From the Cross to the Crown
by John Ritchie
SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD
The Believer’s Severance from The World by The Cross, and His Testimony in it for Christ
It has been said the Christian has three great enemies, the world, the flesh, and the Devil. To be able to cope with an enemy, it is of the utmost importance to know his true character and manner of attack. To the former of these I wish your attention—the world as we have it in the Scriptures and around us today.
What is the World’s Past History?
This we learn from the Word of God. From that Word alone we get its true character as seen by God.
The Material World brought into existence and formed by His Word (Heb. 11:3), He pronounced “good” (Gen. 1), and man made in His image was placed amid its beauties, to have dominion over all God’s other works. Sin entered and ruined all. The world became a scene of confusion, strife, and sin, and man a rebel against his God, increasing in wickedness until God swept the race away by the flood, reserving one family, who, having been brought through the judgment waters, was again placed on earth. Noah failed; his seed built Babel. Abram was called. A single plot was now to be tilled: the field as a whole ran waste.
Throughout the pages of the Old Testament, we trace the dark and sinful history of this people. It is a history of continued rebellion against God. Tried under law, they wax worse than the Gentiles, turning their very privileges into an occasion of showing their hatred to God and insubjection to His will.
One trial more, unlike all others, remained. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16), the fullest, clearest proof of His love to the world. God was manifest in the flesh. Jesus came, not to condemn, but as it is written, to “save the world.” “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Did the world receive Him, or was the world saved? “He was in the world, and it knew Him not” (John 1:10); it hated Him (John 7:7). The light that shone from Him revealed the darkness, and the world cast Him out, saying, “We will not have this Man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). The world rejected Christ, giving Him a shameful cross, and desired a murderer in His stead. In so doing it sealed its doom. Gathered against Him were “Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the people of Israel” (Acts 4:27), representatives of the whole world, all held guilty of the death of God’s beloved Son.
Such is the world’s history, deepening in guilt as it goes on, and “the thing that hath been shall be, and that which is done is that which shall be done: there is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).
The World’s Present Condition
“Now is the judgment of this world” (John 12:25). The world has been found guilty before God (Rom. 3:18), having rejected its rightful Lord. It has expelled from it Him who came a “light into the world” (John 12:46). It is left under Satan, who is its “god” (2 Cor. 4:4), and “prince” (John 12:31). It lieth in “the wicked one” (1 John 5:19, margin). It is ruled by wicked spirits in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). It will continue so until the appointed day when God shall judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He hath appointed, Christ Jesus (Acts 17:31).
Fair to the natural eye as its charms may be, to the eye of faith it is but a “wilderness wide,” an enemy’s country, where God’s beloved Son was cast out and crucified, and for which awful deed God will yet visit the world with terrible judgments, and “punish the world for their evil” (Isa. 13:11). Such is the world’s present condition as shown in the Word of God, and “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but of the world” (1 John 2:16).
The Christian Delivered from the World
Seeing the world to be such as it is, we need not wonder that when God would have a people near Himself, a people who are to be united to His earth-rejected but heaven-glorified Son, a people given by God the Father to Him for a peculiar treasure, a Body, and a Bride, nearer, dearer to Him than any other circle of redeemed beings, closer to Him than unfallen hosts, a people who are to sit with Him on His throne, to show forth His praise on earth and dwell for ever with him in Heaven, He should separate them from “the world.” Therefore we read, “Christ gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world (age), according to the will of God and our Father” (Gal. 1:4). And again, in that wondrous prayer of John 17, the Lord Jesus, speaking to the Father, prays, “the men which Thou gavest me out of the world” (John 17:6).
The Present Evil Age
“The present evil age,” is the description given by the Holy Spirit of this present period of the world’s history. It is, in man’s estimation, an “age of progress.” Science, art, and knowledge spread themselves abroad with wondrous rapidity. Commerce, grandeur, and greatness increase. The world seems to prosper. But faith sees it from another standpoint. Faith views it from the Cross. That Cross was the world’s crisis. There its choice was made. God was there rejected. His Son was there murdered, and to this hour the world has not repented of its deed. It is still stained with the blood of One more righteous than Abel, and the murderer, in Cain-like spirit, has gone forth to build its city, and to forget the deed of blood, amid the “progress” thereof (Gen. 4:16-22). Meanwhile the Christian is a sanctified man (1 Cor. 1:2, 6:11). He is set apart by God from the present evil age. He walks, as Enoch did, amid the sounds and sights of Cain’s city, a stranger here. The call of God has brought him out from the world.
The Cross has cut him off, and stands between him and that vast empire of evil.
Not of the World
The Christian, although in the world, is not of the world (John 17:16); the world knoweth him not (1 John 3:1). He is part of a “chosen generation,” a “peculiar people,” whose “citizenship is in Heaven” (Phil. 3:20). On earth they are “pilgrims,” they have no continuing city (Heb. 13:14). “Strangers,” far from home, pressing on to the heavenly country where their home and possessions are (Heb. 11:10). They glory in the Cross of Christ, by which the world is crucified to them and they unto the world (Gal. 6:1). Called into the fellowship of the Son of God, whose kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), they are joint-heirs with Him of an everlasting kingdom, an incorruptible inheritance. “As He is, so are they in this world” (1 John 4:17).
Dear young Christian, let these words sink into your heart and abide there. Never cease to remember that the Cross of Christ stands between you and the world, as the waters of the Red Sea rolled between the children of Israel and Egypt, the land of their bondage and idolatry. It stood a barrier to hinder their return to the land from which God had delivered them. So the “wondrous Cross on which the Prince of Glory died” forbids the return of the Christian to that world, and all its unhallowed associations, whose religious rulers crucified the Lord of Glory. Reckoning with God, the believer says
The Cross on which my Lord expired
Has won the crown for me.
All hail, then, fellowship with Him,
Whose death has made me free.
The Christian’s Position in the World
In the riches of His grace to the world, God yet lingers in long-suffering over it, not willing that any should perish. Having delivered His people from it, He keeps them yet for a little while in it, to be His witnesses there. The Lord Jesus said—“I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15), and again, “As the Father hath sent Me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world” (John 17:18). First, delivered from it, then sent back into it. Like that blessed One who came to save sinners, and reveal the Father, and yet remained holy, harmless, and undefiled, “separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26). He stood among men in the consciousness that He was a stranger; continually blessing them, yet never countenancing their sinful ways. The heavenly Stranger passed through the world, receiving only cold contempt, hatred, and scorn, and at last a shameful cross. His mission here is our pattern. He tells us, “in the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33); “the world will hate you as it hated Me” (John 15:18). We shall share all this, if we are at all like Him. But we are told, “marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1 John 3:13). If the Master was thus treated, so shall the servant be; only let us make sure that we are not so treated for our own crooked ways, our inconsistent walk and testimony, but for being unflinching witnesses for Christ, and against the world’s sin, whether immoral or religious.
The Christian’s Work in the World
Our work in the world is to preach Christ to it. “Go ye unto all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15); and again, “the sons of God, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:15-16). The only channels of blessing to the world are the saints in it, and the only means that they are told to use for the blessing of sinners is, to preach the Gospel of the Grace of God. This is the lever by which God is to turn the world upside down. Some have forgotten this, and adopted other plans. But trades’ unions, temperance societies, and hosts of world-reforming agencies, are not the Divine method. Some of these may benefit men for a time, but they leave the sinful soul unsaved, the sins unpardoned, and the man as unprepared to meet God as ever. If you would be a means of blessing to sinners, keep Christ before them. In season, out of season—say, “Behold the Lamb of God”; and by the double testimony of the lip and life, point the condemned world to the “Crucified One.” Take good care not to get mixed up with it, or unequally yoked with unbelievers in your endeavours to do it good. Like a diver lowered down into the deep to search for lost property of his master in a sunken ship, the Christian goes into the world to seek lost souls for Christ, and brings all that he finds to his Master. He makes no attempt to reform the world; He knows it will wax worse and worse. To him it is an “ungenial clime,” and he, like the diver in the deep, finds nothing to sustain or detain him there. The child of God finds nothing in the world to satisfy his heart, or sustain his spiritual life, but much to hurt. To him it is a “Vanity Fair.” His orders are, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). And again, “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4). These are plain, wholesome words, oft forgotten. The tendency of the times is toward excessive worldliness.
Look at the style, the dress, the homes of professing Christians! Are they in general like a people who are “dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world” (Col. 2:20)?
We often sing—
“Pilgrims and strangers, captives no more.”
But is it true? Is there not much captivity to worldly fashion, to worldly style? Are there not many who profess to be identified with, and lovers of a rejected and murdered Christ, who would feel perfectly unhappy if they were a season behind the first rank worldling in their dress? Dear young saints, do not take your measure of separation from the world, from people of this type. Be assured, this is not what the Holy God means when He bids you “Be not conformed to this world.” It is something infinitely more searching, more real, more personal than this. It costs something it means the forsaking of what men prize: the counting loss what they count gain. In short, it involves the “losing” of one’s life here, as a man of earth, for the gain, the eternal gain of heavenly things. If we turn from the world of wealth and fashion to...
