The Hope of the Church

Nothing has such power over a man as his prospects. Present circumstances, no doubt, exercise wonderful influence over everyone. This we would naturally expect; but hope will often keep a man alive in the midst of circumstances which, had he no prospect of release, would prove fatal to him. The sufferings which hope has caused men to undergo are indelibly recorded in letters of blood throughout the history of the human race. It has supported men under the most excruciating tortures, and has mingled songs of victory with the roar of the devouring flame. It is as necessary to human happiness as is the air he breathes to his life, and without it death would be preferable to continued existence.

And yet hope only belongs to our fallen condition. It had no place in an innocent creation, neither shall it be needed when we are glorified. A candle is needful during the darkness of night, and its light is cheering to the lonely watcher, but when the sun rises it is no more required. In the innocent creation there was nothing lacking to make the heart perfectly happy; there was nothing untoward in man’s circumstances, nothing irritating and annoying; everything was just as God made it, and as it ought to be. It could not have been improved upon, and there was no felt need of anything. The goodness of God, with which man was surrounded, was the life of his soul, and his cup of happiness was full to the lip. To him there was no tomorrow; nothing to look forward to; nothing to look back upon—his life was one unbroken, endless today.

But the moment sin came in, everything was altered. He had a yesterday of guilt to look back upon, a present of unhappiness which could only be endured by banishing the thought of God from the heart, and a tomorrow in which he must answer for his transgression. If hope sprang to life in his soul it was nothing but the hope of the hypocrite, which was destined to perish at the sound of the footfall of the Creator. If hope he had, it was the hope that in the midst of His vast worlds and innumerable intelligences the Creator would overlook both this little planet and its fallen head; or, should God determine to visit him, he might be able to find a hiding-place. This hope, like a fell weed in the human heart, needed to be rooted up, and a heavenly tree, begotten by a revelation on the part of God, implanted in its stead.

The announcement of a powerful Deliverer sowed the seed of a pure and divine hope in the heart of Adam. Christ became his hope, as He has been, and is, the hope of all his posterity who have faith in God under whatever dispensation their lot may have been cast. He was the hope of all the patriarchs, as He is of every believing Jew and Christian. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Every Prophet spoke and wrote of Him. He was the One who was to come and do the will of God and save His people from their sins; and the advent of this glorious Person was that for which every true believer looked.

But from the outset this Deliverer was spoken of as One who was not to obtain the victory over the great enemy of God and man without suffering. Satan was to bruise His heel (Gen. 3). His sufferings have a very large place in Scripture. This was altogether overlooked by those who attached themselves to Him at the commencement of His public ministry on earth. The true nature of the flesh, its incorrigible badness and enmity against God, had never been seen by the disciples of Jesus; therefore the way in which the deliverance of man was to be effected, as well as the true character of that deliverance, was hidden from them. That it was necessary that He should suffer, and that He should rise again from the dead, had never dawned on their imagination. It was plainly recorded in the writings of the prophets, but to this they seemed as blind as their wretched rulers. Nevertheless all their hopes centred around His Person; and alas, also died in His death. His death was the death-blow to every hope they had cherished of deliverance by His means.

But Peter says that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ had begotten them again to a living hope, by His resurrection from the dead. Hope sprang to life in their breasts when they saw Him risen, victorious over the might of the grave; and upon that hope, thus begotten, the shadow of death was never to fall again. His death had put away their sins from before God, and delivered them from the oppression of the devil. Still, for the moment the disciples had no other thought than that of earthly blessing under His reign. Their hopes had not yet taken a heavenly character. “Wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom again to Israel?” is the question they put to Him as soon as they found themselves at rest in the presence of their risen Lord. Earthly blessing, with the Messiah in their midst and Israel head of the nations, was about all they looked for. Their thoughts never rose above that which was conveyed to them in the truth that He was to have the throne of His father David. The Holy Spirit had to be given to them before they could take in the truth of the heavenly calling. When He was come they could say that, not only were they begotten again to a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, but also they could add, “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven.” They were not wrong to look for the kingdom, for it will yet be set up, and when it comes it will be theirs, and they will most assuredly possess it. But the time for that had not yet come. The Lord tells them to wait for the promise of the Spirit.

They had something greater to learn than the greatest thing that can be connected with the kingdom. The calling of the remnant of Israel was now to be of a heavenly order. They were called to a place in heavens and to heavenly blessings along with Christ, sons before the face of God in the Father’s house, in all the love of that house, and to be there also as the Bride of Christ. For a Jew who had been from infancy, along with the fathers of his people, habituated to expect earthly blessing in an earthly sphere under the reign of the Son of David, this was difficult to grasp. It was not quite so hard for a Gentile, who never expected to be set up on earth. He had not to have his thoughts disentangled from an earthly God-given religion, and from the hopes connected with it, as the Jew had.

