The Portents and the Golden Age.
Signs to be Recognized as Indications of Christ's Coming.
WHEN our Lord was asked if there would be any events which when they occurred, might be recognized as signs of His return to the earth, he said: "As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the Ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise, also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat and drink, bought and sold, planted and builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and it destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed" (Luke 17: 26-30). The Apostle confirms this: "For yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, 'Peace and safety,' then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape" (1 Thess. 5: 3).
There was nothing specially to alarm the antediluvians before the day that Noah entered the ark; nothing special to startle the men of Sodom ere the fire from heaven fell upon them; and like as it was in those days so will it be in these. All going on just as usual, no single sign to attract the world's attention. "None of the wicked shall understand" the true state of affairs, only the wise and those enlightened by the Word of prophecy.
I would like to give what I believe to be the chief of these signs, and I desire rather to speak suggestively than exhaustively. We have six separate and distinct sets of signs, each one of which seems sufficient to indicate that we are on the verge of the establishment on earth of the eternal kingdom of the Son of Man—that blessed One Who shall set up a reign of righteousness and peace, of which the millennial Sabbath is but the portal and introduction. We have first, political signs; second, ecclesiastical signs; third, Jewish signs; fourth, Mohammedan signs; fifth, general social signs; and sixth, chronological signs.
I. As to political signs, allow me to make a few simple suggestions. I met coming here this morning, a gentleman who has long been a Christian, a student of God's Word, a worker in His service, but he said he had bestowed only a little time on the study of prophecy; he came here rather as a learner than anything else. Now there may be many such here; let me refer for the sake of such to a great political chart of the world's history contained in Dan. 2, and especially as compared with Daniel 7, that the time which we have reached (1894) in the world's history may be apparent. There we have in brief the history of the last twenty-five centuries. It was rewritten—visions and clearer descriptions, and multiplied predictions—and the whole thing lay bare and unfolded; and all history itself has run on these lines exactly as foretold.
I can only add on this point of political signs that each power has run its appointed course. The Babylonian Empire rose, reached a certain height, ran a certain course, and was then overthrown by the Persian Empire. The Medo-Persian Empire succeeded and reached a certain development, and also fell. The Grecian Empire followed, and ruled and perished. Then rose the Roman Empire, which was to be first united and then divided. Comparing these Old Testament predictions with those of the New, and with history, what do we perceive? The history has run on these very lines, that these events have been fulfilled, and therefore do not remain to be fulfilled. Babylon rose and perished, so did Persia; so did Greece; so did Rome Pagan and Rome Papal. All this has been accomplished, and here we are at the close of the predicted course of the last of these four empires. We are therefore, close to the manifestation, the unveiling, the shining fourth, the glorious establishment of the Kingdom of God which shall never pass away. That is the next thing to occur.
Let me suggest, that the Book of Daniel is the introduction to the Apocalypse; the Book of John the completion of the Book of Daniel. They are two parts of the same book; they treat one subject, use the same symbols, employ the same hieroglyphics, and speak of the same course of events. These two books contain a series of visions in which the same ground is to a certain extent traversed again and again. The first vision in these two books is the simplest and most comprehensive. It starts from the time of Daniel, reaches right on to eternity, and embraces the whole course of the times of the Gentiles. In the well-known vision of the four-fold image, representing the course of four great world-empires, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, we have a complete chart of Gentile history.
And using the word "chart" reminds me of a very simple illustration that may be of value to some on the question of signs, and the point we have reached in the history of the world. Suppose you cross the ocean, and travelling for many days or weeks, you reach a certain part of the voyage still, but no sight of land, when one day you hear a rumor that the ship is approaching the port to which you are bound. You go to the captain and enquire, "Is it so?" "Yes; it is; we should sight the land at three o'clock this afternoon." "How do you know?" The captain unrolls his chart, and says, "There is the port; there is our present position." He lays his finger on the exact point reached by the ship. "How do you know we are there?" "Do you see that line drawn across the chart? That is our course; we have followed it; we are just there, and will sight land to-day at three o'clock." You ask for further light on the subject, for you cannot understand how he can be so sure. "Well, our voyage has run along such and such a course, we have come so many miles, the ship has kept the track marked there; on the way we have passed certain points, certain headlands, indicated there, as Ceylon, Aden, and so forth, just as they are marked in the chart. Now the distance from Ceylon to the port we are making is so many miles; we have just run within twenty miles of it, and by three o'clock we will make the rest. The chart with the reckoning of time and distance shows exactly where we are." As he predicts, so it comes to pass.
