The Coming of the Lord practically considered.
In the Old Testament Scriptures, no such idea as the Lord's coming from heaven for His saints to be caught up to meet Him in the air is recorded. A great deal is there found about Messiah's coming to the earth and reigning over it, sitting in David's throne, and reigning in mount Zion and in Jerusalem before His ancients gloriously, because in the prophets we have blessings promised to God's earthly people. The true expectation of the Jews therefore is, that Messiah is coming to establish them in blessing on the earth; and in this they are right. But since Christ has been raised from among the dead, and has sent down the Holy Ghost to form the Church, which is His body, another hope, suited to a heavenly people, has been set forth in clearness and detail. True it is that the blessed Lord did say, on leaving His disciples to go unto the Father, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also;" but we should have had considerable difficulty in entering into the true character of this expectation had not other revelations been subsequently brought out. The Thessalonian saints were taught simply "to wait for God's Son from heaven," in blessed assurance that they had by Him been delivered from the wrath to come. But so little did they understand the true character of the hope, that when they saw their brethren die they began to sorrow about them with despondency, because they had not remained alive till the Lord came. We find, therefore, that the apostle communicates a revelation which he had received from the Lord on the subject: "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord" About this it is not the Lord's mind that we should be in ignorance. He says, "I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. . . . For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." This account of the dead saints rising, and the living joining them, and all being translated together to meet the Lord in the air, though meeting the present distress of the Thessalonian saints as to how it would be with their departed brethren, (those who had died in Christ,) when the Son came from heaven, yet even here we have no instruction as to the change, the character of body we shall have at that time. For this another revelation was needed, and it was afterward given. In 1 Cor. 15:51, the apostle further communicates what had never been known before. Up to that moment the state we should be in, and our bodily fitness for the Lord's presence, had been shrouded in mystery; but here it is clearly unfolded. The apostle says, "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." Now here observe, we have clearly set forth that the bodies will be changed in a moment both of the living saints and of the dead saints; and while it is plainly asserted that all saints will not die or sleep, but that some will be alive upon the earth when the Lord Jesus comes, yet then, in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, our mortal and corruptible bodies will put on immortality and incorruptibility. How blessed this is, and how simply the Lord in His Word has marked out every step in this heavenward way, so that no room may be left for question or doubt, but that every soul may intelligently and happily wait for God's Son from heaven! The first stage, so to speak, then, is this wondrous change — changed in a moment — our bodies of humiliation changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body, thus giving us capacities for untiring service and unwearying delight, while gazing on Him in the bright eternal glory of God and the Lamb. Being changed, then, in a moment, we are at once translated — "caught up to meet the Lord in the air." This we may call the second stage. After this He will present us to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but being holy and without blame. Yes,
"There we shall see His face,
And never, never sin;
There, from the rivers of His grace,
Drink endless pleasures in."
It would be interesting to trace what is before us still further as to our manifestation at the bema of Christ, our rewards, the bride making herself ready, the marriage of the Lamb, our reigning with the Lord Jesus, the judgment of the wicked dead, and consider also what is revealed as to the eternal state; but our present object is rather to look at the practical way in which Scripture sets this blessed, soul-stirring, comforting, purifying hope before us.
Now hope is something more than knowledge of doctrine. Hope is a living, active energy of the soul. Many know, as a Scripture truth, what they call the Lord's second coming; but for the heart to be going out to Him in bridal, fervent expectation is another thing! Hence it does not say in Scripture, He that hath the knowledge of the doctrine, but "He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." (1 John 3:3.) This hope, then, is eminently sanctifying and practical, enabling us to detach ourselves from that which is impure; for when hope is true and lively in the soul, the eye of the heart is fixed on its desired object. The affections thus become occupied with our blessed and adorable Lord Jesus, and therefore separated from what is unsuitable to Him.
Again, as we have before noticed, the early saints waited for God's Son from heaven. They expected this blessed person to come from heaven. Their posture of soul was that of looking for Him, that blessed One whom God had raised from the dead, even Jesus which delivered them from the wrath to come. They were thus in the activity of their souls gazing up into heaven, and waiting for God's Son. And what was their Christian life? Were they careless in walk, shut up toward others, and indolent in the work of the gospel? Most certainly not. Quite the contrary; for they were proverbial for their works of faith and labours of love, and from them sounded out the word of God to all around. The very fact that they were waiting for God's Son from heaven kept them in such communion with Him, that they were strengthened by divine power to be thus earnest, loving, devoted, and faithful in the gospel. Perhaps, if we wanted a practical exposition of those words of the apostle John, "He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure," we should scarcely find it told out in more living energy than in the life, and ways, and service of the Thessalonian saints, so sweetly recorded for our comfort and encouragement by the Holy Ghost.
