The Return of Christ will be Pre-millennial.
Abstract of an Address Delivered in the Egyptian Hall, at the Mansion House, South Devon. April 30, 1889, BY G. H. PEMBER.
THERE is a fundamental question connected with the prophetic Scriptures, of modern date, but of almost paramount importance. It is whether the advent of Christ will be pre-millennial or post-millennial, whether the Lord may come upon us unexpectedly at any moment, or whether He will tarry until the world has been converted and Christianity has flourished for a thousand years.
I propose to use the few minutes allotted to me in discussing this question and in endeavoring to show that post-millennialism is of purely human origin and is contrary to all the Scriptures of God. And indeed, unless it were so, the Lord's solemn adjurations to watch, lest coming suddenly He should find us sleeping, would be unintelligible. For if His advent is to be post-millennial, it could not take place in our lifetime, nor for many generations hence.
Nevertheless, almost all Christians once thought, and many still think, that the world must be converted before Christ can return. At what epoch then is this conversion likely to be completed? We are now in the nineteenth century after Christ, and very near the end of it—what is the result of the preaching of the gospel for more than eighteen hundred years? Why, of fourteen hundred millions of human beings, only four hundred and fifty millions are nominal Christians; and of the latter number, again, but one hundred and thirty-five millions are nominal Protestants!
How then, are we to explain such humiliating facts! Have the promises of the power of God failed? No; but some Christians seem to be doing their best to make them appear as if they had, by assuming that certain figments of their own mind are divine purposes.
You remember the two disciples that were journeying to Emmaus, and how they thought that all was over with them, and that their high hopes had vanished forever in the death of their Lord upon the cross. But why were they tormented by this needless despondency? Because what they had been looking for was the realization of a dream of their own, namely, that the Lord Jesus should be crowned forthwith by an earthly king—they were ignorant of the prophecies of Scripture. That they became disappointed and perplexed by the unexpected turn of events was therefore, by no means wonderful. And disappointed and perplexed, they would have remained to the end had not their Lord, all unrecognized, walked beside them and made their hearts burn as He showed from Moses and the prophets that Christ ought to have suffered all these things, and could not enter into His glory until He had done so.
Now there are many Christians in our day who closely resemble these ancient disciples. They have formed an ideal of their own by following the bend of human nature—human nature, which ever shrinks from violent change, or the touch of the supernatural, and would do everything by its power, and to the gratification of its own pride. They think that in due time, all men will be converted by preachers, or Christianized by civilization; and they love to talk of the spread of the Gospel, and the certainty that it will soon embrace the globe. Meanwhile, the hope which supplies the principle on which they act is nothing but a conception of their own brain, doomed to prove a mistake, as that of the two disciples.
I marvel that they are not dispirited. What! eighteen hundred years of effort, and only a hundred and thirty-five millions of nominal Protestants—how purely nominal they are, I need not pause to tell you! The preaching of the apostles, the devoted and energetic work of the primitive church, the Reformation, the subsequent revivals, and no more result than that!
Meanwhile, Buddha has probably, some four hundred millions of followers; Muhammad about one hundred and seventy-three millions, and the votaries of Brahma number nearly two hundred millions. Nay, still more, Buddhists and Mohammedans, instead of dying out, seem to be reviving their propagandism with energy, and are actually assailing Christianity within its own borders.
The teachings of Esoteric Buddhism seem to have great attractions for the modern mind, though, for that matter, I suppose they always were attractive to intellectual and contemplative men, since they certainly belong to the very earliest forms of apostasy from God and are largely in the Egyptian and other ancient theologies. And Buddha himself appears, as you are aware, to have been no more than a reformer. So far as we have any definite knowledge respecting him, he simply professed to restore the primeval Aryan religion from the corruptions of the Brahmans; and this primeval religion may be presumed to have been handed down by the original emigrants from Babel.
In its purest form, Buddhism seems to contain nothing which would be offensive to the infidels among men of science and philosophy; and it readily assimilates certain popular doctrines—especially that of evolution, which appears indeed, to have originally belonged to it. For thanks to Professor Sayce, we now know that the Chaldean Magi anticipated Anaximander and Charles Darwin. And accordingly, the wonderful pictures described by Berossus as decorating the walls of the great temple of Bel, pictures of strange, misshapen and intermingled creatures, must be understood to represent nature's "prentice han' " in the chaotic times before she reached her present perfection.