Now, God has been pleased in this Book to give us a chart of history; not merely past history, but future history—anticipating history in prophecy. He has unfolded to us the future, and given us no uncertain or dim light upon this subject, but broad, clear light. A most important part of that light is prophecy with reference to the political world, and the history of the great Gentile powers. What a marvellous thing it is, when one really considers it, that twenty-five centuries ago, when the time of the Gentiles began, when the Jewish subjection to the Gentile power commenced, when God put down Israel on account of her sins, and set up the Gentile power, that the course of Gentile power was clearly foreseen and distinctly foretold, and laid down, and marked out, and written in God's Holy Word.
As regards ecclesiastical signs, I think arranging them in this order helps us to understand the matter. Of course, the history of the Gentile world is a different thing from the history of the Christian Church. Take then the latter; a great deal is foretold with regard to the history of the Christian Church. That Church was to grow, according to prophecy. Beginning with small things, it was to attain success to a wonderful extent. From a small seed, it was to spring into a great tree, spreading out its branches in which the birds of the air were to come and build. Then a wonderful change was, according to the prophecy and the predictions of our Lord, and the still clearer prediction of Paul, to take place. Our Lord foretold the apostasy in the Church. Paul more clearly, again and again, in epistle after epistle, spoke also of the apostasy; and John foretells it with still greater detail.
Now observe, further, the bearing of this on the signs of the times. Is the Church in her infancy, or has she long ago reached maturity; has she, who was so small, become a great spreading tree, and have the birds of the air come and built in her branches? All this has become history, all has been fulfilled; so also another event foretold has taken place. In the history of the Church, there has been a great falling away from the faith, and that apostasy was distinctly foretold. The subject there is ecclesiastical; the apostasy was to take place, not in the world, but in the Christian Church. Paul is writing of what is to take place in the Church, and of that pure and practical hope; and he is writing just there and then with reference to the coming of the Lord and our gathering together to Him. Now, if that is not the coming of Christ for his people, I know not what is.
Now, it is a question of our gathering to Him, and Paul says, "That day shall not come except there comes the falling away first." I believe that, just as I accept any other statement of inspiration. I make but a brief allusion to the remaining three signs. Now, Mohammedanism is a tremendous fact, a tremendous factor in the world's history, in the history of Palestine, the Jewish race, and in that of the Christian Church. Mohammedanism is, as we know, a woe, as it was foretold it should be, a tremendous woe, on the apostate Eastern Church; and, of course, it has been a woe on Palestine, and on the Jewish people, too. It is remarkable, how the Jews have been oppressed by the Papacy in the West, as well as by Mohammedanism in the East. And so Mohammedanism has oppressed the Jewish people, besides treading down their land and erecting the Mosque of Omar, still occupying the site of the temple—though now perhaps it may not be there much longer. Mohammedanism dominates one hundred and fifty millions of the human race. How long has it been in power? Some twelve to thirteen centuries. You remember how our Lord told us that Jerusalem should be trodden down "till the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled;" and that power has trodden it down. But when you look on that power, and compare its present position with its past, with what it was in the days of its pomp and pride, when we compare that with the present state of things; when we recall the eight hundred years' history of the Turkish Empire; when the Ottoman power (the bone-breaker, as the name means), the destroyer of men, was shedding such a deluge of blood and proving himself a resistless and merciless destroyer—when we look at the present condition of Turkey, with its resources exhausted, see it lying sick and perishing, we judge ourselves justified in drawing an important inference with regard to the times in which we live, that these are the closing days of the Jewish desolation. We say, then, from the Mohammedan signs, it is very clear that the end is drawing very nigh.
