever has been in the habit of frequenting public meetings, and listening to speakers from public platforms, must have heard that passage quoted hundreds of times, as if it meant that the gospel is so to be preached to all nations that it is to fill the whole world with light, while a moment's consideration would shew that this preaching of the gospel is a precursor of judgments. I shall now refer to the passages which speak of the knowledge of the Lord covering the earth as the waters cover the sea.
But, before doing that, let me just quote one passage in Isaiah (chap. 26), where you will see that this is brought, not by the gospel, but by judgments. Verse 9: "With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early; for, when thy judgments are in the earth" (not the gospel, but judgments) "the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. Let favour" (that is, grace, or the gospel) "be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness." There must be judgment; the time of harvest must come, as in the parable of the tares. "In the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly and will not behold the majesty of the Lord. Lord, when thy hand is lifted up" (when He is just going to strike), "they will not see; but they shall see, and be ashamed for their envy at the people; yea, the fire of thine enemies shall devour them."
295 Turn now to Habakkuk, where you have one of these passages which are constantly in people's minds, as shewing that the gospel is to go on and spread until it fills the world. I refer to them merely for the negative purpose of pointing out that they shew nothing of the kind. Habakkuk 2:12: "Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and establisheth a city by iniquity! Behold, is it not of the Lord of hosts that the people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity? For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." The people are all labouring in the fire, and wearying themselves for very vanity; and then the glory comes and fills the earth.
Turn now to Numbers - another of the only three passages in which what I am now referring to is spoken of in that way; and in chapter 14 you will find what the Lord means by filling the earth with His glory. When the people had sinned against the Lord and murmured against Moses, God said He would destroy them, and Moses then interceded for them. "Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people, according unto the greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now. And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word: but as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord. Because all those men which have seen my glory, and my miracles, which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice, surely they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it." That, of course, is judgment; and the filling of the earth with God's glory here has nothing to do with the gospel. The Lord will have the whole earth full of His glory, but He does not use the gospel for that purpose. He does send the gospel, and urges it upon men with infinite patience and goodness; but they reject it; and then comes judgment.
In one other passage the expression occurs. You will find it in Isaiah 11: "But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb . . . . They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" - that is, when God smites the earth, and slays the wicked. "And," the prophecy goes on, "in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious. And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria and from Egypt," etc. That is, the Lord gathers the Jews, and slays the wicked; and it is then the earth is full of the knowledge of Jehovah. "And the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off. Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim. But they shall fly upon the shoulders of the Philistines toward the west; they shall spoil them of the east together," and so on - shewing that there is to be an execution of judgment in the earth.
296 Turn now to Isaiah 66, where the glory of the Lord is also spoken of. And, in referring to these passages which are so constantly quoted, it is always an excellent plan to read the context. In this passage the glory of the Lord is brought in by fire and by sword. Verse 15: "For, behold, the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh: and the slain of the Lord shall be many . . . . For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues, and they shall come and see my glory." The glory of the Lord here comes with the execution of judgment; there is nothing of the gospel at all.
You see, then, these three points. First, you have the statement that, after God had sown the good seed, the enemy came and sowed the evil. Then you have the conditional declaration, that the professing church, if it did not continue in God's goodness, would, as an outward thing, be cut off. Then, further, you have the declaration that that evil which had begun in the time of the apostles would go on to the end, the Lord only restraining the public manifestation of it until the time of judgment approached at Christ's coming, the fulness of the Gentiles being come in, and then that wicked would be cut off; also that in the last days perilous times would come, and Antichrist would come. We have seen also that the passages referring to the earth being filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, and the like, are all connected with judgment; and that when favour is shewed to the wicked, as in the gospel, he will not learn righteousness.
297 If you turn to the Revelation, you will get a little more of detail about the falling away, and about what the character of that evil is which is at work. But before we quote from the Revelation, let me remark that the two great characters of evil from the beginning have been corruption and violence. Before the deluge, the earth was corrupt before God and filled with violence. And in the Revelation, "Babylon" is the expression of corruption, while the "beast" is the expression of violence. I cannot, this evening, enter into details as to this part of the subject, but I wish to shew you how the one runs into the other. In chapter 17 the expression "the great whore" indicates the power of corruption. At verse 15 it is said, "The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues" - the reference here is to the influence over the nations which a corrupt Christianity has exercised. "And the ten horns which thou sawest, and [not on] the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire." Of course, that is not the gospel; it is violence putting an end to corruption. "For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast."