These facts, together with the absence of propitiation, and even of God, from the Buddhist creed, may in some degree—if we consider the spirit of the age—account for its reception by many in England. In France, there is a great prevalence of similar principles, and the belief in reincarnation, as taught by Allan Kardec, is very widely spread. You are doubtless aware that the first Buddhist temple, with its proper complement of imported priests, is already established in Paris. But at present the general tendency of public opinion is not. I think so much in the direction of religious sectarianism, as in the habit of holding the favored doctrines loosely. Even in religion the world's motto seems to be much the same as that of Louise Michael, "Neither God nor Master." So nearly does the mystery of lawlessness seem to have come to its full manifestation.
Again, you have probably heard of the present activity of Mohammedan missionaries in Africa; but it is a far more significant sign of the times that three mosques have been recently opened in this country.
Moreover, the Record of last week, April 24,  announced that the first Mohammedan marriage in England had been celebrated on the previous Saturday, and expressed an opinion that the propagation of Islam is now seriously undertaken.
At what period then, is the world likely to be converted to Christianity? You will make men infidels if you tell them that it will be so at all in present circumstances. Let however, those who entertain such an idea, but turn from their own thoughts to the Word of God, and all their perplexities will vanish. They will discover that the present strange state of things was foreseen by the Almighty and predicted for the instruction of His people; and moreover, that a glorious remedy has been provided, and will shortly be revealed.
For the Lord Jesus, unlike the founders of false religions, plainly told His disciples that no great triumphs awaited them here; that, if they held to the pure faith, they must be content to struggle against odds, and often, so far as outward appearances could indicate, to struggle disastrously, until He should see them again.
And not only did He tell them this, He also explained to them why it must be so. It is because Satan is not yet deposed, but is still the prince of this world, and of the power of the air; because he is still the god of this age and must continue so until it draws to its close. Then another will appear upon the scene, a stronger than he, the rightful Prince, who will bind him and spoil his goods; and the year of the Lord's redeemed will have come.
All the Saviour's teaching will be found to be in accord with this. During the present age, the way that leads to life is narrow, and few there be that find it. Those who shortly receive the kingdom are but a little flock. For the church, be it observed, is no kingdom in this age except in mystery; therefore, it is that her Lord bids her pray, "Thy kingdom come!" You may perhaps, remember with what severe irony Paul speaks to the Corinthians when they were at least acting as though they thought the kingdom was then present with them. "Are ye already filled?" he indignantly demands, "Are ye already become rich? Have ye reigned without us? Yea, and I would that ye did reign, that we also might reign with you." For Paul knew that one part of the church could never begin to reign before the other. All must first be gathered in, then the King will appear, and immediately the kingdom will have come.
For the true church cannot be a universally victorious and ruling power while her Lord is absent, which is a stimulus to her to desire His return. But if those who profess His name must reign now, they can only do so by the help of the present prince of the world. Nevertheless, time after time, the nominal church has stretched out her hand to grasp the forbidden prize, and it is to the consequence of her worldly ambition that the Lord alludes in what He says of the mustard plant. For His wonderful parable indicates that in God's intention, the plant is merely an insignificant kitchen-herb, and then points to the fact that in Palestine, it sometimes forsakes its own nature as an annual, and becoming perennial, grows into a tree. Thus, the creation-law, that every herb must yield seed after its own kind, is broken; and the overgrown plant, by striking its roots into the earth more firmly than God has appointed, is enabled to throw out great branches, so that those birds of the air, which in the first parable, devoured the good seed, are able to come and take shelter in them.
Now the teaching of this is sufficiently plain. The church of Christ is commanded to dwell in humility until He comes; then shall she shine forth fair as the moon and terrible as an army with banners. But in the fourth century, the professing church struck her roots deeply into the earth, became mighty in worldly wealth and influence, and shot forth great branches of dominion over men. And so the Spirit of God departed from her, and the spiritual hosts of wickedness—such is the Lord's own interpretation of the fowls of the air which devour the word—found shelter in her, and could use her for their own purposes. And terribly does the history of that time testify to the fact that they lost no opportunity of doing so.
In the following parable, that of the leaven, the Lord takes up the same subject at a later stage; for as to the meaning of the parable, do not forget to notice that it is, like most of His sayings, taken from the Old Testament. In the second chapter of Leviticus, the fine meal is ordered as an offering to the Lord; but if any leaven has touched it, the meal is defiled, and cannot be placed upon the altar. "No meat offering which ye shall bring unto the Lord, shall be made with leaven; for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering made unto the Lord by fire."
Hence, it is the spread of corruption which is indicated in this parable. No idea is conveyed of the conversion of the world by present agencies, which are used only for the calling out of an election, the church, which is to be a kind of first-fruits of creation.
