"When the son of man cometh, will he find faith on the earth?"

1872 77 Such was the text of a recent sermon by the Master of Balliol College, Oxford. The discourse is no inapt illustration in a way unseen and unintended by the preacher. It proves the vacuum before his own mind; and in this Professor Jowett is but symptomatic of a state which spreads far and wide. Neither the person of the Lord nor the written word of God commands his soul so as to cast down reasonings, with every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and to bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. He speaks of men in many ages of the christian church expecting Christ quickly. The question is, What did the Holy Ghost sanction in scripture? But here too he is quite at sea. Some of the words of our Lord Himself seem (as be says, for he has no certainty) to favour the expectation (rather loosely citing Mark ix., and Matthew xxiv. 34); while in other passages He refuses to speak of "the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power." So is set Paul against Paul, as if 1 Thess. iv. 17 clashed with Phil. ii. 23: and no wonder, for if the Master could be inconsistent with Himself, why not the servant? But even this perhaps yields to the words that follow: "And in the first century of the christian era the same expectation was widely spread, some affirming that Christ would reign for a thousand years; others again imagining that His reappearance was delayed a little while; others were saying as we might do, 'Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers have fallen asleep, all things have remained as they were from the beginning.'" What an avowal at St. Mary's! "Others were stilling as we might do, 'where is the promise of his coming!'" Is the Apostle John merely among the some affirming that Christ would reign for a thousand years?

Professor J. did not seem aware that be was applying to himself and his friends the description the Apostle Peter gives prophetically of the scoffers in the last days. Nor can any application really be more just. The sermon as a whole is thorough incredulity as to the Lord's coming again.

One is thankful to assure the Professor that there are thousands of Christians, much more intelligent in the scriptures than any he can produce from Oxford, who cherish the same hope in which the apostles lived and died, who wait for the Lord day by day, sure because of express scripture that He is coming quickly, but fixing no date whatever whether of year or day, yet satisfied that the exact time was purposely undisclosed that the believer from first to last might be always expecting. Men and their opinions have passed away; but that blessed hope abides livingly, and will, till Jesus come and receive us to Himself.

It is fully owned that both Jews and Christians have indulged in groundless fancies about the millennium. The true point however is What have inspired men revealed for our faith? Did not the Lord inculcate constant waiting for Himself in Matthew xxv. 1-13, Luke xii. 35-40, John xiv. 2, 3? Did not the apostles without exception who wrote? Are these words of theirs either ambiguous or baseless? Will the Regius Professor of Greek venture to say, that the apostolic doctrine as to the Lord's return has been refuted by universal experience? Infidels have said so: what does the Master of Balliol think? He has said enough to raise a question of himself. I am far from agreeing that faith in the prophetic word enfeebles the Christian elsewhere. Indeed he himself is an example that unbelief in God's revelation of the future is characterized by a loose hold of christian truth generally: and we have already seen that, instead of reading aright the signs of the times, be is unwittingly an instance of the blinding power of the age. Nor can it be otherwise with one who assumes to divine the future from the present, instead of seeking to apply the end as God reveals it in order to judge the various roads which lead to it,

Professor J. fairly gives up attempting to explain the meaning of Christ's coming again. Certainly it is wiser and better than pretending to speak of what he knows nothing; but what a confession on the part of one who is by his office professedly a steward of the mysteries of God! What may be the force of his citing as to this St. Paul's words in 2 Corinthians xii. ("whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell") is hard to say, though it looks like leading men into nonsense, to borrow his own words. But I am sure that neither the mother of Zebedee's children nor any other ever put to Christ the question whether His saints and apostles shall reign with Him, sitting upon thrones and judging the kingdoms of the earth. The Professor has forgotten his Bible and seems never to have read the New Testament with care. It is the positive declaration of the Saviour that in the regeneration when He sits on the throne of His glory, His followers are to sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matt. xix. 28.) What the mother of James and John asked was that her two sons might have the best places next the king in that day of glory. (Matt. xx. 21.) The first never was a question; the second received a distinct answer at once, instead of these being "questions which never have an answer." Many heathen in ancient and in modern times have shown more knowledge of the Christ they were opposing than the Master of Balliol before the University of Oxford in our day. It is the more humbling to see such deplorable ignorance and incredulity in an amiable man who has written a comment on St. Paul's Epistles. Had he forgotten or did he not believe such a plain statement as 1 Corinthians vi. 2, 3? The apostle appeals to the common knowledge, which the Corinthians could not but possess that the saints shall judge the world and angels too; but perhaps all this to Professor J. is only to "argue about poetry or figures of speech."

We need not follow the very imperfect and faulty endeavour that follows to present "the nature of that struggle which was passing in Christ's mind." Suffice it to say that the Lord is painfully brought down to the level of an Elijah or a Paul, without one true notion of His proper humiliation or of His rejection, still less of His atonement. I believe that the Lord if on earth would, as He will, judge most severely the guilty and degraded state of Christendom. (Luke xii. 45-48.) But it is not by scepticism, any more than by superstition, that His servants will gain His approval or help souls now stumbling through this dark world. A greater muddle of scripture can scarcely be conceived than the professor's allusions to our Lord's words or a more random application to passing events, his own circumstances apparently being much before his mind though perhaps unconsciously. But for the proof of this there is no space here, nor would my readers relish occupation with such trifles. Suffice it to say that the great discrepancy is owned between Christ's teaching and things as they are. Only let none imagine that a rationalist has the smallest thought of suffering for the truth's sake. It is sentiment or talk, and nothing more. Such men have none of the faith which makes a confessor or a martyr.

His third point is "shall he find faith upon the earth?" His extraordinary paraphrase of this is, "in other words, 'What prospect is there of any great moral or religious improvement among mankind?' He has nothing before his eye but the gradual amelioration of society; he thinks of a new epoch bearing the same relation to the last three centuries which the Reformation did to the ages that preceded; and he is assured that there never will be a millennium on earth until we make one! Yet no doubt that very day the preacher had joined decorously in two if not the three creeds, acknowledging in these formularies Christ's coming to judge the quick and the dead, and His kingdom which will have no end. Is all this poetry and figure? To him it would appear so. There are those who believe the truth on God's authority, who would decline to join in creeds which are daily becoming more and more a mockery, as all things human will.