The kingdom, as I have said, had been their hope, and this hope they had no need to part with, but they had to learn that they were now heirs to greater and better things. The lesser was included in the greater. Jesus had already told them that He was going to the Father, and that He would prepare them a place in the Father’s house, and that He would come again and bring them there; and had this got a hold in their hearts they would have easily discovered that they were to have the kingdom in a very different way from the way in which they had been accustomed to suppose they would possess it. The sons of Zebedee could think of nothing better than a seat on His right and left in the day of His reign, but they had to learn later on that the love of God will ever give things infinitely greater than the human mind can ask. We have, thank God, to do with One who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think (Eph. 3); and we have to remind our poor, selfish, faithless hearts that “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor. 2). Even when they are made known to us by His Spirit they are so great that our timid faith shrinks back from the appropriation of them. But He who spared not His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, may be expected to surprise us beyond measure by the greatness of the least of all His favours. Therefore the faithful among the circumcision have to learn that in the day of His manifestation and glory they are to have a heavenly position.

But this is also true of those called out from amongst the Gentiles. It is only upon an earthly footing that there exists the distinction of Jew and Gentile. These distinctions belong to the old order, and have no place in the new man; and Jew and Gentile are one new man in Christ. This new man is created after God in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Eph. 4). This was not at all true in Adam; he was not created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. These attributes suppose the knowledge of good and evil, which Adam had not as created; and truth supposes the perfect revelation of God which is only true in Christ. Here we have neither Jew nor Gentile, but one new heavenly man, whose home is not earth either in this world or in the world to come.

The object of all ministry was to establish the hearts of the saints in the knowledge of God and in the truth of their place in Christ, and in the apprehension of the counsels of the Father. They had to be led on step by step as they would be able to bear the truth. It was only as the soul grew in the knowledge of God that the things of God could be taken in. The way in which food is given to the saints by those who were gifted by the Lord to instruct them is full of wisdom. There was that which was suited to babes, as well as that which was for those full grown, and milk or strong meat was given to each according to their growth of soul. But the object before the ministers was to lead the hearts of all out of carnal things into spiritual, and out of the earthly into that which was heavenly. Peter’s epistles are written to babes, and yet how persistently he keeps heaven before their hearts. The statement is made at the beginning that their portion was in heaven, and everything that comes in after that is calculated to establish them more firmly in that blessed truth. The Hebrews also were babes, and they are said to have known that they had an enduring substance in heaven. In the Ephesian epistle saints are spoken of as having their seat there.

But I will come to the proclamation of the gospel that we may see what was brought before those to whom the word was first preached. There does not seem to be anything about going to heaven declared in the simple testimony of the grace of God to men, except the fact of the Son of God having gone there. What is preached is His death for our sins, His resurrection, His cession at the right hand of God, and His coming again to take up the government of the world, and to establish His kingdom; in the meantime forgiveness of sins is preached in His name, and by Him all that believe are justified from all things. Therefore, those who were converted by this gospel turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, Jesus their Deliverer from the coming wrath. How He would intervene to deliver them from this coming wrath does not seem to have been very clear before their minds. They certainly thought they were to be on earth when the kingdom would be set up. The hope of the Church, as such, had not been made known to them; indeed, it could not have been, for it forms no part of the gospel as preached to the world. Men of the world have got to hear of that which relates to the world, and of the intervention of God to deliver them from it and its judgment; they have nothing to do with either the Church or its hopes.

But I could understand the assertion being made that if those that believe the gospel are made, by faith in that gospel, to look for the introduction of the kingdom by the personal appearance of Christ, and expect to have the kingdom when it came, so that they were led to suffer for it, their hope must have been a right one and not to be disturbed by subsequent teaching. This is so. But there were facts connected with that hope that were necessary for them to know, which would have been out of place to have preached to the world, and these facts they were afterwards to learn.

Their prospect was not disturbed by the further revelation, but rather made to burn more brightly before their souls. They found they lost nothing by that which came to them as greater light, but that they were indeed great gainers.

To reign with Christ over the earth in the day of His glory is indeed a position of wonderful exaltation for poor things like ourselves, who have been picked out of the gutter of this world; to sit on His right hand or on His left may, be the highest flight of our imagination; but however great it be, it is little compared with the heavenly position we shall occupy in that day as the Bride of the last Adam, the Christ of God, and as the sons of God. This is far above anything that can be found for those who have their place only in the kingdom which is under the whole heaven. We shall be like Christ. Our bodies will be fashioned like His body of glory. The dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed, for flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, in the sense in which we shall inherit it.

John tells those to whom he writes his first epistle that we shall see Jesus as He is (1 John 3). This is not said of the world. That the world will see Him at His appearing is testified throughout all Scripture. He will come in His glory, accompanied with all His holy angels (Matt. 15), in flaming fire taking vengeance (2 Thess. 1), judging and making war in righteousness, His eyes like a flame of fire, and upon His head many diadems, clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, and with a sharp sword proceeding out of His mouth (Rev. 19). In this way He will appear to the world. Every eye shall see Him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him (Rev. 1). It will be the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.

But we shall see Him as He is. It is one thing to see a mighty monarch at home in the peace and quiet of the home circle, the centre and the source of tender and unselfish love, apart from the evidences of authority and might, where nothing need be manifest but the sweet affection which belongs to that sacred sphere, and quite another to contemplate that same Monarch clad in panoply of armour bright, leading his horsed legions against the foe, and dealing death around him amid clouds of dust and the thunder of contending forces. It is in the latter character the world will see Jesus, we shall see Him in the former AS HE IS.