Perhaps however, another text will occur to some of you, one that is often quoted as a prophecy of the conversion of the world in the present age. I mean the ninth verse of the eleventh chapter of Isaiah, "For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." Now nearly all the false doctrines which have distracted the church have been drawn from texts of Scripture interpreted apart from their context. If therefore, we would know the real meaning of the verse before us, we must read the whole prophecy in which it is contained, that is to say, the tenth and eleventh chapters. And what do we find in them?
After some reference to contemporaneous events, we have a prediction of the "consumption," or destruction, which is to come like an avalanche upon the twelve tribes of Israel in the last days, in the time of Jacob's trouble. Then follows a grand description of the march of the Anti-Christ upon Jerusalem, and of the sudden interference of the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, who shall lop the bough of the Gentile tree with terror. And immediately afterwards, the Lord Jesus is introduced as taking the place of the tyrant and ruling over the earth in righteousness. Of course, the sequel is the conversion of the world; righteousness and equity prevail, and God consequently removes the curse in great part, at least. The earth gives her increase, and the very wild beasts lay aside their savage nature, because the earth will then be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Thus, Isaiah makes the appearing and millennial reign of Christ, the cause of the conversion of the world, not the consequence of it.
The world then, is to be converted after Christ's personal return; and until that long-expected event, evil men and seducers must wax worse and worse. Nay, the advent is to be immediately preceded by a general falling away from the faith, so that men shall give heed to wandering spirits and teachings of demons rather than to Christ; scoffers shall be multiplied, and mockers walking after their own ungodly lusts; pride, selfishness, unscrupulous dishonesty and recklessness will abound, so that the love of many will grow cold; ungodly sinners will speak hard things against Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and fountains of waters. For until the Lord comes to gather in the harvest, the wheat and the tares must continue to "grow together"—an expression which accounts for the increase of energy just now on the part of God's people as well as on that of the wicked. And the mystery of lawlessness, which was beginning to work even in the times of Paul, must work on without cessation until the lawless one himself is revealed, he whose short reign must be closed by the appearing of the Lord in glory.
All Scripture, without a single exception, declares that no universal triumph of the gospel can intervene before the end of the age. And since the prophecies which concern the centuries of delay, are now exhausted, while those of the last times are rapidly becoming history before our eyes, both the church and the world are confronted with the solemn fact that the Lord is at hand. Whether we be willing or unwilling, we must shortly find ourselves face to face with Him who once appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, but is soon to return, in unveiled majesty, as King of kings and Lord of lords. At any moment, He may summon from earth to Him, those who are living, and who long for His appearing; and that act will signal the commencement of an appalling season of wrath, which will culminate in His own personal revelation from heaven, in flaming fire, to take vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Alas for the world! On the eve of these stupendous events, men are eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, buying and selling, building and planting, in utter unconsciousness of approaching doom! The voice of warning can but provoke their derision; and they no longer tremble at thoughts of righteousness, temperance and judgment to come. Yet their condition is exactly similar to that of Jerusalem on the day David saw the destroying angel coming up over the city and lifting his sword to smite it. But before the death-bearing weapon could descend, the Lord had compassionated the terrified hearts beneath Him, and the command went forth, "Stay now thine hand!" In instant obedience, the angel remained as he was, with glittering sword raised over the city, but silent and motionless. Can we not depict to ourselves the horror of the devoted people at this awful apparition in the air—the mother clasping her babe to her breast in speechless terror, and even brave men, if they still retained the use of their limbs, flying to the deepest and darkest cover. But see, the prophet Gad comes hurriedly to the king, and after listening to his words for a moment, David turns toward the threshing-floor of Ornan, calls out the trembling owner from his hiding place, and forthwith begins to build an altar with all possible haste, from the materials at hand. The work is finished; the threshing implements are broken up for wood and laid upon the altar; the oxen are slain, and their flesh placed upon the wood. But there is no need of earthly fire, for at the cry of David, a flame descends from heaven and devours the sacrifice. The wrath of God is appeased upon a substitute; a second word of command bids the angel put up his sword into its sheath, and Jerusalem is saved.
Disciples of the Lord Jesus, we ought to meet Him at His coming with joy; but we can only do so provided that, in this our time, we follow in His steps. "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His." Were He in the place of one of us, would He not, regardless of toil and inconvenience, strive to save many out of the multitude of souls to whom the trumpet of the archangel would prove a knell of death? Would not His yearning love make Him turn away from all ephemeral pleasures, however innocent, that He might deliver those that are appointed to destruction? Have we had communion with Him and caught something of this Spirit? If so, we may delight ourselves with His promise, "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one taketh from you." And we may anticipate the day when, amid happy and glorified throngs, we shall stand before Him, that He may see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied.
But oh! let us remember that there are some who will not have boldness in the day of judgment, and who will shrink with shame from before Him at His coming.
“The Christian Alliance” Dec. 18, 1891.