The Religious World
Here, the deception and the snare is more gilded still. The professing Church and the world are intermarried. The murderer of Christ and His professed spouse have become friends. What an anomaly! What a sham! And this religious world with its schemes, and its mixtures, is the greatest snare to the young believer. Christ’s Name is there, but His Word is ignored. His Holy Name is linked with every worldly thing, and is supposed to hallow it. Just think of the shocking dishonour to Christ of bazaars and religious concerts opened by prayer in His Name and concluded by pantomime and dance. Aye, and patronized by men who call themselves ministers of this cast-out and rejected Jesus. But it is false. “They are of the world, therefore the world heareth them.” The only safe, and the only happy path, is outside the whole. This is what God calls His people to, in the memorable words, “Come out from among them and be ye separate” (2 Cor. 6:17).
You are liable to be led into the world’s bypaths at every stage of your homeward journey—therefore, watch. Continually watch your subtle foe. In the Word of God we have solemn examples and warnings given of those taken in the world’s snare. Truly she has slain her “ten thousands.” Lot was entrapped in Sodom. Demas forsook Paul, “having loved the present world” (2 Tim. 4:10), after he had been his fellow-labourer for years (Phile. 24). The Lord keep us from being so entrapped, and, till he comes to take us to His Father’s house, far from the scene of sin, confusion, and strife, may we walk with well-girded garments, keeping ourselves “unspotted from the world.”
The Church and the World
The Church and the World walked far apart
On the changing shore of time;
The World was singing a giddy song,
And the Church a hymn sublime.
“Come, give me your hand,” said the merry World,
“And then walk with me this way,”
But the good Church hid her snowy hand,
And solemnly answered—“Nay.”
“I will not give thee my hand at all,
And I will not walk with you;
Your way is the way of eternal death,
And your words are all untrue.”
“Nay, walk with me a little space,”
Said the World with a kindly air,
“The road I walk is a pleasant road,
And the sun shines always there;
“Your way is narrow and thorny and rough,
While mine is flowery and smooth;
Your lot is sad with reproach and toil,
But in rounds of joy I move.
My way, you can see, is a broad, fair one,
And my gate is high and wide;
There is room enough for you and me,
And we’ll travel side by side.”
Half shyly the Church approached the world,
And gave him her hand of snow;
And the false World grasped it, and walked along,
And whispered in accents low,
“Your dress is too simple to please my taste;
I have gold and pearls to wear;
Rich velvets and silks for your graceful form,
And diamonds to deck your hair.”
The Church looked down at her plain white robes,
And then at the dazzling world,
And blushed as she saw his handsome lip
With a smile contemptuous curled.
“I will change my dress for a costlier one,”
Said the Church with a smile of grace;
Then her pure white garments drifted away,
And the World gave in their place
Beautiful satins, and fashionable silks,
And roses and gems and pearls;
And over her forehead her bright hair fell
Weaved in a thousand curls.
“Your house is too plain,” said the proud old World,
“Let us build you one like mine,
With kitchen for feasting and parlour for play,
And furniture ever so fine.”
So he built her a costly and beautiful house—
Splendid it was to behold;
Her sons and her daughters met frequently there,
Shining in purple and gold.
Bedecked with fair jewels and hair all curled—
Untrammeled by Gospel or Laws,
To beguile and amuse and win from the World
Some help for the “righteous cause.”
“Your preachers are all too old and plain,”
Said the gay World with a sneer;
“They frighten my children with dreadful tales,
Which I do not like them to hear.
They talk of judgments, and fire and pain,
And the doom of endless night;
They warn of a place that should not be
Thus spoken to ears polite!
“I will send you some—a better stamp,
More brilliant and gay and fast:
Who will show how men may live as they list
And go to heaven at last.”
So she called for pleasing and gay divines—
Deemed gifted, and great, and learned;
And the plain old men that preached the cross
Were out of her pulpits turned.
Thus her witnessing power, alas, was lost,
And the perilous times came in;
The times of the end, so often foretold—
Of form and pleasure and sin.
And they of the Church, and they of the World,
Journeyed closely, hand and heart,
And none but the Master, who knoweth all,
Could discern the two apart.
A voice came down from the hush of heaven,
From Him that sat on the throne:
“I know thy works and what thou hast said,
But, alas! thou hast not known
That thou art poor, and naked, and blind,
With pride and ruin enthralled
The expectant Bride of a heavenly Lord
Has married the godless World!”
The Servant of the Lord: An Ambassador and a Witness
Some of the titles given to the people of God express their privileges; others their responsibilities. Some bespeak their place in the Divine presence and in the embrace of the Divine Love; others, their attitude toward their brethren and the world.
A brief consideration of two of these may by the Divine blessing enable us to more fully appreciate the dignity and feel the responsibility which the Lord has put upon us in leaving us in the world for a brief period to represent Him among men, and to bear His Name and His Word before them as Ambassadors and Witnesses.
The former of these titles especially connects the Christian with His Divine Lord in glory, with all authority given to Him in heaven and on earth. The latter, with the Divine Spirit who is now on earth bearing witness to Christ.
The title “Ambassadors for Christ” may be said to be of a double character, in that it shows the Christian in his relation to Christ as Lord, a subject of, and servant in, His Kingdom, to whom His Master has entrusted a sacred charge, while towards the world he stands a representative of God and Christ, an ambassador sent from the Court of heaven.
In 2 Corinthians 5:20, R.V., we read—“We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God.” Such is the position and such the message of the heavenly ambassador—a position at once of the highest honour and of the heaviest responsibility. Let us see what we can learn from it, and may the Divine Spirit cause us to feel and take to heart the full measure of its solemnity.
An ambassador is “a representative of one kingdom at the court of another”—as for example the British Ambassador in Turkey, or the Russian Ambassador in London. His presence is the sign of amicable relations between the two countries; his withdrawal is often the precursor of war.
He is there to represent his absent Sovereign, to maintain his claims, to look after his interests, and communicate his messages—in short, to be and to do what the Sovereign himself would be and do, if he were there. He is not the servant of the country in which he resides, nor does he regard it as his home: he is supported by and controlled from his own land: he remains a subject of his own King and Government, and continual communication is kept up between him and his Sovereign. He stands there a stranger in a strange land, retaining his nationality, his nature, and his language, and holds himself ready at any moment to go home at his Sovereign’s call. If he acts foolishly or unworthily, he disgraces his country, and is an unworthy representative of it. The people amongst whom he is, judge of his King and country by the representative they have among them. In what a solemn and deeply responsible light this places the believer, the Christian, the heavenly ambassador, does it not?
True of all Believers
The title of “Ambassador” may have been applied especially to Paul and his fellow-apostles, but not to them exclusively: in various measures all believers have been “put in trust with the Gospel” (1 Thess. 2:4), and sent into the world to represent Christ, even as He was sent to declare the Father (John 1:18 with 20:21). You will observe that this title is intimately connected with “the Ministry of Reconciliation” (v. 18), and this again is based on the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 22). At the Cross “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.” Reconciliation has been effected: peace has been made through the blood of the Cross (Col. 1:20), and as the result, all things in heaven and on earth will yet be reconciled and readjusted according to God. The believing sinner is already reconciled (Col. 1:21 with Rom. 5:10), and the things in heaven and earth will yet be so, on the ground of a full atonement having been made, and God being satisfied.
Meanwhile grace is on the throne, and judgment is postponed. Yes, “grace reigns” (Rom. 5:20) and peace is proclaimed (Eph. 2:13-17). It is the “acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:19), “the accepted time” and “the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). Not that God winks at sin, or will neglect to judge it, but throughout this age of grace He does not impute it, or charge it home upon men. A full amnesty is declared: forgiveness is proclaimed (Acts 13:38). No man’s sin, however great, need keep him out of heaven.
The Ambassador’s Message
The ambassador’s message is “Be ye reconciled to God.” It is more a royal command than an invitation; it is the authoritative message of the throne of heaven through its ambassador, commanding men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), asking sinners to lay down their weapons of enmity, and accepting the amnesty provided, pass over from the rule of Satan’s empire to become subjects of the kingdom of the Son of God (Col. 1:13).
And Christ’s ambassador is not only a preacher of peace, but likewise a man in quest of new subjects to grace his Master’s kingdom, disciples to learn his Master’s will (Matt. 28:20). His character and ways preach as well as his words, and people look at what he is, and what he does, as well as listen to what he says. How grand it is when Christ’s ambassador can turn to those among whom he has spoken the message of God, and testify, as Paul did to the Thessalonians: “We preached unto you the Gospel” (1 Thess. 2:9), and “Ye are witnesses how holily, and justly, and unblameably we behaved ourselves” (1 Thess. 2:10).
His Life Testimony
The testimony of the lips and life must go together. If a man’s words are not supported by his life, they will have little weight—he will soon prove a stumbling-block rather than a true representative. In certain heathen countries, the natives say that our British ships brought Bibles and rum together. This hinders the progress of the Gospel among the nations and prejudices the heathen against the servants of God.
An Unfaithful Ambassador
An unfaithful ambassador dishonours his country: but an unholy preacher causes his God and the Gospel he preaches to be blasphemed. An unfaithful or inconsistent Christian does more to hinder the Gospel, than all the opposition of scoffers and Sceptics together.
Even in humble spheres this great principle obtains and operates for good or evil.
A young Christian girl, when asked by some one under whose preaching she had been converted, replied:—“I was not converted under any preaching, it was my aunt’s practising that brought me to see there is a reality in Christ and His salvation.” And we may be assured that no one lives “unto himself”: we are all making our mark upon those who are around us, who narrowly watch our ways while they listen to our words, and form their conclusions accordingly.
