The Midnight Cry

Behold the Bridegroom; go ye out to meet Him” (Matthew 25)

Three great facts make up the Christian testimony to the Lord in the world. First, He has been here. Second, He is not here. Third, He is coming back again. When He was here He was the Light of the world; then why is He not here now? Because men loved darkness rather than light, and they rejected Him and cast Him out. He was cast out by the princes of the world; they crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8). Then the world’s night began. It is because of the world’s darkness, because of the absence of the Bridegroom from it, that the virgins of our parable needed lamps alight. When He comes back again He will arise as the Sun of Righteousness with healing in His wings: the millennial day will break for the world then and there will be no need of lamps; but during His absence—the rejected Bridegroom—it is the world’s night, and we who are going out to meet Him must have our lamps trimmed and shining.

It was ever God’s intention that the Church on earth should bear witness to the world that her Saviour and Lord would surely come again. It was the first great truth that was proclaimed from heaven after Jesus ascended there. As soon as the cloud of glory received Him out of the sight of His wondering disciples, two angels descended on swift pinion and announced, “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” (Acts 1:2). And this great truth was an integral part of their message to men, given in the power of the Holy Ghost, so that those who believed the gospel looked earnestly for the return of the Lord. The church at Thessalonica is proof of this. To it Paul wrote: “Ye turned to God from idols, to save the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). They believed the gospel, received Jesus as their Saviour, confessed Him as their Lord, and looked for Him as the Bridegroom who should reign over the earth as King of kings and Lord of lords.

But strange is the story. The Church that at the beginning of its career on earth went forth to meet the Lord, despising the world’s prizes and gladly suffering for His Name’s sake, soon slipped away from this great calling and hope, “While the Bridegroom tarried they all slumbered and slept”. They fell into that deep slumber against which they were warned in the Epistles of Paul, and they became indifferent to the truth and fact of the Lord’s return. All were alike in this, wise and foolish, true possessors and mere professors, all alike settled down and made their home in the world, which He will judge at His coming, just as though there was no difference between them and it. The lamps of the wise went untrimmed and burned but dimly, and the darkness steadily deepened until was reached that period known as the dark ages. It was the midnight hour indeed, when the profession of the Name of Christ on earth, which should have shone with great light in the darkness to guide the people in the way of truth, robbed them of any light they might have had by its gross sensuality and apostasy.

The history of the professing church on earth was faithfully forecast in those solemn messages from the Lord to the seven churches in Asia (Rev. 2-3) and the period of this dense darkness the midnight hour, is described in the central message of the seven, that to the church of Thyatira. In it the depths of Satan were known as nowhere else on earth. At that time, popes, cardinals, bishops, priests and monks, lived openly wicked lives: they turned the most sacred things into subjects for their obscene jests and were profane in conversation, and profligate in conduct. It was a common saying, “If there is a hell, Rome is built over it: it is an abyss whence issues every kind of sin.” But worse than all, the people were corrupted by these ministers of Satan, who devised a scheme of indulgences and sold them publicly, by which were granted absolution and security from punishment beforehand for any crime a man wished to commit. As the great dignitaries of the church required money in order to pursue their rascalities the people were urged and forced to buy these indulgences under threat of losing their souls. Standards of right and wrong were obliterated, for the people could do as they pleased so long as they paid, and this was called “the richly offered grace of God”. “We Italians”, said a historian of that period, “are principally indebted to the church for having become impious and immoral”.

It was in His message to the church in Thyatira, which describes this period, that the Lord brought out afresh the fact of His coming again. It was the midnight cry, and was sent to “the rest” who “had not known the depths of Satan.” There were such in the midst of the corruption and darkness who were faithful to Him. A small remnant probably, such as Suso, Tattler, and Ter Steegen, whose poems have been beautifully translated by Mrs. Bevan. And it is remarkable that the thought of the Lord as the Bridegroom has a large place in these poems. The Lord has always had a few who refused to bow the knee to Beal. These had kept the light from being wholly extinguished, and to them He said, “I will put upon you none other burden, but that which ye have already, hold fast till I come.” To such, what a wonderful word this must have been. “I will give him the Morning Star”. Jesus Himself is the Morning Star as He declares in Revelation 22. “I, Jesus … am the bright and Morning Star”. The morning star shines out in the darkest hour proclaiming the fact that the day is coming, the sun is on his way.

From the records that have come down to us we learn that some did “trim their lamps”, many more no doubt than men knew of, but the Lord knows them that are His. But whether many or few heard the midnight cry, it is certain that then the Lord commenced in a fresh and special way to prepare a people to meet Him at His coming. In many lands the light broke out and faithful servants were raised up who sealed their devotion to their Lord and His word by their blood. Through Luther the Holy Ghost proclaimed afresh the great truth of justification by faith without works, which truth is indispensable in this preparation for the coming of the Lord, for it is only the justified who possess the oil that keeps the lamps shining in the darkness.

The oil that the wise virgins possessed and the foolish virgins lacked is rightly interpreted as a symbol of the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is only given to those Who believe the gospel. “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost that is given unto us” (Rom. 5:1, 5). “In whom (Christ) ye also trusted after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also, after that ye believed ye were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13). Only those who have been sealed by the Holy Spirits indwelling are ready to respond to the midnight cry: they only are ready to meet the coming Bridegroom for it is the Holy Spirit that gives the vital link with our Lord and He only can keep the lamps of our testimony burning in the absence of our Lord. But all who have believed the gospel of our salvation have received the Holy Spirit. “What know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you” wrote Paul to the Corinthian believers (1 Cor. 6:19).