It is not when Babylon is destroyed that the kingdom is given to the Son of man. It is given then to the beast. The effect of the destruction of all this corrupt influence of outward nominal Christianity, of the awful corruption of the Papal system, which was the centre of it all, that "mother of abominations of the earth" - the effect of the destruction of that, through the hatred and disgust of those connected with it, and disgusted and wearied with it, will be to put the power of the world into the hands of the beast. There is nothing at all here about the gospel. It is the violence of man refusing longer to submit to priestly power. When one reads Scripture, simply desiring to learn what it teaches, he cannot but be surprised how people form from it the systems they do. They take hold of some abstract principle, and following it out succeed in finding it in Scripture according to their expectations. In studying the Scriptures, they settle first what the Scriptures should teach, instead of being content to take simply what they do actually state.
298 Turn now to chapter 16, and you will find more about the time when judgment shall be executed upon Babylon, although we cannot now enter into the various details of it. "And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet." These are the powers of evil. "For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth, and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief." It is the devil who gathers the whole world to that great battle. People may discuss what is meant by the dragon, and the beast, and the false prophet. I have very little doubt on that point; and I may just say, without entering into the details, that the dragon is the power of Satan, that the beast is the Roman Empire, and that the false prophet is the false Messiah at the time of the end.
I do not dwell upon this; but at all events it is perfectly clear that the three unclean spirits, which gather the nations to the battle of the great day of God Almighty, are not the gospel. It is the battle which in Isaiah is said to be with burning and fuel of fire. The nations are gathered to Armageddon, and then comes the judgment. I he beast and its horns destroy Babylon, that great corrupt system, and then the beast and the kings of the earth are gathered by evil spirits against the power of Christ, Satan being cast down from heaven.
In Revelation 19, we read that there comes forth on the white horse He who has on His vesture and on His thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords; that the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies are gathered together to make war against Him that sat on the horse, and against His army: "and the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image: these both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone; and the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse." Thus we get here very distinctly that there is an execution of judgment. And after that - after the execution of judgment - Satan is bound.
299 Then we have a passage, which is the only ground we have for saying that there is to be a millennium - a thousand years of blessedness. We have seen the general statements that the world will be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, and that this is to be by judgment. But the only proof we have that the period of blessedness is to last a thousand years - the only evidence for this particular character of the glory which is coming - is found in Revelation 20. We have plenty of testimony that there will be a time of blessedness, but this specific character of it is only found here, and that is after the Lord has come as King of kings, and Lord of lords, and executed judgment, and Satan is bound. Satan has been corrupting everything; but, when he is bound, he can no longer do so; and then come the thousand years, and thrones and judgment are given to us. The saints shall judge the world, for so God has revealed in His word.
Are there not many professing Christians who, if you were to say to them, "Do you know you are to judge angels?" would think you were mad? And yet it was to the Corinthians (who were very far from being the most perfect of Christians, for they were, indeed, going on very badly) that this was said. The full import of the connection of the church with Christ has been almost wholly forgotten. People talk of their hopes of being saved, and of living godly; but the connection of the church with the Second Adam is practically forgotten. The power of redemption, and the high privileges connected with it, are overlooked.
Let us revert for a moment to Revelation 17 to see how intimately the saints are associated with Christ in that day. We read that the beast and the kings of the earth shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them; for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings; "and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful." That description does not apply to angels. No doubt He will come with the holy angels; but the expression - "called, and chosen, and faithful" - applies to the saints, who come "arrayed in fine linen, clean and white," which "is the righteousness of saints." So arrayed, they come with the Lord. We shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air; and when He appears, we shall also appear with Him in glory.
300 There is another point I wish to shew you, although I cannot go into details. I can only touch upon the great principles bearing on the subject we are considering, and pass over them very rapidly. You will remember a passage of sacred history in the time of Elijah, recorded in the Kings. God had seen that there were seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal, although Elijah had fancied that he only was left, and they sought his life to take it away. Acting under God's authority, Elijah raised the question whether Baal was God, or Jehovah was God, and proceeded to test it by a public demonstration in the face of all the people. And he proposed to test it in this way, that he who answered by fire should be acknowledged as God. Sacrifices accordingly were prepared, and the priests of Baal cried aloud from morning until noon, "O Baal, hear us!" And Elijah mocked them, and said, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked." And they cried aloud, and cut themselves with knives, until evening; but there was no answer. And then Elijah built an altar, and laid on it the sacrifice, and filled the trench about it with water, and called upon the Lord; and the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice and the wood, and licked up the water that was in the trench; and when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, "The Lord [Jehovah] he is the God; the Lord he is the God."
Now we find in the Revelation, that the false prophet brings down fire from heaven in the sight of men. It is all lies, of course; but he does it in such a way as to deceive men. The very thing which Elijah did to prove that Jehovah was the true God, the false prophet, or false Messiah, also appears to do - bringing down in the sight of men the very thing which proved Jehovah to be God; and that he succeeds by it in deceiving men, shews that they are given up to strong delusion to believe a lie. This refers to the government of the world, so far as the Jews are concerned.