How important then that all who speak the the message of God’s grace to men, should so live as to commend their message, and be in themselves living witnesses of its power.
An Ambassador in a Chain
In one respect the “Ambassador of Christ” is a contrast to those of earthly kingdoms. He represents a “throne of grace.” God is not dealing in righteousness at present with the world, but in grace. The conditions upon which His ambassadors remain among those who have crucified and cast out “the Lord of Glory” are, that God is not exacting from men at present that which in righteousness he might well demand. They are in “the tribulation and kingdom and patience” (Rev. 1:9) and therefore they must suffer along with the suffering Gospel (2 Tim. 1:8, R.V.). The apostle who wrote these words had to speak of himself to the Ephesian saints as “an ambassador in a chain” (Eph. 6:20, R.V.). It is the day of a silent heaven. God is forbearing with man’s sin. So must His servants. They need not expect better treatment than their Master, at the hands of those who despise His message. They will not “reign as kings” (1 Cor. 4:8-9) in a world where He got a felon’s cross, if they are true to Him. They must suffer and learn to take it patiently. The day of their recompense will come, as sure as the Lord has promised it (2 Thess. 1:6-7), but they must not pre-date it by taking vengeance into their own hands, or calling for it at the hand of others.
Soon the reign of grace will be over. Then the ambassadors of heaven will be recalled, and all the fruit of their labours with them (see 1 Thess. 4:17) to be gathered to their own country, and set down around that throne which ruled them while on the earth, in their heavenly fatherland. The next sight we get of those who were once heaven’s ambassadors on earth is seated on thrones in peace, crowned with glory (Rev. 4:4), while the throne of God is preparing itself for judgment (Rev. 4:5) on that earth, which had rejected their message. Grace will no longer reign; peace is no more proclaimed: the great amnesty is withdrawn; peace is taken from the earth (Rev. 6:4) and judgment will presently sweep the scene. What an honour, and what a responsibility has the Lord’s ambassador in this the day of grace! May the Spirit of God stir up and deeply exercise our souls regarding it, fitting and furnishing us in daily communion with God and Christ, for the fulfilment of such an honourable ministry.
“Ye are my Witnesses”
The second title to which we would now briefly turn is that of Witnesses. When the wondering disciples asked their ascending Lord “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” His memorable answer was: “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in His own power; but ye shall receive power (strength) after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto Me” (Acts 1:6-8).
This is a word of great importance to all the Lord’s people who live in this present age of grace and the Spirit’s presence on the earth. It is in full accord with what the Lord had said in the upper room to His disciples before he went to the Cross. Speaking of the coming Paraclete who was to be sent from the Father to take His place as Helper, Advocate, and Strength of the little band who were to be left on earth to represent their absent Lord, who was going to represent them in heaven, He said, “When the Comforter is come . . . He shall bear witness of Me,” and then he immediately added, “And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning” (John 12:26-27). The believer is here for as co-witness with the Spirit, to Christ and to the Gospel throughout this age of grace. This is his business in the world. He is not a world reformer, he is not a politician; his business here is not to overturn governments, however corrupt, or lead in public agitations against this or the other depravity that may arise among the kings and rulers of earth. He has no call, no commission to enter on any such lines of service. He is simply a witness, and his testimony is to be concerning his heavenly Lord and Master—“Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.”
What a Witness Tells
A witness in a law court is called to tell what he has seen and heard in connection with the case before the judge. Second-hand information is of no value; what others told him will not be received; he must tell what he has personally seen with his own eyes and heard with his own ears. And so the Lord in speaking with the Rabbi of Jerusalem said, “We speak that we do know and testify that we have seen” (John 3:11). A witness does not deal in generalities or in theories, he gives his personal experience; he simply speaks what he is assured of. “We know that we are of God” (1 John 5:12); “I know whom have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12), are words that have in them the ring of the certainty and assurance that gives weight to the testimony of a true witness. It was the consciousness of this that gave boldness to the Lord’s early witnesses, when the world and its religious and political leaders were against them. “We are witnesses of these things, and so is also the Holy Ghost” (Acts. 5:32), was Peter’s clear ring testimony to the Council, and we are told the result of his testimony was that “they were cut to the heart” (v. 33). A halting, hesitating, muffled testimony, is of no value whatever. Men who are never sure of their “minds,” or of what they believe—whatever their forte may be in the Church or the World—are not witnesses. A witness must know something and be able to state definitely and clearly what that something is.
I remember being in a Criminal Court in the City of Aberdeen, where a case of alleged homicide was there tried. There were many witnesses whose testimony was exceedingly vague. At last one little boy was brought to the witness stand; he was so small that he had to be raised up on a stool, and so young that the judge would not put him on oath. Before he had spoken a dozen words, it was evident to all that he had the prisoner’s fate in his hand. He told what he knew well, what he had actually seen and heard, and his evidence convicted the prisoner at the bar. He was there within sight and sound of the tragedy. Let all who “testify the Gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24) remember, that it is not “polished” essays, “cultured” sermons, or “deep” discourses that sinners need to convict them of sin or lead those who are convicted to the Saviour, but the Gospel of Christ spoken in plain and Scriptural terms, from a heart that knows its saving power, and in the Spirit who has come from heaven expressly to give it effect (1 Pet. 1:12) in those who hear.
A Pattern Witness
John the Baptist is honoured by the Spirit in being described as “a man sent from God.” His work, “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light” (John 1:7). And how well he fulfilled his mission is attested by the words of his disciples, who, when they saw their master’s followers leaving him and going after Jesus, came to John saying, “Rabbi, He to whom thou bearest witness, behold, the same baptiseth and all come to Him” (John 3:26), to which John gave answer, “Ye, yourselves, bear me witness that I said I am not the Christ”; and then in the joy of his heart as he saw the true Bridegroom winning hearts to Himself, he gladly owned “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John’s testimony was to “the Lamb of God” (John 1:36), and when he preached away his disciples to his Lord, he rejoiced. And this is the sort of preaching that God always uses in bringing sinners to Christ. “A true witness delivereth souls” (Prov. 14:25), not only from their sins, but from man, and self, and all that is opposed to Christ.
A Witness is a Martyr
“When the blood of Thy martyr Stephen was shed, I was standing by” (Acts. 22:20), says Paul. That word rendered “martyr” is the ordinary word for witness. It reminds us that a faithful witness may have to seal his testimony in his blood, as the Lord Himself, “the Faithful Witness” (Rev. 1:5) did. There must be no shrinking back, no flinching for fear of what men will say or do, if we speak and act according to God and His truth. In spite of opposition, of persecution, and what is, perhaps, a greater snare to us in these quiet times—the fear of being ostracised and accounted “peculiar,” perhaps “mad” by religious worldlings and apostate professors who “swim with the current” and are “all things to all men” in a sense the apostle never was—the man of God must speak the whole counsel of God with his lips, and act in his life and ways according to the truth, “witnessing to small and great” (Acts 26:22) all that God has made known to him, and in which his heart and soul rejoice.
It is recorded that in the trial of the Lord before the high priest, many bare false witness against Him, “but their witness agreed not together” (Matt. 14:53). This, in an ordinary court of justice would have ruined their case And when the lip and life testimony of those who stand among men as His witnesses does not agree, when men do not act what they preach, they are “false witnesses” (1 Cor. 15:15), and become a cause of offence or stumbling to those who know them, rather than a means of blessing.
The time for this earnest witnessing will soon be over, and the witnesses who now stand in the land of the stranger to speak well of their God, His Christ and the Gospel will soon be in their own country, where such service is no longer needed. Let us buy up the opportunities while they are with us, and with a zeal begotten of love to Christ and sustained by the indwelling Spirit, who be it ever remembered is pre-eminently the Spirit of Witness to Christ in the world with the Gospel. Let us not be ashamed of “the testimony of the Lord” but speak as we “ought to speak” (Eph. 6:20), that glorious message which God has made the appointed means of the salvation of sinners—“the Gospel of Christ which is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16).
Serving the Lord
Go labour on; spend and be spent;
Thy joy to do the Father’s will;
It is the way the Master went,
Should not the servant tread it still?
Go, labour on; ’tis not for nought;
Thy earthly loss is heavenly gain;
Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
Master praises,—what are men?
Go, labour on; enough, while here,
If He shall praise thee, if He deign
Thy willing heart to mark and cheer;
No toil for Him shall be in vain.
Go, labour on; though hands are weak,
Though knees are faint, and soul cast down;
Yet falter not; the prize you seek
Is near—a kingdom and a crown.
Men die in darkness at your side,
Without a hope to cheer the tomb;
Take up the torch and wave it wide,—
The torch that lights time’s thickest gloom.
Toil on, faint not, keep watch, and pray;
Be wise the erring soul to win;
Go forth into the world’s highway,
Compel the wanderer to come in.
Toil on, and in thy toil rejoice;
For toil conies rest, for exile home;
Soon shalt thou hear the Bridegroom’s voice,
The midnight peal, behold I come.
Read Matthew 25:14-30; Mark 13:31-46; Luke 12:41-43; 1 Corinthians 9:16-18; 4:1-3.
These Scriptures, and many others, speak of stewardship. The believer is not only a child in God’s family, a member of Christ’s body, a stone of that temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells, but he is a “steward of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 5:10). He has had his Master’s goods committed to his trust, as the parable teaches, and is to trade with these for his Master’s interest and gain during the period of His absence. He has been entrusted—like Joseph in Egypt of old—with the bread that is to feed those who are of the family of faith, and he is to give each his portion in due season. He has been entrusted with the Gospel of God, “put in trust” with it, as the apostle speaks, and it is his business to see that those for whom that Gospel is designed get the benefit of it.
