"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." John 14:3.
Acts 1:9-11; Philippians 3:20, 21; 1 Thessalonians 1:9, 10; Revelation 22:7, 12, 20.
I have read these several Scriptures, beloved friends, because my subject tonight is, "The Coming of the Lord Jesus, the Christian's Hope." Observe, the subject is not the day of the Lord, but the coming of the Lord. The distinction is very obvious in Scripture. For instance, the day of the Lord was Israel's hope. The prophets are full of the day of the Lord; but no Old Testament writer gives us the coming of the Lord as the Christian's hope; by which I mean the Lord descending into the air, when all who are Christ's that are alive, and all who are Christ's that are in their graves, will be caught up to meet Him. Our subject tonight is not the Lord coming with His saints, but the Lord coming for His saints. And I call attention to these distinctions, because it seems to me utterly impossible for any one to get clear thoughts as to the particular hope of the Christian, unless he distinguishes between those things which differ. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." This is not the Lord coining to us, as many have supposed, in the article of death, when the believer falls asleep in Jesus; for then the Christian is spoken of as "absent from the body, and present with the Lord;" or, as having departed to be with Christ. But nowhere in Scripture is the death of the believer spoken of as the Lord coming to him.
Neither is there in this saying of Christ one word about judgment; in fact, we get no such idea in Scripture as the believer looking for a judgment day, to decide whether he is to be saved or not. I am not ignorant that many who do not carefully consider Scripture for themselves, but learn from others, think that what is called the parable of the sheep and the goats is the general assize, the great judgment day; and that until that time no person can be certain whether he is saved or whether he is lost, because he must first go before that tribunal. I am aware that many think Scripture favours the thought of one general judgment; but I am bold to assert, that no Christian, prayerfully seeking the help and guidance of the Holy Ghost on the subject, and comparing one part of Scripture with another, with a mind subject to God's word, would allow such a doctrine to stand. In the first place, in the account of the sheep and the goats, there is no thought of resurrection at all. In the second place, it is Christ as King, when He comes in glory to the earth, having the nations before Him. And in the third place, the whole parable, which I cannot enter into now, clearly shows that it is a judgment which will be held during the personal reign of the Lord, when He deals with the nations according as they have dealt kindly or unkindly with His messengers, His brethren in the flesh — a remnant of Jews, who will publish "the gospel of the kingdom" after the rapture of the saints.
The Christian is not taught in the New Testament to expect death. On the contrary, he is told, in the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, that "we shall not all sleep;" that is, that all believers will not die, because there will be some living on the earth when the Lord Jesus comes from heaven. Death then cannot be the hope of the believer; for we may or we may not fall asleep in Jesus. Certain it is that some will not. No one knows whether any of us will die or not. God has not told us; but He did make it known by a special revelation to Peter, and Paul knew also that he would fall asleep. They needed this special instruction about themselves, because the general teaching of Scripture was, that believers were to wait for Christ's return from heaven.
The question is, What are we to understand by those words of the blessed Lord, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself"? In the first place, observe, that in making this remark our Lord was speaking to persons who were saved. Judas was not present. He had gone out. The eleven were there with Him, and He addressed them as clean ones. "Now ye are clean through the word which. I have spoken unto you." He had been rejected by Israel, and had pronounced their house "desolate." He was just going to suffer, the just for the unjust, on the cross. Anticipating that Israel would be cast off, and the Church of the living God called out, and formed by the descent of the Holy Ghost, subsequent to His glorification at the right hand of God, He gives us, in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth chapters of John, great principles of peculiar teaching that were never found in the Scriptures before. These chapters are full of deepest instruction for those who now form the Church of God, and therefore, among other precious things, He gives this blessed and soul-comforting hope — "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." We are not left to conjecture about these things. The Scriptures plainly point out to us the meaning of such words. For instance, in the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, where we have an account of the Lord's ascension into heaven, we are told that there were two men in white apparel, two angelic messengers, who came and spake to the men of Galilee, the disciples who were watching the Lord, and had seen Him go up higher and higher, till a cloud received Him out of their sight. While still gazing upwards, watching where the blessed Jesus, who was so dear to them, had gone, these messengers said, "Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus" — not another Jesus, but this same Jesus "which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven." Did they see Him go up personally? Did their eyes behold Him? Was it a personal and a visible ascent? Certainly. Well then He shall come personally and visibly; for He "shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven." The interpretation therefore is clear; there is no mystery about it — "I will come again, and receive you unto myself." There is nothing about the world here. Not one word about the ungodly. It is Christ Himself who is coming. "I will come again." It is not "I will send angels for you." For surely Christians are too precious to the heart of Christ even to trust them to angels. They are His own flesh and bone. He therefore says, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also."