From that time the coming of the Lord began to have, more or less, a place in the preaching of the Word. But it was not understood by the preachers, nor clearly preached, for the distinction between the church and the world was not discerned, and this great truth, along with all prophetic truth, must be obscure to all who do not see and maintain this distinction. It was thought and preached that the world would first be converted by the preaching of the gospel, and that then the Lord would come and establish His Kingdom of righteousness; and this by pious men who no doubt read and studied their Bibles. It is still popular, but as false as it is popular. How it could have gained currency is difficult to understand with such a solemn passage in the Bible as that in Revelation 1:7, “Behold, He comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen”. A converted world would surely receive Him with acclamation, and not wailing. There are many other passages which are equally emphatic such as 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 and Revelation 6:15-17, 19:11-16.

After the Reformation the church soon settled down again in the world. It has been said that the ambition of the Romish church is to dominate the world; it did in former days, and will do so again; but in Protestantism the world rules the church. In the message to Sardis which describes this condition of things the Lord says “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead”. And, “I will come on thee as a thief”, which is the character in which He will come to the world, which cares nothing about His coming, except to scoff at it, or hate the thought of it; thus will He come to the unwatchful and indifferent church.

But the cry which went forth first at the midnight of the church’s history, is sounding louder now, for in the message to the church at Philadelphia the Lord says, “Behold, I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast that no man take thy crown”. And this word has awakened a response in many hearts, and these bear in some degree Philadelphian characteristics, which are, loyalty to the Word of the Lord, devotion to His Name and love to all the brethren. May they greatly increase and grow for His Name’s sake.

Many have been recovered to the truth of the Lord’s coming. It has become again a real and living hope, but those to whom it is real and living have trimmed their lamps, they are known by this, for two things are infallibly muted: devotion to Christ and witness to the world. Those who are really looking for Christ, who are truly saying, “Come, Lord Jesus”, will by their very lives bear a witness to the world; they will shine as lights as they pass through it.

Their testimony will be that the Lord is coming, and that they are going forth to meet Him. The world’s fashions and ways, schemes and ambitions will not engage and entangle them, for they know that it lies under judgment, along with Satan, its god and prince, and that its time is short and its doom is sealed. “The world passes away, and the lust thereof.” Yet they will not be indifferent to the needs of men; they will mingle with their testimony the evangelistic cry “Whosoever will let him take the water of life freely”.

This cry, “Behold the Bridegroom” is a great test. It finds us out. It tested these awakened virgins in the prophetic parable and we learn from it that the test is intensely individual. Is the coming again of the Lord the hope, is He the supreme object of the heart’s desire? To what community you belong is not the test, nor what profession you make, everything depends upon whether you have the oil in your vessel—Have you received the Holy Spirit? None can receive Him for another, or, having received Him, impart Him to another. Each must receive Him for himself.

The time is short. Fleeter than these foolish virgins imagined were the feet of the Bridegroom, for while they went to secure oil for their vessels, He came and they that were ready went in to Him to the marriage and THE DOOR WAS SHUT. It was too late for them to buy the oil or enter the door, and their knocking was in vain. The Bridegroom only knew those who possessed the oil, and only those whom He knew passed with Him in to the marriages. The word is in the plural. A marriage in Scripture is figurative of a celebration, a festivity, of gladness and feasting, and those festivities will continue for ever, for in His presence is fulness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Are any who read in doubt as to this vital and indispensable possession and do they ask, Where can we buy the oil? To buy indicates a personal transaction. You must have personal dealings with God, first as to your own sinfulness and need of a Saviour, and then as to the Saviour He has provided. Paul preached “Repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”, and Peter declared, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye (Jews) slew and hanged on a tree. Him has God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses of these things: and so is also the HOLY GHOST, WHOM GOD HATH GIVEN TO THEM THAT OBEY HIM” (Acts 5:30-32).

I have called the Lord “the rejected Bridegroom.” He came to Israel as “the Bridegroom”. He took this title to Himself when He answered the Pharisee’s question as to why His disciples did not fast. Said He, “Can the children of the bride chamber mourn as long as the Bridegroom is with them? but the days will come when the Bridegroom shall be taken from them, then shall they fast”, (Matt. 9:15). That time came when His own to whom He came received Him not and cried, “away with Him, crucify Him”, But He also stands in the relationship of Bridegroom to the whole creation for surely the sun is a figure of Him in the language of Psalm 19. “In them has He set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven and his circuit unto the ends of the earth; and there is nothing hid from the heat of it”. As the Bridegroom He will fill the whole universe with light and joy: all creation awaits His advent; it will continue in travail and pain, it will groan until He appears. As one of our poets has sung:
  “Lord, Lord, Thy fair creation groans,
    The air, the earth, the sea,
  In unison with all our hearts,
    And calls aloud for thee”.

But His church is nearer and more precious to Him than any other circle. And though the title Bridegroom is not used in His relation to the church, it is called “the Bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Rev. 19:7; 21:9). And speaking of it, Paul said, “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). It is also said Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it … that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Eph. 5:25-27). While human and natural figures are used to illustrate spiritual facts we must look beyond the figures. As the Bridegroom the Lord will fill the universe with light and peace and gladness and all will take character with Him—He will glorify every circle that He touches with His blessing, but the church will be His chiefest circle, His greatest treasure, she only will be “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” and all who compose that church should be earnestly crying in unison with the Spirit “Come, Lord Jesus”.

J. T. Mawson