A steward is not an owner: he is simply one in charge of his master’s property, and “it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.” If in this he fails, he may be dismissed—as we learn from Luke 16:1, for wasting his master’s goods—although he will retain his place as a child in God’s family. The latter relationship stands in grace, the former is one of responsibility. There are many forms of Christian stewardship, but, for our present purpose, we will limit ourselves to the consideration of three mentioned in the Scriptures read, viz.:—
1. The ministry of THE GOSPEL toward the world, and to every creature in it (Mark 16:15).
2. The ministry of all THE WORD of God among all the children of God.
3. The godly stewardship of our TIME and MONEY.
Stewardship of the Gospel
It was the burden of this stewardship that caused Paul to say, as he cast his eye across the world, civilized and barbarian, “I am debtor” (Rom. 1:4). It was a sense of the responsibility that came with this “stewardship” of the Gospel that made him cry—“Woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16, R.V.). Would to God that all of us in our varied measures felt the same, and were of the same spirit, the one-talent men as well as the ten. And it applies to the assemblies of God’s people as it does to individuals. Each assembly has its stewardship: it is set, like the Eddystone Lighthouse with its double motto, “To give light and to save life,” amid the world’s darkness—to shine and to save. Yes, that small company meeting in that dark religious parish, is a steward of God’s Gospel to every sinner in it, and if it prove unfaithful to its trust, God may pass its service into other hands.
The evangelist, the gospeller, the wayside worker, the tract distributor who abandons his work, buries his talent and goes at ease or money-making—for the bed and the bushel both obscure the light—will hear of it from his Master in the day of the judgment seat.
There would not be a county, town, village, or parish in Great Britain unevangelised, if we were half-alive to our responsibilities as God’s stewards in the Gospel. There would be no “half-time” preachers, no “stand-at-ease” evangelists, no half-asleep churches, and certainly no half-empty halls, if God’s people were awake to the immense possibilities of their position. Just think of being “put in trust” with the most costly, the most mighty, and the last of all God’s messages of grace to men!
Those who preach should reach forth to “regions beyond,” and those who remain should “hold the ropes,” as Carey said, praying for, standing by and providing “the sinews of war” for those who are manifestly called of God to give themselves and their time wholly to this stewardship. And whoever feels the burden of this holy trust, will seek whenever, wherever, however he can, at all times, and in all places, to speak to sinners of Christ, to warn them to flee from coming wrath, and to tell them of God’s love and God’s salvation. We often think that the day of Christ may show that more were converted through these wayside, and what men call “irregular,” methods, than through the orthodox platform and regular preaching. When one lays himself out for God and is willing to be used by Him, keeping his soul in a right condition, it is wonderful what God can do with even a “cracked” vessel. A ram’s horn, the jawbone of an ass or all five pebbles from the brook serve His purpose—in fact, anything so long as it is clean and humble and near His hand.
Stewardship of the Word of God
The second aspect of the Christian stewardship is, to give all the Word of God to all the people of God. Not according to the pattern of one very zealous man who advertised that in a certain hall on a given night he would “declare the whole counsel of God”—that was rather a large order for a single meeting. He possibly meant that he was in a position to speak all that God might give him, keeping nothing back that would be profitable, not bound down by restrictions that he dare not mention certain truths. We must all claim such liberty, and woe betide that man who, either tacitly or by promise, keeps back what he knows will give offence. But it must be given, as one parable teaches, “in due season” (Luke 12:42), and he who thus ministers the Word is said to be a “wise” as well as a “faithful steward.” Faithfulness will not keep back what is God’s truth, and profitable to the saints; wisdom will give it in due season and proportion, as they are able to bear it, giving milk to babes, and strong meat to those whose senses are exercised to receive it.
A healthy babe will thrive on milk, but a joint of meat would choke it. And when he remembers that very many are prejudiced regarding certain truths, the wise steward will seek to introduce them with heavenly skill, arranging them as “apples of gold on salvers of silver.” We have often felt it was not so much the truth, as the manner and spirit in which it was spoken, that raised prejudice and drew forth opposition; and no wonder, when it is either hurled like rugged stones, or served in a heterogeneous mass like a dog’s breakfast.
The man who stands in God’s presence with the opened ear to hear as the learner, will have the Word in season to speak (see Isa. 50:4), at the proper time; and if, like the great Teacher, he speaks what he hears from God, he that is of God will hear God’s Word (John 7:26).
It is a burning question with some, in what sphere this stewardship should be exercised. Some claim as liberty what others regard as license. Now, we will all agree that the Lord’s servant is and must be subject to the Lord alone as regards authority. If others should interfere, or propose to act as his directors, he must say, “Hands off.” But while it is perfectly true that neither the church nor any part of it is to control the movements of the servants of Christ, or to dictate to them where or how they are to serve, it must not be forgotten by those servants that they have a responsibility toward the church, especially toward the saints with whom they are associated, and primarily toward those with whom they are in local church fellowship. They must not use their “liberty” in such a manner as will stumble or cause to offend the weakest lamb in the flock of God. This is often forgotten in contending for the principle of liberty, but those who claim and use their liberty without due consideration of its effect upon others, show an ill-balanced mind. The man who confessed himself to be the servant of Christ alone, in the glowing words “Whose I am and whom I serve,” who served and preached, “not as pleasing men, but God” (1 Thess. 2:4); who withstood a Peter to the face when he interfered with the God-given liberty of the saints; who claimed he had liberty to eat and drink whatever was set before him, is the man who proclaims he will neither eat flesh nor drink wine while the world standeth, if it will cause his brother to stumble (1 Cor. 8:13, R.V.). Often have we wondered, as we have heard preachers boasting that they could “preach in a Roman Catholic chapel” and such like, if they had ever read this saying of the Apostle, or what place the divine principle it establishes holds in their thoughts.
It is easy enough to ride rough-shod over the convictions of the most godly of our fellow-saints, and to rudely burst the most sacred bonds of Christian fellowship, under the pretext of liberty, but true love will never so act. It will never stumble the weak, nor will it strengthen the hands of the wilful. It will ever cherish true fellowship with fellow-saints, and never launch forth into a path which it knows will effect a cleavage between those who for long years have been true yoke-fellows in the Lord’s service. What havoc has been wrought, and how disastrous has been the results, to themselves and others, by brethren who preach and teach going into associations, and allying themselves with men who are open opponents of many of the truths they profess to own, and in avowed hostility to the position they occupy in separation from all the varied systems of the world’s religions, gathering in the name of a rejected Christ without the camp! And what has been gained for God by such actions? Absolutely nothing. When the tear and wear of time has shown the net result, we have never seen, nor do we expect to see, a genuine work of God, bearing the Divine impress, wrought through the instrumentality of one who has surrendered or compromised the truth that he had been taught by God and once professed to own. Such liberty is only “an occasion to the flesh,” alike in those who claim and those who resist it. Holier and happier were the days, and God and man got more from them, when the saints and servants of God sought unto God and the Word of His grace together, and were content to “fill a little space” far from the mixed multitude of the world’s religions, and who yet were a means of blessing to all around. For although, Joseph-like, they were rejected by their brethren, and misrepresented by the world, they abode by the “well,” and their branches, full of goodly fruit, ran “over the wall” in blessing to saints and sinners. But on the other hand, those who have been taught the truth are responsible to pass it on to others. The Divine principle of this stewardship is “The things which thou hast heard . . . the same commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Wherever a child of God is found, we are bound by the law of love to hand on to him, as one of Christ’s blood-bought flock, all that we have learned of the truth, and not keep it back because he may be prejudiced against it. The Spirit of God can open the saint’s heart and mind to receive the truth as surely as he opens the sinner’s to receive the Gospel; and the servant of Christ’s business is to speak it and count on the Spirit’s operations in both cases. There is no need to go into unscriptural associations to fulfil this stewardship. Where there is real spiritual hunger, the sheep will seek the green pastures, and when the Word of God gets a hold it will bring its subject in spite of himself to hear the truth. Fireside ministry, homely Bible readings, the circulation of sound and helpful books and tracts all come under this head, and are much used where other forms of ministry are impossible.
Stewardship of Time and Money
“Redeeming the time” (Eph. 4:16), buying up every opportunity and using it for God, is the believer’s responsibility. All his life, from the day of conversion till the hour of release, is ransomed time; it is not his own it belongs to the Lord and ought to be used for Him and in His service. This will leave no opportunity for gossip, none for sharing the world’s “innocent amusements,” none for standing all day idle in the market place.
“Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do.”
Had David been in his place at the head of his army on the field instead of lounging unoccupied on the roof of his house, he had never fallen into the dark slough of sin that blotted his life’s page and wrung from his soul the penitential cries of Psalm 51. There would be fewer bitter quarrels among God’s people, fewer backslidings and falls, if all the time we each have at our disposal were used for God. The judgment-seat of Christ will surely tell how much wasted time there has been in the lives of many of the people of God.