In pursuing our enquiry, the question may fairly be asked, How did the apostles and Christians in the apostles' days understand such words? Are there any proofs in the epistles that they understood they were to wait for Christ to come personally from heaven? Most assuredly there are; and that is why I read in the third chapter of the Philippians these words: "For our conversation" — or, rather, our citizenship, our country, the place that belongs to us now — "is in heaven." I was trying to show in the last lecture that a Christian is a person now in Christ in heavenly places. If a man, therefore, is not in Christ in heavenly places, he is not a Christian at all. If a man says, "I am not a Mahomedan, I am not a Jew, I am not a Pagan; I make a profession of having embraced Christianity, because I belong to Christian parents," that is not being a Christian. A Christian is a person who has fled for refuge to Jesus at God's right hand, as the only hope set before him in the gospel. He is a person who has been taught and regenerated by the Holy Ghost — one who is resting simply on Christ Jesus the Son of God for salvation; he is therefore in Christ, and has passed from death unto life. Hence the apostle, speaking of himself and others, says, "Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for" — for what? For death? No. For judgment? No. What, then? "We look for the Saviour." Who is that? The answer is given — "The Lord Jesus Christ." And what then? Why, when He comes, when we see Him, this body of humiliation will be "changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body." Christians in the apostles' days were, therefore, taught to look for Christ — for Christ Himself. And if you turn to the first chapter in the first epistle to the Thessalonians, you will see precisely the same teaching — that when they heard the gospel through the apostle, "they turned from idols to serve the living and true God." Now, I believe that would satisfy a great many people in the present day; a great many sincere Christians too would, I fear, be perfectly contented with the two things, — turning from idols, and serving God. But there was another thing that marked these early Christians, and the apostle by the Holy Ghost commended them for it, and that was, they waited for some one. For whom? "For His Son from heaven, even Jesus," we are told, "who delivered us from the wrath to come." You see the Holy Ghost employs a variety of expressions in the different Scriptures to which I have called attention, to show that it was the Lord Himself who died on the cross to save sinners that they looked for. They waited for the same Jesus that was buried — that came up from the dead and said, "A spirit path not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" — that went up into heaven, of whom the messengers which came unto the disciples testified, that "He shall so come in like manner." Then we know that we shall enter upon eternal joy, and realize that change of body which will have capabilities of entering into the unutterable glories to which we are entitled through the blood of Jesus. This is indeed a blessed hope.
Having thus established from Scripture the fact that Christ is coining personally, that He is coming for His own, and that the primitive Christians waited for Him, another question that naturally suggests itself is, "What will take place when Christ does thus come for His saints?" Before replying to this question, let me observe that this subject, as you must perceive, is not dry doctrine. It is the warmest, most soul-stirring, and one of the most eminently practical truths that Scripture sets before us. If a person say, "I do not trouble about the coming of the Lord; I do not hold it to be essential," all I can say is, that your heart, whoever you are, is not very fresh or fervent towards Christ; for whatever concerns Christ ought to concern you, if you are redeemed by His precious blood. If He is your life, and you are seated in Him in heavenly places, can you be indifferent to what He is about to do? I ask, Is it possible that a Christian's heart can be in that true and fervent state which it should be towards Christ, and be inattentive to the testimony of Scripture (even if he does not understand it), especially as to any thing connected with the person, work, glory, or coming of Christ?
We have in the epistles special revelations with regard to what will take place at the coming of the Lord Jesus we are not left in ignorance about it. God was so gracious, before the canon of Scripture was complete, that from time to time, as His saints had difficulties, He met them with special instruction, so that we reap the benefit of their exercises and mistakes. For instance; the Corinthians had great difficulty as to the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and there was a special revelation made to Paul and communicated to them. In the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians he writes, in the fifty-first verse, "Behold, I show you a mystery;" that is, he then revealed something which up to that time had been a mystery. "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. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." The mystery was this, that we (that is, we believers) shall all be changed our mortal bodies will be changed into immortal, fashioned like unto Christ's glorious body. The bodies, too, of those who have died in Christ will be changed: "This corruptible shall put on incorruption." And all this will occur "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" the shortest conceivable space of time; so suddenly will this wonderful transformation take place.