With regard to Jewish signs, I will say only a sentence or two. I have here a Jewish calendar by Lindo, in which an outline is given of Jewish history; and I glance over the record of the suffering the Jews have passed through for twenty-five centuries, and especially during the last eighteen centuries.
On comparing their past experiences with the present position of the Jews, we see the yoke broken, the fetters snapped, liberty, freedom, equality granted, power and position gained. We find them members of Government, teachers in universities, amassing wealth enormously, and so forth. Seeing these things, what is the conclusion you reach. That the time of Jewish restoration is come. Palestine is being lifted up on the one hand, and we seem to hear the voice which has gone forth bidding desolate Zion, though long disconsolate, lift herself, and shake her garments from the dust of ages, for the time of her liberation and emancipation has come.
THE GOLDEN AGE.
Why Christ's Advent is Expected Before the Millennium.
While there is much difference of opinion as to the details of unfulfilled prophecy, there are certain clear outlines of the great events which are surely coming sooner or later, about which the majority of students of prophecy are agreed. Let me sketch some of them briefly.
The advent of Christ is to be a personal one. The promise, "Surely I come quickly," does not refer to the imminence of death as some think. In fact, the coming of Christ is positively antagonistic to death, as indicated in 1 Thess. 4, where we find that when He comes, Christians who are alive will escape death, and those who sleep are to be raised from the dead. Some people try to spiritualize Christ's advent away and make us believe that Christ only comes back to the world in so far as through His Spirit, He inspires each believer. How impossible from such a standpoint as this, to explain the passages which foretell his second advent. Not only is Christ's coming personal, but it is pre-millennial. We are not to look for the millennium, but for the Master. "The King, ere the kingdom, shall appear." This is a matter in which there is practically no room for controversy. There are many people who think that legislation, education, and modern improvements are likely to bring about the millennial era apart from the advent of Christ—as, for instance, if only universal arbitration could be introduced, and local option or prohibition given. If only educational advantages were universal, and slums abolished—according to some, the millennium might be brought about apart from the advent of Jesus.
But if we look at those very places where these conditions are already obtained, one still finds that the millennium has not arrived. There is sin there, in spite of education and legislation, and there can be no sin in Christ's kingdom. Education and legislation do not change the heart.
We are called pessimists for disbelieving that, with the present agencies at work, the world can be converted, but it seems to us that we are the optimists, and that those who are anticipating the introduction of the golden age by the present agencies ought themselves legitimately to be the pessimists. How can they be hopeful when they view the present condition of things in spite of all that has been done to evangelize our country! Those who have experience that reaches below the surface, fail entirely to understand the optimism that conceives it possible to regenerate the world apart from the advent of the Son of Man. No, we look not for a millennium introduced by human agency, but we look for the Lord from Heaven, Who Himself shall put right the wrongs of time, and reign both with a rod of righteousness and of iron. In spite of all the unbelief of men, in spite of the "peace, peace." that is uttered by the world; in spite of the universal cry. "Do not all things continue as they were from the foundation of the world?" Yet His advent is at the very threshold. Evangelical Christians throughout the world are awake to the sense of the nearness of Christ's advent. Political events foreshadow it. Fulfilled prophecy indicates it. Earnest students of Scripture, who have devoted their lives to the study of the more sure Word of prophecy, believe it, and we may hold with absolute confidence, the conviction that we are living in the "time of the end," and pray for the speedy arrival of the day when the last shadows shall flee away, and Jesus Himself fulfil the eager expectations of His people waiting for His advent.
Some say that this theme is not a practical one; on the contrary, it is one of the most practical we can conceive. It affects each one of us whatever our station in life or work for God. Do we sorrow? Let us not sorrow as those who have no hope. Jesus is soon coming, and will bring our dear ones with Him. Are we laboring? Let us not be weary in our toil, for Jesus will soon be here. Are we cast down and oppressed by the burden and heat of the day, by the disappointments of life, and by the sense of his long delay? Let us lift up our heads with holy expectation, for the Master is at the door. Are we unable to explain the many questions that the world asks us on every hand? Let us be still and strong in the deep-rooted conviction that Christ Himself will soon appear, and solve forever the problems which we cannot answer.