I again notice that they waited for God's Son from heaven; and elsewhere we read of others who looked for the Saviour. This is the truth of God in active power on the heart. It is reality — a living person at the right hand of God; a man in the glory; Son of God and Son of man looked for and waited for. Can anything be more blessedly simple, or more profoundly real? It is intensely individual, powerfully practical — the soul patiently looking out for the object of its expectancy. Observe, it is not signs they looked for, but Christ; not some wondrous events to be fulfilled on earth; not some peculiar feeling to come over them, but the Lord Himself. Not death or judgment, but the Saviour Himself to come and change their bodies, and translate them to glory. Is it possible that such a glorious, blessed, comforting hope could possess the soul without decided practical action? Impossible; though it can be readily seen how easy it is for the doctrine to occupy the intellect without the affections being called forth in suited response to His "Behold, I come quickly!"
If we turn to some parts of the Old Testament, we shall find touching incidents, which may be used to illustrate the practical effects the truth of the Lord's coming for us will necessarily have when He is really thus the hope of our hearts.
If we look first at the ordinance of the year of jubilee, as recorded in Lev. 25, we shall find an instructive and searching lesson on the subject. I do not say that the sounding of the jubilee trumpet was typical of the Lord's coming for us; for I believe it to be typical of the time when the Lord will appear to the Jews as their Messiah, and bring His ancient people into their promised liberty, and give every tribe in the land of Israel its own proper possession, according to Ezekiel's prophecy. But as an illustration it is striking, not only as setting forth the marvellous and eternal blessings into which the coming of the Lord Himself will introduce us, but also as showing that the value we attach to everything here is in proportion to our sense of the distance or nearness of the Lord's coming. "And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field. In the year of this jubilee ye shall return every man unto his possession. And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbour, or buyest ought of thy neighbour's hand, ye shall not oppress one another: according to the number of years after the jubilee thou shalt buy of thy neighbour, and according unto the number of years of the fruits he shall sell unto thee: according to the multitude of years thou shalt increase the price thereof, and according to the fewness of years thou shalt diminish the price of it: for according to the number of the years of the fruits doth he sell unto thee."
Observe here, that the jubilee trumpet sounded on the very day of atonement, which reminds us that in Scripture the Lord's coming for us is in virtue of His atonement, and not because of any merit whatever in us. It is the consummation of His own way of grace to us, and not in the least degree dependent on our faithfulness. If you remember, our Lord said, "This is the will of Him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day." Here you see that our Lord is pledged to raise up all who look to Him for everlasting life; and nothing can be more false than the doctrine promulgated, alas! so extensively in our day, that only those of the Lord's servants who have been faithful will be caught up at the coming of our Lord. Scripture plainly says, "They that are Christ's at His coming;" and again, "The dead in Christ," and "We which are alive and remain." It is happy, then, to be clear on this point, and to think of the coming of the Lord for us, and our being caught up to meet Him in the air, as the completion of His blessed work of redemption; His application of its power to our bodies, even as already it has been to our souls, as it is said, "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." Elsewhere we are told that while now groaning in these bodies, and having the Spirit of adoption, "we are waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies."
But in this jubilee ordinance three characters of blessing were joyfully anticipated — liberty, possession, and family gathering; concerning which I only notice, firstly, that for us to be with the Lord will be to enjoy everlasting liberty in His most blessed presence, without any let or clog as we now have with these groaning bodies, and their various infirmities. Secondly, that we shall possess the glorious object which our hearts have so long and so adoringly longed for; for we shall see His face, and thus be entirely and for ever satisfied. Thirdly, then also the whole Church of God will enjoy its perfect unity in unbroken fellowship, and in everlasting, undisturbed love and rest. What a glorious prospect our God here spreads out before us, beloved, for confidence and hope!
"O may the heavenly vision fire
Our hearts with ardent love,
Till wings of faith, and strong desire,
Bear every thought above!"