There was another revelation made through Paul to the Thessalonian saints, who were in difficulty because they saw some of those, whom they knew to be saints, had died to all outward appearance like sinners, so that they could not understand where the difference was. The thought of the Lord's return was so fresh, so fervent, and so real in the hearts of these Thessalonians, that they evidently thought that not one of them would die, but that they would all be alive and caught up when Christ came. They were constantly looking for the Lord to return from heaven; but some of their brethren died, so that they were very sorrowful and unhappy. But the Lord directed the apostle to write to them about it. He states in the fourth chapter of the first epistle, commencing at the fifteenth verse, "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord;" observe, by the word of the Lord, thus showing that there had been an especial word given him by the Lord, to meet the trouble of mind in which they then were. How blessed is this! "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [anticipate, or go before] them which are asleep. 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." You see the apostle shows them that those who had slept in Jesus, and had been carried to their graves shall not be behind when the Lord comes, but that they will be raised first; that is, they will come out of their graves first; then the living saints will be changed; and then we shall all be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. The air will be the meeting-place of Christ and His saints; and then we shall be for ever with the Lord." So that you see we get, from these revelations to the Corinthian and Thessalonian saints, clear instruction as to what will take place when the Lord Jesus Christ descends personally into the air. Let us not forget that "He shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven," and that then we shall be changed and caught up. For instance; suppose the blessed Lord should come whilst we are in this room, what would take place? Why, every one of us who are in Christ, and all saints around us in this large town, and all that are Christ's everywhere, living or dead, throughout the world, would be immediately changed, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." This mortal body would instantly put on immortality. Christ's coming into the air would be like a mighty magnet. You have seen a powerful magnet, which when put within a certain distance, attracts small particles of metal to itself from all directions: just so the blessed Lord coming into the air will be like a magnet; for the dead in Christ shall come up out of their graves, and the living saints shall be changed, and all be caught up to meet the Lord.
There is another question, which, perhaps, may be more of a carnal than a spiritual quality, yet it is one which we often hear, and which ought to be met. It is this, — When will Christ come? In the last book of Scripture, in the last page, and amongst the very last words of inspired truth, we have it stated three times that Christ is coming quickly. Oh, say you, that is very indefinite; cannot you tell me the year, if not the day or the hour, when this will happen? No, I cannot, because it is not revealed in Scripture, but left in this indefinite way, I doubt not, that we may glorify Christ by waiting for Him. Some have, I know, ventured, mistakenly, I believe, but doubtless with the best intentions, to predict a given time, or a certain year for the coming of the Lord; but it is just because they did not understand the difference to which I have already called attention this evening, between the coming of the Lord for us, and the day of the Lord. They go to Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks and other dates, and wrongly supposing, as they do, that the day of the Lord and the coming of the Lord are the same, they try to prove by calculation when the various times will be fulfilled, and the period arrive for the day of the Lord to set in. Almost ever since we have been Christians, have we not heard of this year, that year, or another year, spoken of as the probable time for Christ's coming? Of course, we pay no attention to such statements, because we know that as being in Christ in heavenly places we are not, so to speak, in the region of dates, or times and seasons. I repeat, that the time of our Saviour's coming for us is not revealed in Scripture. Is it not rather said, that "in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh"? The times and the seasons are not given to us Christians in relation to our hope. The Scriptures put us into the blessed position of being delivered from the wrath to come through the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and now presented in Christ Jesus in heaven, who is our righteousness and life before God; so that we have to faithfully serve, and patiently wait for God's Son from heaven, when we shall have the redemption of the body. Then our bodies will be capable of entering into all those joys and glories before us, which are secured for us by the precious blood of Christ. Whilst we wait, we are indwelt by the Holy Ghost, sent down from heaven by a risen and ascended Head to unite us to Him; "for by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body." We are then fitted, so to speak, to serve the Lord Jesus Christ devotedly, steadfastly, unceasingly, and without any hesitation. Hence we have the exhortation, "Be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord." It is thus that we are to wait for His return from heaven. To expect any clue by signs or dates, or times or seasons, as to when the Lord Jesus Christ is coming for us, would be without the authority of Scripture, and contrary to the true character of the position in which we are set by the grace of God as partakers of the heavenly calling. True works of faithfulness to Christ, of real affection for Christ, of care for the truth of Christ, holding fast His name, obedience to His word, waiting and longing ardently, and yet patiently, for His return from heaven, should characterize all Christians.