Our money too is to be used for God. True, it is all His to begin with, as we ourselves, yet He recognises what is our “own” as being in our “own power” (Acts 5:4), to be used by us as we please. If we remember how much He gave for us, we will joyfully yield what is ours for His service. There are poor ones and needy ones of His flock to be cared for, and there are servants of Christ spending their strength in carrying the Gospel to far-off lands, with whom we may be sharers by giving our substance to keep them. 1 Corinthians 16:1 tells how and when we are to give, and what is thus given we are then to seek wisdom as His stewards to use. Neither hoarding up money to become rich, nor squandering it upon dress, amusements, sightseeing and self is pleasing to God.
If our purses as well as ourselves were kept at the foot of the Cross, yielded up to God, owned as part of our stewardship, then there would be no money to mis-spend on flowers, feathers, jewels, and gaudy attire which so disfigure many heaven-bound pilgrims; nothing to give for the flesh: all would be laid out for God and turned into the currency of Heaven. Soon, very soon, the day when we shall give an account of our stewardship will have come. Then it will be seen that God is no man’s debtor, that all laid out for Him—time, talents, strength, substance—has been well spent, and that He gives the largest interest—even a hundredfold. With our eyes fixed on the cross where God gave up His only Son, and Jesus gave Himself for us—we shall be constrained to say:
“Nought that I have mine own I call:
I’ll hold it for the Giver;
My heart, my strength, my life, my all,
Are His, and His for ever.”
Faithful and Wise
“It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:1). Faithfulness is the responsibility of the servant; success is with God. Yet how often one hears the argument that, in order to gain people’s ears, break down their prejudices, and adapt the message to their condition, certain truths likely to give offence and cause opposition should not be spoken of. The Great Preacher never so acted. Once and again when He had the ears of the people, and when they crowded around Him in an “innumerable multitude” (Luke 12:1), He began to speak what he knew would arouse their anger and scatter them. He never kept back the “truth” for fear of giving offence, even when He had gained the people’s favour by means of “the gracious words” that He had spoken (Luke 4:22, with 25-29). Are His servants wiser than He, when they speak only half the message? We may rest assured that, in the day of Christ’s judgment-seat, what He will approve of, what will gain His “well done,” is full, unhesitating obedience to His Word. Not men’s ideas of success, but His estimate of the faithfulness of His stewards, will gain His reward. “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23), will be the word on that day. “Thou hast been faithful in a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things” (Luke 19:17). May grace be given to all who are entrusted by the Lord with His message, whether to the world or the Church, to be “faithful in all things,” even should the result be, in men’s estimation, failure. God will sooner or later vindicate the faithful servant, roll away his reproach, and reward him openly. No path ever ended with less success, as man reckons, than the path of the Lord Jesus! Yet He was the “Faithful Witness,” and always did what pleased the Father. The full result of His testimony and service will yet be seen in in a heaven filled with ransomed sinners. So shall faithful service and stewardship have its full fruition in the eternal state. But wisdom is also needed. “A faithful and wise steward” is one who gives each his portion “in due season” (Luke 12:42), milk for babes, and strong meat for those able to bear it. This necessitates spiritual discernment,—which is acquired by walking in the Spirit and waiting upon God. There is a difference between God’s truth and God’s message: the latter is the truth given by the Spirit for that people at that time. How often the mark is missed in this!—hence the need of dependence and discernment of the Spirit’s guidance.
There never was a better opportunity of spreading God’s gospel and His truth among men than there is today. The whole world is virtually open to the gospel, and although utter indifference reigns in many a countryside, and evil doctrines destructive of the faith abound on every hand, there are weary souls to whom the world has proved itself a failure, seeking something that the gospel alone can give them, and when it is plainly and simply preached in God’s power, they come to hear it. And there are children of God, worn and wearied of the dry Christ-less preaching they get in their “churches,” glad to get a handful of the “corn of heaven” wherever they can find it. Let those who have it hold it forth to others.
Soon the day of service and stewardship will be over—the gladsome privilege of spending and being spent for Christ for ever past—and the long rest of Eternity reached. May the servants of Christ, great and small, “hold fast grace” to serve with godly reverence and fear, with their eye on the judgment seat before which they must soon appear at the call of Him whose they are and whom they serve, when He shall say, “Give an account of thy stewardship,” and when everyone shall give an account of himself to God
“So I ask Thee for the daily strength,
To none that ask denied.
And a mind to blend with outward life
While keeping at Thy side:
Content to fill a little space,
If God be glorified.”
Hark! ’tis the watchman’s cry,
“Wake, brethren, wake!”
Jesus Himself is nigh,
Wake, brethren, wake!
Sleep is for sons of night,
Ye are children of the light,
Yours is the glory bright—
Wake, brethren, wake!
Call to each wakening band,
“Watch, brethren, watch!”
Clear is our Lord’s command,
“Watch, brethren, watch!”
Be ye as men that wait,
Ready at their Master’s gate,
E’en though He tarry late—
Watch, brethren, watch!
Heed we the Steward’s call,
“Work, brethren, work!”
There’s room enough for all:
Work, brethren, work!
This vineyard of the Lord
Constant labour doth afford
Yours is a sure reward—
Work, brethren, work!
Hear we the Shepherd’s voice,
“Pray, brethren, pray!”
“Would ye His heart rejoice?“
Pray, brethren, pray!
Sin calls for ceaseless care,
Weakness needs the Strong
One near, Long as ye tarry here,
Pray, brethren, pray!
The Coming Bridegroom and the Waiting Bride
The personal return of of the Lord Jesus Christ from Heaven is the proper hope of the believer and of the Church. This is what He Himself has promised, and what the saints of former days expected. The Church in her early love and purity waited for the Lord, as an expectant bride waiteth for the return of her bridegroom. But the mists of tradition soon arose and hid the Lord’s promise from the eye of faith. Then hope quickly declined, and love waxed cold. For many centuries the truth of the Lord’s return was buried up under heaps of man’s traditions. The saints were taught to look for the universal spread of Christianity and the conversion of the world, instead of the personal advent of the Lord. To the present hour this delusive hope is entertained by tens of thousands who call themselves by Christ’s name. After the course of ages, the conversion of the world seemed as far off as ever, and thoughtful Christians were driven to their Bibles to prayerfully search and test their theology by the Word of God. The result of this return to the Book of God to seek information was, that they found no such doctrine taught as that the world would be converted by means of the preaching of the Gospel, and the millennium, or Kingdom of Christ, thus ushered in. They found, on the contrary, that by means of the preaching of the Gospel a people were being taken out from the world to be a bride for Christ, that He might return to receive His bride to Himself at any moment, and that the world, religious and political, would go to democracy, infidelity, and corruption. From then till now, the personal return of the Lord has been more or less a present joyous hope among the saints.
It is with an earnest desire to help fellow-believers—especially younger ones in Christ—to a further knowledge of what our Lord has spoken concerning this great event, that I would ask you to search and meditate with me a little on this glorious theme. It is pre-eminently a subject for the heart, and I know nothing so potent and practical in its effects on the daily lives and conduct of the saints, as the truth of the personal and pre-millennial advent of the Lord, rightly understood, and held in communion with God, quickening hope, and nourishing the soul. Mere opinions, orthodox however they may be, stored in the intellect for controversial use, help us little, but whatever brings us near to the Person of Christ, endearing Him to our hearts, we may justly value. Such is our theme. For the sake of simplicity and brevity we will look at it under the following heads:
1.—The Person who is Coming.
2.—The Time of His Coming.
3.—The Manner of His Coming.
4.—The Attitude of those who expect His Coming.
The Person Who is Coming
In a quiet upper room in the city of Jerusalem, around a furnished table, the Lord and His eleven disciples reclined. There had been twelve, but one of these—the traitor Judas—had gone out into the dark night. Now that He has them all alone with Himself, He unburdens His heart among them freely. He tells them that He will be with them now only for “a little while,” and then He must leave them. What a pang of sorrow these words must have carried to their hearts; ignorant and slow of heart as they were, they all fondly loved Him. For His sake they had given up their worldly all. They had left their homes and earthly kindred on the shores of Gennesaret to become His companions. They had followed Him and clung to Him throughout His path of dishonour and rejection in Israel. Some of them had seen His glory on the Mount and His tears at Lazarus’ grave. They had been with Him in the deserts and on the stormy deep; once and again He had told them that He would suffer and die, but they had but feebly grasped the meaning of His words. They still clung to the hope of an earthly kingdom and to places of honour there, with Jesus as the King. Now all this was for the present set aside, and He was going away from them. It was just then that the words fell from His blessed lips, so fraught with meaning, divulging to them and us the prospects that lie before us. “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself that where I am there ye may be also” (John 14:2-3). This is “the Promise” (Heb. 10:36), and “our hope” (1 Tim. 1:2); the “blessed (or happy) hope” (Tit. 2:12); for which we are to “look” and wait. The wonder is that any of us should have had another thought. But such has been the case, and now is, with many. Instead of looking for the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise—the promise of His personal return, many of the saints are looking for death as the end of their earthly course. But the Lord’s coming is not death: it is a contrast to it. When a believer dies, or “falls asleep” (see Acts 7:60; 1 Cor. 15:6; Thess. 4:13), the Lord does not “come again” and “receive” him. He “departs to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23). He “puts off” his tabernacle (2 Pet. 1:14); he is “absent from the body” (2 Cor. 5:8), whereas, when Jesus comes, He will “change” the believer’s body, and fashion it like to “His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). At death his body goes to corruption, whereas at the Lord’s coming he “puts on incorruption” (1 Cor. 15:54), and death is swallowed up of victory. At death the saints are parted: when Jesus comes they are all “gathered together.” We do not for a moment doubt that those who have fallen asleep are perfectly happy where they now are. They are “in paradise” (Luke 23:43), which means “pleasure;” they are “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8, R.V.). Their tears and conflicts are past, and the jarring sounds of earth disturb them no more. Happy saints! And what a throng! Ever increasing, as one by one they pass from us here. Yet they have not entered into the fulness of the glorified state; they wait for their bodies of glory in that upper waiting-room, while we wait in this lower one for the same. Our Hope is as theirs—the advent of the Lord. Nor is it a “spiritual” coming, or a “coming to the heart,” as others have said. As surely as it was a Person who said “I go,” it is the same person who says “I will come again,” and who thrice from the throne within the heavens repeats the words: “I come quickly” (Rev. 22:8, 12, 20). Not only is it a Person for whose coming we are taught to look, but for the very same Person who went away. “This same Jesus shall so come” (Acts. 1:11). Eighteen centuries in that bright glory where He now is, exalted in the highest place in Heaven, surrounded by myriads of holy beings, have wrought no change in Him. He will come forth “the same Jesus” as when He took the babe in His arms and blessed it, or stood by the grave of Lazarus and wept. There on that bright throne He sits, waiting the hour when He shall receive the Bride for which He bled, to be for ever with Himself.