Another point to notice is, that the year of jubilee was not the time for sowing and reaping. Now we know that this time is so, and is in every sense of the utmost importance for us to well consider. For, however rich, and suited, and abundant the grace of God is to usward in Christ, yet are we not the less subjects of the government of God, and that too in connection with all our ways, "for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;" but then it will not be sowing and reaping, though in a more perfect way praising and serving. But the important lesson for us to learn in this ordinance of the jubilee year, is that the value of their land was in direct proportion to the fewness of years, or number of years before the trumpet would sound; and this because the land would then return to each one according to his family. This surely shows us, that just as we are really waiting for the Lord Himself from heaven, things here will be of little value in our eyes; but again, if we estimate earthly things at a high price, does it not show that we are counting upon some years of enjoyment of them, and in our hearts saying, "The Lord will not be here yet," or, "My Lord delayeth His coming"? This jubilee ordinance therefore very sweetly illustrates the fact, that those who are really waiting for God's Son from heaven will be valuing their earthly possessions at a low price, save as to the exceeding privilege of using them in the Lord's service. I ask then, beloved, Are we consistent? What is the true character of our testimony? If the world see us very careful to add field to field, and assiduously labouring to improve the appearances and value of our earthly possessions, must we not seem in their eyes, after all, like citizens of this world, and like people who do not mean or believe what we say, when we declare that the Lord Jesus may come for us at any time? It truly is a solemn question for our hearts, as to how far we show that we are real in saying we are waiting for God's Son from heaven.
Again, if we turn to Jeremiah 32, we shall find another practical illustration of the subject. Jeremiah was in prison for the truth's sake, and evidently not a poor man; but he was God's servant, and one to whom God had communicated His mind as to the present state of His people, and His future dealings with them and their land. He knew that Nebuchadnezzar would besiege the city, and carry the people away into captivity, and that they would be captives in Babylon for seventy years. He also knew from God, that at the end of that time the people would return to their own land, and again have Jehovah's blessing with them in it. But did Jeremiah believe this? Was the future blessing of the Jews to him a certain reality? Did God mean what He said about this prospective blessing? Most assuredly He did. Jeremiah believed it because God had said it, and he showed forth the reality of his faith and hope by laying out his money now, with no hope of benefit through it till then. His uncle came to him to buy a field when he was shut up in prison, because the right of redemption was his, when he knew full well that neither he nor his seed would have it in possession, till God brought His people again into their promised and expected blessing. All the details too as to the conveyance of the property in a truly lawful, unquestionable way, only shows the reality of Jeremiah's acting in the whole transaction; for, he adds, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land." (v. 15.) And I ask, beloved, does the light of the future glory, which we are called to be partakers of at our Lord's coming, so bear upon the present scene, as to make us feel that the only right use of our means is to lay them out for the Lord, so as to ensure His "Well done" by and by? And are we thus employed because we believe that time is short, and that the Lord may come at any moment? Is it so? Where are our hearts at this moment, beloved brethren in the Lord? for we are told that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also? If we can truly sing,
"Jesus shall our treasure be
Now and through eternity,"
it is quite clear that one proof of our really waiting for Him will be that we are not laying up treasures upon earth, but, it may be, laying up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal.
Take another illustration from 2 Samuel 19. Mephibosheth was deeply attached to David; for the king had showed "the kindness of God" to him; and though he felt himself in his own eyes to be only a loathsome creature — "a dead dog" — yet the king brought him into such nearness to himself, as to set him at the royal table as one of the king's sons. But during the king's absence, in consequence of Absalom's conspiracy, when God's beloved one was rejected by many, the heart of this object of David's peculiar mercy was deeply affected. His interests, affection, sympathy, and desires were after the absent king. He keenly felt that the king was away, and he longed to see him again. Slandered and deceived as he was, and misrepresented too, during the king's absence, yet we are told that he went forth to meet him, and that he neither dressed his feet, nor trimmed his beard, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed till the day that he came to him again in peace. And with what joy of heart did this devoted one meet the king on his return! He felt so satisfied that he desired nothing else. Gifts are valuable; but what are the best gifts when compared with the giver? "Thou and Ziba divide the land, said David. No, said Mephibosheth, let him take all, forasmuch as my lord the king is come again in peace unto his own house." (vv. 24-30.) And could it be otherwise with us, beloved, only in a truer and spiritual way, if we really felt, as we ought, that our adorable Lord has been hated and cast out from this scene by the princes of this world, and that, with trimmed lamps and girded loins, we have turned our backs upon it, and are going forth to meet the Bridegroom? If our interests, affections, and sympathies were so undividedly on Him, whom having not seen we love, as they ought, how ardently should we be looking for His coming again!