With regard to the expressions at the close of the Revelation, "Behold, I come quickly!" "Behold, I come quickly!" and the last words, "Surely I come quickly!" let us remember that they were given to the Churches nearly eighteen hundred years ago; so that it is clear that the coming of the Lord must be eighteen hundred years nearer now than it was then. There may be some here tonight who have a difficulty on this point, because of another text which is found in the tenth chapter of Hebrews, which says, "Exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the day approaching." This verse has often been misused. Some have taken it as if it meant that the day of the Lord was the Christian's hope; as if they were called to wait for the day of the Lord, instead of for the Son, from heaven to meet us in the air. As I have said, there is an immense difference between these two things. God's earthly people Israel were clearly taught to look for the day of the Lord; and there is something which is of the earth earthy, and intellectual, and we may also say political, in waiting for a particular day that is to come upon the earth; but those who are declared to be not of the world, who are called with a heavenly calling, and united to Christ in the heaven-lies, they are called to wait, not for events coming upon the earth, but, as I have sought to prove from Scripture, for God's Son from heaven. But whilst thus waiting for Him, as having the Holy Ghost, having the Scriptures, and spiritual intelligence, as the apostle says, "the mind of Christ," we cannot but observe in the various events that are taking place, especially in this most interesting part of the prophetic world in which we live — I mean the ten kingdoms of the Roman Empire we cannot but observe that the platform, so to speak, is already being prepared for the approaching day. We see that the time cannot be, humanly speaking, far distant when the Lord Jesus will come and take us away, and then He will begin to deal in judgment with the world, and especially this part of it in which we live. It would, therefore, be quite consistent for a believer to be waiting for God's Son from heaven to come at any time — morning, noon, or night — on any day, and yet to be observing with spiritual intelligence, according to God's word, what is going on round about; particularly what of late years has occurred on the continent, and is still going on, showing that the ten kingdoms of the Roman empire are being gradually developed, according to the prophecy of Daniel's second chapter. But I repeat that, while we "see the day approaching," it must never be forgotten that the day is not our hope — it is a Jewish hope; but our proximate hope is the coming of the Lord Himself from heaven, and then, of course, all the glories that will follow. This, I say, a Jew was never taught in the Old Testament, nor can I find such an idea there, as a believer being taught to wait for God's Son from heaven to come and take him unto Himself — to meet Him in the air, The day of the Lord, when His saints come with Him, is another thing. This second coming of God's Son to them that look for Him is a distinct hope — a special hope given to those who are in Christ, partakers of the heavenly calling, born again of God's Spirit, and joined to the Lord, one spirit with Him.
That the Lord will come before the millennium is very clear. 1st. Because the restitution of all things mentioned in Acts 3 is connected with God sending Jesus. 2ndly. The Jews, as a nation, will come into their blessing by seeing Jesus. The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob. 3rdly. According to the eighth chapter of Romans, creation will not be delivered from its present bondage of corruption till the sons of God are manifested; and they will not be manifested till Christ comes. "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory." 4thly. The world will go on as it did in the days of Noe; and as they did not know till the flood came, so will it be when the Son of man cometh, proving that the world cannot have its promised universal blessing till Christ is manifested in glory.