“There, amid the songs of Heaven, sweeter to His ear
Is the footfall through the desert, ever drawing near,
There made ready are the mansions, glorious, bright, and fair,
But the Bride the Father gave Him, still is wanting there.”
He waits, as Isaac waited for the home-bringing of Rebekah: we look as Rebekah looked for Isaac. It is not events: it is not prophecies fulfilled: it is not even glory, but it is Jesus Himself the saint longs to see. Not the crown He giveth, but the pierced hand: not heaven, but “they shall see His face.” To illustrate this, when the British soldiers returned from Egypt, victorious over their foes, there was a great excitement in London on the day of their arrival. Banners were flying, and crowds waited to do honour to the conquerors. By-and-bye there was a public banquet, and the Queen herself decorated those who had distinguished themselves by acts of heroism. But there stood on the platform awaiting the arrival of the train one solitary person, absorbed in the object of her hope. She was a soldier’s bride. More than banners or banquets to her was the hope of seeing him whom she loved, and more to him than a “Victoria Cross” was the joy of receiving his bride.
The Time of His Coming
“Surely I come quickly” (Rev. 22:20). “Yet a very little while, He that cometh shall come, and shall not tarry” (Heb. 1:37, R.V.).
Men have fixed dates, and proclaimed the year and day when Jesus would return, but they only displayed their ignorance and folly. The Scripture gives no hint as to the time: dates do not belong to the dispensation of the church’s call. Signs and tokens of His nearness there will be none. All has been said that will be said. The stillness of the heavens has not been broken for over eighteen centuries; not since the last-uttered words of Jesus, “Surely I come quickly.” The next will be His “shout” as He descends, the rallying cry that will gather around Him His loved ones of every clime. Dates there are in the prophetic Word, events to transpire, and prophecies to be fulfilled ere He can return to earth in manifested glory to set up His Kingdom and to reign, but between us and His return to “receive” His Bride there is nothing. No event that must transpire. Not the thickness of a sheet of tissue paper placed between us and His return. Do you really believe this, dear fellow-saint? That, ere the sands of this day run out, the Lord Himself may come. That our feet may stand even now on the outskirts of the glory, and that in an eye-twinkle we may be there. Like Israel of old—encamped on the banks of the Jordan—the goodly land lying just across, full in view, and all that had to take place ere they were in it, was the silent passage of the ark through the stream, an event unrecognised by the nations, and quickly accomplished. O, for hearts to beat true to the cadence of the well-known, thrilling words:—
“I can almost hear His footfall
On the threshold of the door;
And my heart, my heart is longing
To be with Him evermore.”
The Manner of His Coming
Here we must distinguish between His coming to the “air” (1 Thess. 4:17) and to the “earth” (Zech. 14:4): His coming for His saints to receive them unto Himself (John 14:3), and His return with them in manifested glory (Col. 3:3). These two events, or rather these two successive stages of one event, are carefully distinguished in the Scriptures. The one is termed “that blessed hope,” the other “the glorious appearing,” or “appearing of the glory” (Tit. 2:13). The one is to the saints, the other to the world. Great events in Heaven and on earth will intervene between them; but these are not our hope. There will be an earthly people deeply interested in the signs of these terrible times, scanning them intently, for in them are to be found the heralds of their coming deliverance. But no such sign has been promised to us. The manner of His coming for us will be of a wholly different kind. But let us hear the evidence.
A little company are quietly wending their way up the slope of Olivet. This is the risen Lord with a few of His disciples. The world knows nothing of that quiet walk, for the world has not seen Jesus since He hung upon the Cross full forty days before. But His own are with Him. He raises His hands to bless them, and, as He blesses, He is quietly parted from them, and ascends out of their midst up to the heavens. They see Him go, and stand gazing up after Him, until a cloud veils Him from their sight. The world saw and heard nothing of all this. As the disciples stood gazing toward the heavens, whither He whom they loved had gone, two men in white apparel appeared to them, and said “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 1:11). These words inform us as to the manner of His return. It will be in “like manner” as His going. How did He go? In the act of blessing His people, from their midst, without the world’s knowledge. Such will be the manner of His coming. The world will know nothing of it. It will be a secret so far as they are concerned. Does this seem strange? It need not. Heaven’s doings have often been as secrets to the world. Enoch was “translated,” but there is no account of the world seeing him go. Elijah was “taken up,” but only Elisha saw him ascend. The “sons of the prophets” sought for him on hill and in valley. The heavenly host sang on the plains of Bethlehem, but only the shepherds saw and heard. And our rapture to meet the Lord will be of a kindred character. Not so when He appears in glory. Then “Every eye shall see Him” (Rev. 1:7). His manifestation in glory will be as “the Sun of Righteousness” (Mal. 4:3), and as the “Flaming Fire” (2 Thess. 1:8). But He comes to His people as the rising of “The Bright and Morning Star” (Rev. 22:17). The Morning Star steals silently into the lower heavens, shedding a brilliant, silvery light, a harbinger of the coming day. Its rise is unobserved by the sleeping world, but the watchman on his watch-tower hails its light. It appears in a unique moment, which can neither be reckoned night nor day, but is rather the witness that the night is past and the day at hand. The coming of the Lord Jesus as Son of God to receive His Bride will be the “morning” of unclouded bliss to the saints, the dawn of a long, eternal day, to know no night. O, who can conceive the joy, the untold delight, that will fill and thrill the heart when we see His face! To gaze upon the brow once wreathed with thorns! To hear the voice that stilled the stormy wave! To look on the pierced hands and feet! To be near the Eternal Lover of our souls! To be for ever with the Lord!
The Attitude of the Saints
The saints of early days were looking for the return of their Lord—His personal advent—the fulfilment of the promise, “I will come again.” The response of the Church, the Bride of Christ, while yet in the dew of her youth, to His last utterance from the throne: “Surely, I come quickly,” was—“Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20, R.V.). This is the last glimpse we get in the Word of the “Coming Bridegroom” and “The Waiting Bride.” He from yon Heaven above whispering to her heart—“I come”: she from her watch-tower below, with uplifted eye, replying—“Come.” O, lovely attitude! Just what we are told in other portions of the Word was to characterise the saints. To be “waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7); “looking for that blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13); “to wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thess. 1:10); “to look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus” (Phil. 3:20).
’Mid their trials, persecutions, and bonds they held fast “the confession of the hope” (Heb. 10:23, Greek). They waited for the Lord, as they that wait for the morning. Abounding in hope, they suffered shame and dishonour for His Name. The world was beneath their feet: Heaven was near and real. They believed that He might descend at any moment, and that a breath might waft them home. No wonder that the saints of those days were a power among men. The world could not shut its eyes to the fact that they were a waiting people.
They were strangers and pilgrims, content with pilgrim fare. Earthly possessions had little attraction for them: they spoke of “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled,” and their manner of life was such that people around them were made to feel they really meant it. There was a power in their hope, gladdening the heart, purifying the life, and keeping them separate from the ungodly world around them. How the devil must have gloried when he succeeded in robbing the saints of all this, by quietly slipping in the doctrine of the lapse of ages, the conversion of the world, the fulfilment of prophecy, and a millennial earth to intervene, ere the coming Bridegroom could claim His waiting Bride. Or, as some will have it, who own a pre-millennial advent, that the Church must pass through a period of unprecedented trial, known as “the great tribulation,” ere she can meet her Lord. How utterly incompatible is all this with waiting and watching for the Lord’s return, and how it all robs the saints of their joyous, proper hope, which is that the Lord may come at any moment—that you, dear saints of God, may be in glory with Him tonight. If we only half believed this, if its sunshine filled and thrilled us, what a happy people would we be!
I was travelling by rail not long ago. My fellow-travellers were a father and his little daughter. They had come a long journey, and I saw the child was weary. By-and-bye I noticed she became brighter, and the father kept whispering now and again words into her ear, only two of which I could catch. These were “Home” and “Mother.” I saw it all in a moment. They were nearing home, and every mile the child seemed to grow brighter and happier, until, clasping her little hands in an ecstasy of delight, she cried aloud: “I’ll see my mother.” As the train drew up at the next station, she gave one bound from the carriage into her mother’s bosom, and locked her arms around her neck. She had gained the object of her hope, and she was satisfied.