"To dwell with Him, to see His face,
And sing the glories of His grace."
And will not our affections and interests be always with the real object of our hearts? Can the hearts of men be objectless? Is it not contrary even to nature to be so? And what is the object that engages our affections and interests, beloved? Let us thoroughly judge ourselves as to this. Is it the Lord, Himself who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood? And can we be really waiting for God's Son from heaven, if our interests, affections, and sympathies are not with Him? Let us ponder this lesson, beloved, and deal unsparingly with ourselves as to the present object of our hearts in the presence of God, where we can afford to do so because of the perfectness of divine love, and where Jesus our Lord is, who went in there by His own blood!
We may profitably turn to another Scripture illustration on this weighty subject. You will find it in Genesis 24. Rebecca had heard the report of Isaac, and though not having seen him, she had believed the testimony, and her heart was won for him. And when the question was raised as to the real object of her soul, neither country nor kindred could detain her from going forth to meet him. She allowed nothing to impede her course; for it was the beloved son, who had been in a figure offered up upon the altar, and raised from the dead, and now heir of all, that she was so longing to see, and to be with. Her heart was so truly set upon him as her one object, that she unhesitatingly left all behind, and joyfully went on her way, till she saw him face to face, and knew the real enjoyment of his own love. And does not this brief but touching narrative strikingly teach us, beloved brethren, that those who have the hope of the Lord's coming at heart will neither allow the pleadings of friends or kindred, nor the professed claims of country, to impede them one moment in their heavenward course of going out to meet the Bridegroom? Feeling as we should the infinite worth and attractiveness of the Lord Himself, what else could vie with Him? Losers as to present things we may be, sufferers in this present time we must be; but will not separation in affection unto Christ Himself always be connected with separation from all that is not according to His will? But the claims of Christ are paramount. His divinely moral excellencies outshine every other glory. His infinite worth incomparably surpasses all else that the heart can value. A glimpse of this living, incorruptible Conqueror of death, Satan, and the grave, now Head of all principality and power, dims the eye to all else. The knowledge too that His heart is set upon us, that He ardently looks forward to our being with Him; and His sweet words, "A little while," "I will come again," and "I come quickly," when they fall upon us by the Spirit's power, so move the heart's desires of those who are born of God, that we cannot but look up and say, "Come, Lord Jesus!"
What short of this, beloved, could be truly called "the hope which purifieth us even as He is pure"? Who else could be rightly said to "look, and wait, for God's Son from heaven"? Should it be otherwise than a living reality in us? Oh, let us not suppose that knowledge of the doctrine, blessed as it is, can necessarily be the same as hope! It may be that many of us may have to judge ourselves as to this; some, too, in whom perhaps this blessed, joyful, sanctifying hope was once bright and powerful, in whom may scarcely now be traced little more than the knowledge of the doctrine. Oh that we may arise and trim our lamps afresh, and address ourselves to the few steps of the wilderness that are yet before us with girded loins! Then, as we have seen, things here will diminish vastly in our esteem; we shall gladly lay out our means in hope of future recompense at the resurrection of the just; we shall so sympathize with Christ, who is still rejected by the world, as to let nothing be in our souls comparable with Him. Our affections will be so singly set upon Him, of whom we have heard such a glorious report by the gospel, as to allow neither country nor kindred, circumstances nor friends, to hinder us from going forth to meet Him. Lord, be thou cur sufficiency in this for the glory of thy holy name! Then will our song be —
"I'm waiting for Thee, Lord,
Thy beauty to see, Lord,
I'm waiting for Thee,
For Thy coming again.
Thou'rt gone over there, Lord,
A place to prepare, Lord;
Thy home I shall share,
At Thy coming again.
"Mid danger and fear, Lord,
I'm oft weary here, Lord;
The day must be near
Of Thy coming again.
'Tis all sunshine there, Lord,
No sighing nor care, Lord,
But glory so fair
At Thy coming again.
"Our loved ones before, Lord,
Their troubles are o'er, Lord;
I'll meet them once more
At Thy coming again.
The blood was the sign, Lord,
That marked them as thine, Lord,
And brightly they'll shine
At Thy coming again.
"E'en now let my ways, Lord,
Be bright with Thy praise, Lord,
For brief are the days
Ere Thy coming again.
I'm waiting for Thee, Lord,
Thy beauty to see, Lord;
No triumph for me
Like Thy coming again."