With regard to the hope, allow me to say that it is one thing to have the knowledge from Scripture that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming again; it is another thing to have the hope of His coming in the soul. It never says in Scripture, he that has the knowledge of prophecy shall purify himself; but it is said, he "that hath this hope in Him (in Christ) purifieth himself." In watching the Lord's work in Christians for many years, I have been struck with two distinct phases of character, if I may so speak, in those who have received the doctrine of the Lord's second coming. The one is what I would term a spiritual phase; the other is an intellectual or political phase. You will easily perceive that what is merely intellectual has no real power over the heart, because Christ Himself is not the object, but prophetic events are made the object. Some find it an amusing study. I have met with people who could go from Genesis to Revelation, and tell me a great deal more than I know of prophecy, and I have sometimes said that such and such a person has begun at the wrong end. He has begun with prophetic facts, instead of beginning with Christ. Now if any of you, dear people, are taken up with prophecy and prophetic events, I would have you reflect on what I have said. Men in the flesh can be taken up with the history of the Jews, the millennial age, and past, present, or future events; but a spiritual mind starts with Christ, surveys everything in relation to Christ, keeps close to Christ, sees nothing interesting except in relation to Christ, looks up to Christ; he cannot be happy anywhere where Christ is not, but he can live everywhere where Christ is. He sees nothing good apart from Christ. His heart's desire is:
"None but Christ to me be given
None but Christ on earth or heaven."
I would not give much for prophetic intelligence, if it does not begin, continue, and end in connection with the person, work, and glory of Christ. Therefore it is that the hope is so prominent in Scripture, for it is the hope in the soul that is so eminently practical. It is that which Christ loves. What would you think of a bridegroom writing tenderly and affectionately to the one espoused to him, and saying, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself," and that she manifested very great indifference about it? Any one would say that she did not care much for her lover. Above all things, beloved friends, let us be sure that our hearts respond to the love of Christ, that our affections are true to Him, that Christ is the one object of our souls, and that it is He who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, that we now live to please and wait for. And you, dear young Christians, be sure that you keep on the true ground of peace abiding peace between your souls and God; and knowing that it is for ever settled, take your place up there in communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, and see everything from that stand-point. Do not look at the church or Israel, apart from Christ. Do not look at the millennial world, or anything else prophetic, apart from Christ. Christ is your life, and He is your hope. "I will come again," He said. If you and I were to be caught up into the heavens at once, and did not see Jesus, should we be satisfied? There is no real child of God who would. There are no persons in this assembly, old or young, who really believe on Christ for salvation, who will ever be fully satisfied till they see Christ. It is seeing Him, and having to do with Him, that can alone fully satisfy a regenerated heart. Therefore I do not come here with doctrine merely for you to receive, or with a number of prophetic events for you to look into, note down, and treasure up in your minds. My object is to seek, if possible, that your dear souls may learn more of Christ, be more attracted to Him, be more able to walk in His ways, and live more for His glory. If ten thousand people in this town were to receive a simple statement of prophetical events, however correct, and that only, I should be disheartened and distressed; but if I find as a result of these lectures, that some have been more attracted to the Lord Himself, have become more filled with the love of Christ, more separated from things of time and this present evil age, by being more taken up with the person of Christ, that would indeed be an abundant recompense for any number of lectures on His second coming.
I now turn to the practical aspect of this great doctrine of Scripture, the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ for His saints. And, in the first place, let me notice that it is called in Scripture a "blessed hope." Oh, what a word that is — "blessed!" It will be to us connected with nothing but blessing. It will be fulness of joy and pleasure for evermore. You will then never shed another tear. You will never have another sorrow. You will be so richly and fully blessed, that you will never know the end of your blessings. You never will be able to calculate that eternal weight of glory, that joy unspeakable, that perfect rest, or that ceaseless and uninterrupted delight which you will have when you first gaze upon the face of your precious Jesus, and begin to raise the eternal anthem, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain!"
It is also a soul-stirring hope. It is a truth for the affections. Consider the reality of bridegroom and bride. Can anything more thoroughly stir the emotions of a true heart? I ask, what faithful, loving, chaste bride would not be delighted with her lover's promise, "I am quickly coming for you?" What would move the affections, what would stir the deepest feelings of the heart, like the testimony from himself, that "in a little while I am coming for you?" Again, in reference to the preaching of the gospel, can we conceive anything more stirring? Can anything more powerfully urge the faithful Christian to testify the grace of God to poor sinners, than the knowledge of the fact that the Master is quickly coming for the saints, and that then the ungodly will be left behind for judgment? I cannot imagine anything either that will constrain us to real faithfulness to the Lord, and care for His saints, His truth, His glory, like the Master's voice — "Behold, I come quickly!" Do we know this hope to be so soul-stirring? Are we so living and walking as to be found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless? Would the Master, if He came tonight, say to you and me, "Well done, good and faithful servants?"