And to see Him as He is we must be like Him. This involves the taking up of the Church before His appearing to the world. To be with Him so as to see Him as He is makes imperative His coming for us before His appearing to the world. We shall be a little while with Him in the quietude of the Father’s house before His manifestation as King of kings and Lord of those who reign. And this is before everything the hope of the Church. It does not in the least obscure the glory of the kingdom, but the very opposite; indeed, we will never know the greatness of the kingdom until we see the place the Church has in that day of glory. If only the world to come is before our souls we know but little of the blessedness of that day in which everything in heaven and on earth will be gathered under Christ. That we love His appearing and look for it, as we also hasten the coming of the day of God, is not to be questioned for a moment, but eternity has come for us when the Church is caught up. We will serve Him in the kingdom and we will serve Him for ever; but the rapture of the Church brings us into our eternal home. There will be those who will rule over five cities and those who will rule over ten; there will be those who will have a large place in the kingdom and those who will be less prominent, but the least member of the Body of Christ will have a place and a portion outside the kingdom, infinitely greater than the most exalted position in it, and when flesh and blood, kingdoms and judgments shall have all come to an end, our fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ will roll on with unbroken and undiminished sweetness.

The hope and expectation of the Church is to be caught up and to be with Jesus in the Father’s house, and to see Him as He is. As I have said before, this does not in the least obscure the appearing and kingdom, neither does it throw into the shade the coming of the day of God. It does the very reverse. It brings both more distinctly before the soul, and lights all up with a greater glory. Translation is what is before us. It was what was before Enoch, who is a type of the Church. He was translated before the judgment of the world through which Noah and his house were preserved. So Jesus says to the Philadelphian assembly: “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” The Church will not go through the tribulation at all. Like Enoch it will leave the earth before the sorrow of the world begins. Enoch is said in Hebrews 11 to have been translated by faith; that is, he had the light of translation in his soul, he knew he would be translated. So does the Church. It will be translated.

We sometimes hear the remark, “If we are alive when the Lord comes we shall not die, but be caught up.” But why say “If we are alive.” We shall be alive. What does the apostle say? “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord … shall be caught up.” We shall be alive at His coming. The reader and the writer may individually be gone, but the Church will be here. And while we are of it in its testimony for Christ in the world we share in its hope, and there is no “If” about it; we say “We which are alive and remain shall be caught up.” Translation is our hope, as it was the hope of Enoch, and it is a hope that will be most certainly realised, for the Church will be caught up without dying. As there came a day in which Enoch was sought for and not found, so shall there come a day when the Church will be found to have disappeared from the earth. For that day we wait. Then the words of Jesus to His disciples, which are recorded in John 14, will be fulfilled, He will have received us to Himself, and we shall see Him as He is.

This, John says, is the great purifying hope; “Every man that has this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure.” This hope is, beyond the hope of everything else, dear to the heart of those who are Christ’s. It speaks peace to the heart troubled at the absence of Christ, it comforts the bereaved as nothing else can, and it has a purifying effect upon the lives of those who, as children of God, have to pass through this defiling, sinful, Christ-rejecting world. The fact that we shall see Him as He is, is the assurance to us that at the manifestation we shall be like Him. There is no other scripture puts the rapture of the saints in a clearer light. We shall see Him as He is. We cannot do this without being with Him before His manifestation to the world, and if we are to be with Him and to see Him as He is we must be like Him. John is not here proving the truth of the rapture, but speaks of it as a truth with which the saints had been already acquainted. He says, “we know.” Then we have brought before us the purifying effect of the hope. His appearing and kingdom do not take our thoughts out of the earthly sphere. The rapture does. I think we could love His appearing, and yet be earthly minded. I do not say worldly minded, but earthly. The appearing does not in itself take our thoughts away from earth; we may desire His appearing in order to the earth being set right, but the truth of the rapture lifts our thoughts to our own sphere, heaven itself, where our home is, and where He appears in the presence of God for us.

Let us not forget the coming kingdom, and the subjugation of everything to Christ. In this scene where He has been dishonoured He will be glorified. Every knee shall bow to Him, and every tongue confess that He is Lord. The world will in that day know that it was His love and obedience to the Father that took Him to the cross. It will be a great day for Him, and a great day for us, and a great day for His earthly people. We shall see Him glorified, praised, and worshipped, and we who love Him will greatly rejoice to see Him honoured. But we shall, even in that day, have along with Him a place and a portion infinitely greater than all the glory belonging to the kingdom. The earth will get whatever light the saints convey to it, but the saints themselves shall be before the Father’s face, in the light of His unveiled glory, companions of His Son.

Translation, then, is the hope of the Assembly. It is the light in which it passes along through this Christless scene; and, like Enoch, there will come a day when it will not be found, for God will have taken it.

“And every man that has this hope in Him purifieth himself even as He is pure.” May the hope of our souls really be to “see Him.”