“How shall I meet those eyes:
Mine on Himself I cast;
And own myself as Jesus’ prize,
Mercy from first to last.”
For centuries this blessed hope, with all its practical issues, was virtually lost to the Church. Even now, when through grace it has been recovered, the devil would destroy its power among the saints by postponing it until this or that prophetic word shall be fulfilled until an Antichrist arise, or a Babylon be rebuilt, and signs appear. But these are not our hope. The hope of the saints of this age is a heavenly hope, over which events of earth exercise no control. Our eyes are not to be toward the earth, or watching the course of the world, or marking the fall of empires, but steadfastly looking upward toward the heavens whither He has gone, and from whence “we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus,” to receive to His heart and home with joy unspeakable His Bride, the purchase of His precious blood and the object of His everlasting love. Haste, happy day!
“Come, Lord, come, we wait for Thee,
We listen still for Thy returning
Thy loveliness we long to see,
For Thee the lamp of hope is burning.
Come, Lord, Come!”
The Judgment-Seat of Christ and the Rewards of Service
Among the hopes and prospects of the future, to which the saints and servants of God are directed, the judgment-seat of Christ holds a unique and important place. A right understanding of this event—its time, its place, its character, and of the believer’s relation thereto—will do much to remove traditional and erroneous thoughts concerning judgment, and to enable the believer, as the servant of the Lord, to intelligently pursue His divinely-chosen path of service here, having as his aim the pleasing of his Master now, unto the receiving of His approbation and reward on that coming day, when the Lord shall call His servants before Him, to give an account of their service here.
With the earnest desire to be in possession of the truth on this deeply interesting and intensely practical theme, I would ask dear fellow-saints of God and fellow-servants in the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, to search the Word with me a little on this subject, with a view to our mutual profit and blessing.
The theory of a general judgment of saint and sinner, although widely spread and commonly believed, has no foundation in the Scriptures. That the unbeliever will be judged in the future, the Scriptures do teach. The Judge (Acts 17:31); the Throne (Rev. 20:11); the judgment (John 5:30); and the destiny (Rev. 20:14-15), are all marked out with a precision and certainty that may well arrest the attention of the sinner, and cause him to tremble. To him the future is black with clouds of coming judgment, which must sooner or later burst upon his unprotected head, and although men are doing their utmost to fritter away these solemn utterances of the Holy and Almighty God, they will surely come to pass, as surely as He is God who has uttered them. But to the believer in Christ the future has no terrors. As a sinner, his judgment is already past; it fell upon his spotless Surety when he stood in his place, bearing his sins upon Golgotha. In that death God reckons the believer to have died, and he, reckoning according to God, exclaims “I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20, R.V.). He is therefore judicially dead already. Judgment has been executed: it cannot be repeated. That it will not is beyond all doubt, for it is the One who will Himself be the Judge of the sinner, who has said to the believer—“He that heareth My Word, and believeth Him that sent Me hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life” (John 5:24, R.V.). These precious words clearly tell of the believer’s complete deliverance from judgment to come, no matter what that judgment may be. There will be judgments great and many—judgments of the living and of the dead; some in time (Matt. 25), some in eternity (Rev. 20:11), but in view of all of them, the word concerning the believer is, that he “cometh not into judgment.” Well then may he tune his heart, looking backward and onward, and sing, in the intelligence of faith—
“Death and judgment are behind me,
Grace and glory on before.”
But although the believer no longer stands as a sinner before God awaiting judgment, he is a son within the Father’s House, and therefore a subject of its rule and of the present discipline exercised by the Father in the circle of His children (Heb. 12:6-9, 1 Pet. 1:17) and of Christ as Lord in the Church, the present aspect of His Kingdom (see 1 Cor. 11:31-32). This is neither past nor future, but present, and all the children of God are continually sharing it. Obedient ones receive the Father’s approval (Heb. 11:5), and His companionship (John 14:23); disobedient ones, His corrective word (John 15:4) and rod (Heb. 12:5). But all is of grace, and for our profit (Heb. 12:10). Into the circle of the children, judgment unto damnation cometh not. The severest forms of the judgment of the Lord among His own have as their ultimate object, salvation, and not condemnation (see 1 Cor. 5:5; 11:32).
But the believer is not only a son in the family of God, he is also a servant of the Lord Jesus. He has been entrusted with his Master’s goods (see Matt. 25:14), and left on earth as His steward to use them for Him (1 Pet. 4:10). He has been called to a life of service and warfare in the Kingdom and House of his absent Lord and Master (Mark 13:34; 2 Tim. 3:3-4), and the reward and recompense of that service is not for the present made known. It will be in the future, at the judgment-seat of Christ. There the servants of the Lord will be gathered to receive their Master’s verdict on their service and warfare here, and it is concerning this great future event and its wondrous issues that we would now seek to gather the mind of the Lord from His Word. In order to give simplicity and precision to our meditation, I would suggest that we seek to gather the testimony of the Scripture on this subject under the following heads
1. The Time and Place of the Judgment-Seat.
2. The Character of the Judgment-Seat.
3. The Rewards of the Judgment-Seat.
There will be a judgment of the living at the commencement of the millennial reign of Christ (Matt. 25:31), and of the dead at its close (Rev. 20:11), but neither of these is the judgment-seat of Christ. In the former of these scenes of judgment there is a gathering of sheep and of goats before the Throne of Christ’s glory, and there they are divided, the sheep passing into the “Kingdom,” the goats into “everlasting punishment.” In the latter, “the dead, small and great,” are arraigned before “the Great White Throne,” and from thence all whose names are not written in “the Book of Life” are cast into the “lake of fire.” There is no such judgment awaiting the servants of the Lord. They are already “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6), their names are in “the Book of Life” (Phil. 4:3), and already they rejoice in the knowledge that in Christ Jesus there is “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1).
The Time and Place of the Judgment-Seat
“Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12). “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come” (1 Cor. 4:5). “Thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). It was when the day of David’s rejection was over, and before the day of his glory and kingdom, that the men who had companied with him, and faithfully served their master, counting not their lives dear for his sake, were called before him and rewarded for their service. The three who broke through the ranks of the Philistine host to reach the Well of Bethlehem that they might give to their weary master a drink of its pure waters, received no present recompence for their act of love. But the remembrance of that deed was treasured in David’s heart, and in due time the faithful men were rewarded before the thousands of Israel by being appointed to places of honour in the Kingdom. And thus it shall be in the coming day of glory. The cup of water given to one of Christ’s, for His Name’s sake, will be remembered then, and rewarded. The day of man’s judgment will be past, and men and things will appear in their true character. The saints will be in their bodies of glory too, able to see and know in a way they cannot now. At the descent of the Lord into the air, the sleeping saints will be raised incorruptible, the living saints will be changed to immortality, and altogether they will gather around their Lord and accompany Him to the Father’s House. That welcome over, to the family circle, the home of love, it would seem as if the glorified saints would then be manifested in their character as servants before the judgment-seat of Christ.
The Beema, or Judgment-seat, was an elevated place on which the umpire of the Grecian games sat viewing the race or contest, going on. At the close, the runners and wrestlers were gathered before him, and received from that judgment-seat his verdict of their work. The successful competitors were rewarded by having a wreath of laurel or parsley put upon their brow, and the rest retired without reward. They suffered the loss of the victor’s crown, but that was all. There was no criminal condemnation. This is the imagery used by the Apostle in describing his service, as one “running in a race,” or “striving for the mastery,” to receive an incorruptible crown (1 Cor. 9:25-26), as also his reference to the laws or rules of the game (2 Tim. 2:5).
The race and the warfare are present, the results will be heard of hereafter. As one has truly said—“Heaven will be the best and safest place for the servants of Christ to know the results of their labour.” And it would be well for them to leave these results with their Lord until he makes them known.
The judgment-seat will be set in Heaven, and the servants of Christ, in their glorified bodies, will be gathered there. Who can conceive the beauty and the brilliancy of that assembled throng? All like Christ—perfectly like Him. Bodies fashioned like unto the body of His glory. All perfectly able to stand in the light of God, and in His light to see light clearly. Nothing to dim their vision now; no ignorance, no pride, no selfishness: things that, alas! so oft obscure the spiritual vision here. The glorified servant will then be in possession of his Master’s thoughts; he will see the past as He has seen it, and say “Amen” to His verdict upon it. From that judgment-seat he will pass to other scenes of glory with wondering gratitude and praise, extolling the grace that bore with him and supported him in earthly days of service.
The Character of the Judgment-Seat
“After a long time, the Lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them” (Matt. 25:19). “He commanded those servants to be called to Him, that He might know how much every man had gained by trading” (Luke 19:15). “They watch for your souls, as they that must give account” (Heb. 13:17). That there will be no criminal arraignment before the judgment-seat we have already seen. But there will be “reckoning” and “giving account.” The character of our service will be reviewed and manifested there, and all that has been according to God, and of His grace, will be rewarded. There will be much that will not bear the test of that day. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Cor. 3:13). There is much that is of great account in the estimation of man that will not stand “the fire.” “The wood, the hay, and the stubble”—bulky materials that occupy much space will be burnt up, while “the gold, the silver, and precious stones” will pass through the fire and abide to the worker’s praise. There will be those who will be losers in that day, whose deeds were blazed abroad through church and world, and who seemed to be the very excellent of the earth. But the esteem and the plaudits of men are not the judgment of the Lord. Heaven’s thoughts are not as ours. Yet although these works will not pass through the fire, the worker will. “He himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire.” As “just Lot” escaped from Sodom’s doom, though all his works were burnt up, so shall every one of the Lord’s true servants escape from the judgment of the ungodly. Grace will triumph even then, amid the glory, as it had before conquered on earth, and the redeemed and precious servant will pass into the Kingdom of his Lord, but that “abundant entrance” which others who have faithfully served and followed Him, receive, will not be his.