It is set before us in Scripture as a comforting hope: "Therefore comfort one another with these words." How many a child of God may be now in this Hall who has had a dear parent, dear children, a darling wife, or a long and fondly-loved husband, who have died in the Lord? The heart has been made to feel very sorrowful by the separation; but the testimony of the Scriptures is, that the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven, and then the dead in Christ shall rise, and we who remain shall be changed; and then all go up together into the air to meet Him: and so shall we be for ever with the Lord. "Wherefore comfort one another with these words." And surely those who have gone before are waiting with patience for the coming of the Lord. Let us not have wrong thoughts with regard to those who have died in the Lord; for though they are absent from the body and present with the Lord, yet their bodies are in the grave. That they are with the Lord, and in the enjoyment of full felicity and happiness as far as they are capable, there can be no doubt; but they are waiting for the coming of the Lord, when they will know the redemption of their bodies too, and then be capable of receiving and enjoying the full measure of their promised blessings. I remember some time ago hearing that a number of I hope, servants of Christ, felt it their duty to preach against this important truth. My comfort is this, that directly they fall asleep in Jesus they will know its reality; for they will immediately begin to wait for the Lord. Christ is expecting to come; and those who have fallen asleep in Him are waiting for the Lord to come, that their bodies and spirits may be united, and then we shall all meet, and be for ever like the Lord, and with the Lord.
It is also plainly set before us in Scripture as a purifying hope. The apostle John says, "He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." It is impossible that we can be really hoping for the Lord's return from heaven and be walking carelessly. Our great adversary often cheats us, or we cheat ourselves, by putting knowledge in the room of faith and hope. Many persons have a great deal of knowledge of the letter; but that is very different from the power of truth in the heart. Therefore it is said, "He that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself." If looking for Christ, we cannot be associating ourselves with what we know He will disapprove. We cannot be upholding now what we know we should be ashamed of then. Those who have not yet thought of the coming of the Lord as a great practical truth will do well to consider that Scripture. It is found in the third chapter of the first epistle of John: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure." Such a believer lives in this hope like a man separated unto God. We do not know when He is coming, but we are to wait and hope for Him. It is possible that the Lord Jesus Christ may come tonight. I do not say He will; to say so would not be according to Scripture. But I say He may come; and if we are looking for Him, we cannot be occupied with what we know would be hateful in His sight. We may be very ignorant, but we cannot walk in disobedience, and at the same time be saying, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!" Therefore it is that "he that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure."
Again, it is a rejoicing hope. What can give a Christian such joy as the hope of seeing and being with Christ Himself? But you say, "I hold the doctrine of the Lord's coming, and I have not this joy." That is what I have been saying. Knowing the Scripture about it is one thing, but believing it to be God's revealed truth to you as the present hope of your soul is another. If you believe it to be God's revealed truth that you are delivered from the wrath to come, that your sins have been blotted out, that your old man has been put to death on the cross, that you have received life in a risen Christ, and that He is quickly coming from heaven for you, — if it be to you a blessed hope, surely it is calculated to fill the heart with the deepest, purest joy. If that does not give the heart joy, nothing will. I grant that the foundation of all joy is the accomplished redemption of Christ; but the crowning joy is the hope of seeing Him. We shall, through wondrous mercy, have a crown and a robe; but what are the robe and the crown compared with Him? They are not Christ; and it is a precious reality that,
"Greater far than all besides, He, He Himself is thine."
When Paul thought of his service in the gospel, his joy was that the Lord was coming. It is said in the second chapter of the first epistle to the Thessalonians,
"What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?" Thus Paul, who was persecuted, sometimes almost stoned to death, rejected, in poverty, and imprisonment, says, "I am looking with joy for the coming of the Lord; for then I shall know, and have the joy of, the results of my labours in the gospel." Again, if we for a moment consider that even now, knowing Him by faith whom we have never seen, we so love and rejoice in Him as to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, what must it be to see Him? What must it be to have His smile continually before our eyes? What must it be to be always in the atmosphere of His changeless, personal, perfect love? What must it be to have the delight of our hearts always before us? What must it be to see Him in all His glory? As I have said, He Himself looks forward to it; He said, "Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." Is not this the highest blessing that Scripture puts before us? — "They shall see His face!" I do not believe there is anything of a higher quality than that; for whatever blessings we may have before, whatever happiness we may then know, or whatever joy surrounding us, there would still be something wanting if we did not, could not, see Jesus. But surely we shall be satisfied when we awake with His likeness, gazing on His face; and, blessed be His name, He will be satisfied too; for He will then "see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied."