If you turn to 2 Thessalonians, you will see the same, where Christianity is concerned, in connection with the apostasy: "Then shall that Wicked be revealed . . . even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs, and lying wonders." Of course they are all "lying," but still they are "powers, and signs, and wonders" - words verbally identical in the original with those used by Peter when he preached of "Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs." That is, Antichrist does the same things - lying, of course, but the same as regards men's apprehension of them - which proved Jesus to be the Christ, and the same things that proved Jehovah to be the true God. By these means he blinds and deceives the people, and leads them away to worship the dragon and the beast. He does this by bringing down fire from heaven and leads them to recognise the false Christ as the true one, by doing the same things - falsely, of course - as Christ had done. You cannot conceive a more awful and solemn thing, than that men should thus be given up to strong delusion, to believe a lie, and to be subject to the power of him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders; and it is not surprising that the apostle should be so impressive in his warning, when he says, "This know, that in the last days perilous times shall come."
301 Now, beloved friends, the more you search the Scriptures, the more you will find these great leading principles clearly brought out. But the professing church refuses to see them; and this is connected with what I pointed out at the outset, that everything which in God's great scheme is trusted to man is a failure. It was while men slept, that the enemy came and sowed the tares, and then we have the positive revelation that the church, not continuing in God's goodness, will be cut off. Therefore the notion that the outward church of God, after having become corrupt, will again be set right, is an entire delusion - I say outward church of God; for, as regards individuals, what is revealed on this point is only a reason for greater faithfulness on their part. That is another question altogether.
As regards the duty of individuals, Scripture gives plenty of directions about that, even when speaking of the last days, when there shall be a form of godliness and a denial of the power thereof. From such, says the Spirit, turn away. It will be with the saints as with Elijah - there never will be a time when individually they will have a greater consciousness of the power of Christ, than in the time of general declension.
That, however, is not the point; the question is as to the outward manifestation and outward effect in the world. Men have comforted themselves with the thought of an invisible church, forgetting that it is said, "Ye are the light of the world." Of what value is an invisible light? It is said, "let your light so shine before men"; that is, let your profession of Christianity be so distinct "that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
302 And now, beloved friends, take this lesson with you, that, during this time of God's forbearance, until He comes forth to execute judgment, a deep responsibility is laid upon each of us. Let each man take heed how and what he believes. Keep in mind that it is by false doctrines that Satan has corrupted the church - by Judaism, by the worship of saints, and by all sorts of errors. We have not time to enumerate them all; but it is by the introduction of these false and heretical doctrines that Satan has succeeded in corrupting Christianity: so much so, that, if you wished to look for really the darkest characters of evil, you would have to go among Christians to find it - of course Christians merely in name I mean, but yet those who boast that theirs is the only true Christianity in the world.
I only add now this thought - how important it is, if we are approaching these scenes of judgment, that we should understand correctly what is the destiny of the church, instead of imagining that all is to go on rightly until the whole world is filled with blessedness! How important it is that we should understand that this mystery of iniquity, already at work in the apostle's days, is to go on until God leaves the bridle loose, as it were, for the whole power of evil to do its worst; that the evil is working until the saints are taken up to meet the Lord in the air, and then the power of Satan will begin to work! This surely is a solemn thought for me, if I care for the church, how I have discharged my own responsibility, when the question is put, as in Jeremiah, "Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock? what wilt thou say when he shall punish thee?" Read the Acts, and see what Christendom is now, and say what likeness there is. Ask not only, Is there the doctrine? but Where is the practice now? Yet the Lord is faithful. And, when judgment comes, the Lord, having bought the field, has got the treasure safe, and He has kept it safe all the while.
We shall afterwards take up that part of our subject which connects God's dealings with the world, more particularly with the Jews. But, meanwhile, the Lord give us to lay this to heart - the difference between what is called the church, the outward thing, and what the church really ought to be. And let us see what our own characters are, if there is anything in us which is an adequate fruit of the travail of the Son of God, and of the coming down of the Holy Ghost as the Comforter and Sanctifier. It is best always, in making application of these truths, to begin with ourselves. Let us see, then, whether in our hearts we love and care for Christ, and about the condition in which the church of God is, or whether we are deceiving ourselves by imagining that it is in a proper condition to set the world right. I do not doubt that the Holy Ghost is remarkably working now. From the first time these things broke in upon my mind I have always expected that the Spirit of God would work; and I bless God that He is doing so much at this time. Yet I feel assured, from what I find in the Scriptures, that it is by judgment that this working is to be followed.