But there are two more points to which I must briefly refer in connection with this hope. It is what the Scripture teaches concerning eternal union and eternal separation. How very solemn! This blessed hope is associated with the most uniting idea in Scripture. In this present life we see the Lord's dear children separated, rent asunder, and torn, often manifesting little interest, little sympathy, seldom perhaps giving themselves to prayer for one another. There is now little putting of arms round each other's necks, little embracing of one another, little of the tender-heartedness which characterized the saints of old. But all this will be changed at the Lord's coming. All those who are Christ's, however separated now, will be then drawn together to meet the Lord in the air. Then we shall live as we ought to live, and love as we ought to love. Whatever we now do imperfectly, we shall then do well pleasing in His sight. However ignorant now, we shall know even as we are known then. We shall be perfectly joined together. How blessed! But connected with this truth of saints being united, there is also a most alarming certainty of separation in relation to the coming of the Lord Jesus. Those who are caught up and brought into the sphere of eternal blessing are limited to those who are Christ's. The Scripture is very decisive. It does not include all those who are religious; it does not say those who have been baptized; it does not say those who have been regular in going to church or chapel; no, it does not say any such thing. It says, "they that are Christ's at His coming," whoever or wherever they may be. Many who may hold high offices here, and be considered most religious and devout people, if they be not Christ's, their nakedness will be made manifest, their foul state will be laid bare, every mask will be removed, and it will be made known that he who was not with Christ has been really against Him. It will then be found, perhaps, that there were no such enemies of Christ as mere empty professors. We sometimes feel as if drawing near to the close of working on earth; but of all things our earnest desire is, that God would keep us from making mere professors, sowing tares; for it is most distinctly the work of Satan. I know there are many who think that they ought to make people tares first, and that they will then more easily be turned into wheat. I cannot see that in Scripture; I see that sowing tares is there declared to be the work of the wicked one. What we should desire to live for is, that Christ may be magnified, His saints blessed, and souls brought to the Saviour, that He may be glorified. Therefore, if there be a person here who has not received the Lord Jesus as his Saviour, I beseech him, before he leaves this room, to bow down to Jesus the Son of God, and take Him as his Saviour and his Master. These are the true marks of a real Christian — he owns Christ as his Saviour, and also as his Master. "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" is the language of the soul that has received Christ as his Saviour. Therefore, as the time must come when you will be either for ever with Christ, or for ever banished from His presence, I pray you listen to this truth. When Jesus comes, as I have said, it will be connected with either eternal union in glory, or eternal separation. In that moment the wife who believes will be for ever taken from the husband who believes not, or the believing husband from the unbelieving wife. I entreat you now, while it is the accepted time and the day of salvation, to solemnly think of these things in the presence of God. I earnestly beseech you, as poor, lost, guilty, perishing sinners, who can do nothing in the flesh to please God, who have a nature that is not subject to God, and never can be, — I entreat you to come just as you are to the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, — that blessed, risen Saviour up in the glory, who still says, "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." But oh, if you still reject Him, remember, if He comes tonight, you will be left behind to perish with the wicked. I entreat you, while God is preaching peace by Jesus Christ, that you refuse not, that you turn not away from this blessed sinner-loving Jesus at God's right hand, who delighteth in mercy, who is able to save to the uttermost, and who still says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." May God bless you, dear friends, so that you may escape the coming wrath, and not be among that unhappy number who will knock when it is too late; who will believe only after the door is shut; and who will hear the Lord's voice filling them with unutterable anguish and despair, saying, "Depart from me;" "I never knew you."
Those of you who are in Christ, who love and honour His dear name, but who have not hitherto been looking for His coming, may the light of God's revealed truth so shine into your souls, that you may begin from this moment to cry, "Come, Lord Jesus;" because He says, "I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." I say again, begin this night to give to Him the becoming response to that precious promise — "Even so, come, Lord Jesus."