The motive of the Lord’s servants will be manifested also on that day. Great things are often done from base motives with a desire to gain the approval of men. “The Lord will bring to light the hidden things of darkness.” All that was of self, and done to glorify self, will be seen in its true character then. There is much of what passes current for “zeal” and “faithfulness” now, that, when the hidden springs are seen, will be found to be only self and sin. Deeds done “for the glory of God” will then be found to have really been for the pleasing of self, and “valour for the truth” only a vindication of what was pleasing to the flesh. O what revelations, what manifestations, the “light” and the “fire” will make! Dear brethren and fellow-servants, let us accustom ourselves to their searchings now, and by help from Heaven, condemn and renounce what we shall not have to grieve over—if that be possible—then. The nearer we come to God’s thoughts now, the more we are possessed of the mind of Christ, and the closer we cleave to the written Word in our service, the less will we have to see reduced to ashes, disowned, and disapproved, on that coming day. “Why don’t you write your biography?” said one aged saint to another. “It is already written,” said his brother, with a smile, “and will be published in the morning.” Ah, yes; on the morning of that coming day, before the time of manifested glory to the world, the life-story of the saints will be “published” and made known. And remember, it cannot be corrected then: it must stand as it has been written. And on that day the Lord will allow us to read it in His light.
Deeds of merit as we thought them,
He will show us were but sin;
Little acts we had forgotten
He will own were done for Him.
There will be others there, who were little thought of here. Their labours, privations, and sufferings for Christ’s Name sake received no acknowledgment on earth. They passed away unknown, unnoticed, and unnamed by the great ones of earth. Yea, some of them bore the brand of shame and dishonour. As one who knew by experience the meaning of it, sang—
“I have borne scorn and hatred,
I have borne wrong and shame;
Earth’s proud ones have reproached me
For Christ’s thrice-blessed Name:
Where God’s seal set the fairest
They stamped their foulest brand;
But judgment shines like noon-day
In Immanuel’s land.”
Yes, blessed be God, the Lord whom they loved and served, and for whose Name and truth they suffered, will overturn the world’s verdict, and reward His servants on that day. There is something here for the servants of Christ to look forward to and to wait for. When men speak evil of you, let it pass. The Lord will make a note of it. Remember Joseph in the prison of Egypt: his feet fast in the stocks, his name dishonoured and branded with infamy. It seemed as if the Lord had taken no notice of it. But the full time of recompence had not yet come. When it did come, Egypt knelt at his feet, and his brethren who had hated him bowed the knee before him. Verily, he received his reward, and the Lord rolled away His reproach.
The Rewards of the Judgment-Seat
“Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour” (1 Cor. 3:8). “Ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance” (Col. 3:24). “Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matt 25:21).
To serve the Lord Jesus faithfully here brings no present reward, so far as men can see. The servant himself may have the consciousness that he is serving God (Heb. 11:5), and he will have the companionship of his Father and his Lord (John 14:24), but so far as outward prosperity goes, such as men of the world count gain, there is none of it promised to the servant of Jesus Christ here. On the contrary, he will suffer loss for his Master’s sake, and be accounted a “fool” by the wise ones of earth. The day of his recompence lies beyond. His reigning time will come, as surely as that of his Lord and Master. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me on My throne” (Rev. 3:21), is the sure and faithful promise. The “crowns” that will be given from the judgment-seat will be rewards for service done on earth. They are “victors’ crowns.” Such is the meaning of the word chosen to describe them. There is “the victor’s crown of life” (Rev. 2:10), “the victor’s crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8), and “the victor’s crown of glory” (1 Pet. 5:4). The life, the righteousness, and the glory are not rewards. They are gifts of God’s sovereign grace. All the saints share them, and ever will, on the inalienable ground of grace alone. But the victor’s crown of life, of righteousness, and of glory are given as the recompense of suffering, or martyrdom, and for service done on earth.
The particular form of honour expressed by these terms we may only know in part while here—it has not pleased the Lord to describe in detail what these honours will be, but they all include association with Christ, and honoured places in His Kingdom. “As one star differeth from another star in glory,” so shall the degrees and spheres of the servants, of Christ in the coming Kingdom (see Luke 19:17-18) and glory. “O what will it be to be there.” To see Him crowned and honoured who was the Outcast and the Stranger here! To serve Him amid the glory there, where His praise is sung by every tongue! Lord, tarry not, but come! Haste, happy day!
The Lost Reward
“Look to yourselves, that ye lose not those things which ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward” (2 John 8). “Let no man rob you of your prize” (Col. 2:18, R.V.) “Hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take (or receive) thy crown” (Rev. 3:12, R.V.).
Some, who in the early days of Christian life “ran well,” in later years slacken their pace. Others, who fearlessly and faithfully serve the Lord, holding fast His Word, settle down into respectable worldliness and indifference to the things of God. Solemnly sad it is to think that their reward may be lost, and the victor’s crown that would have decked their brow will be received and worn by another. It is not enough to begin well. Many start the race with energy and zeal; but it is only those who finish well who are crowned. It was at the close of a long life of service for his Master that the Apostle was able with confidence to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:7-8, R.V.). Yes, “laid up.” He knew it was now won, for “the course” had been finished. Up to that time his motto was, “I press on” (Phil. 3:12). Now the race was over, and he saw the crown “laid up” in safe custody, till that coming “crowning day,” when he with all who have fully followed and faithfully served their Lord in earthly days, shall receive from His pierced hand the incorruptible crown, and hear from His blessed lips the joyful “Well done.”
The New Jerusalem and the Eternal Glory
The destiny of the believer is to be “for ever with the Lord.” His everlasting Home is the New Jerusalem, the consummation of His hope, the eternal glory of God and the Lamb. Like the pilgrim patriarch of early days, He passes through the world as “a stranger and sojourner,” with his eye on the “City which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.” There the pilgrim pathway ends; the land of his possession is reached; he is at home. Even now his longing spirit is in love with the place, and he sings as his feet press on—
“My heart is onward bounding,
Home to the land I love;
Its distant joys and pleasures
My longing passions move.”
“Fain would my thirsty spirit
Its living freshness breathe,
And wearied feet find resting
Its hallowed shades beneath.”
The first stage of this pathway of glory will be at the descent of the Lord Jesus into the air to meet His saints. “The Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God.” The immediate response to this shout of the returning Lord will be a resurrection from among the dead of all the sleeping saints. The graves will yield their ancient charge; the dead in Christ shall be raised incorruptible, in bodies of glory, in the image of their Lord. At the same moment—in the twinkling of an eye—the living saints on earth shall be changed, their bodies shall be fashioned like unto Christ’s, mortality swallowed up of life, and both caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. Gathered together thus around Himself, He will lead them in triumph to the Father’s House. This translation will end the pilgrim pathway of the living saints who, like Enoch of old, shall “go without dying,” and it will also sweep the graves of all who have fallen asleep, and whose unclothed spirits have been resting in paradise with Christ.
Now they receive that fulness of salvation, that redemption of the body, for which in the days of their faith and hope they longed and sighed. Now their sighs are turned to songs, their expectations to realisation. They have been awaked in His likeness, and they are satisfied—fully, perfectly satisfied. So also is their Lord, for, looking upon His gathered flock, His blood-bought Bride, He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and “shall be satisfied.” His saints are with Him now, He has presented them faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, and their cup runneth over. Goodness and mercy hath followed them all their earthly days, and now they have come to “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
“To find each hope of glory gained,
Fulfilled each precious word;
And fully all to have attained
The image of their Lord.”
The next glance that we get of this glorious company is within an open Heaven, seated, clad in priestly robes, with royal crowns upon their heads (Rev. 4:4, 5:8-10), far above and beyond the rising storm that sweeps the guilty earth, and calls forth the righteous ire of Heaven. Here it is that Christ’s Beema or judgment-seat will be set, and here He will bestow His rewards for faithful service during earthly days, and appoint to His servants their places of honour in His coming Kingdom. Later still (Rev. 19:4-9), the marriage of the Lamb is celebrated in the Heavens, and then He is seen returning with His saints in glory to the earth (see Rev. 19:11-14, Zech. 14:4-5). It is not our present purpose to dwell on these events, blessed and glorious as they are, nor to trace along the line of Scripture the various stages that usher in the glorious reign of Christ over a restored and peaceful earth. Stretching far beyond the thousand years of millennial blessedness, there lies the eternal glory; the everlasting rest of God and His redeemed; the new Heavens and the new earth in their eternal beauty, fresh from the hand of their Creator; the Paradise of God, into which no lurking serpent shall ever steal; the peaceful abode of the last Adam and His Bride; that sinless, tearless, unending Sabbath, where “God shall be all in all.” Thrice blessed as will be the thousand years of millennial rest and peace, they will not be the final rest of God with His people. Sin, although suppressed, will still lurk there. Death, the last enemy, will not have been destroyed: Satan will not have met his final doom. The thousand years of Immanuel’s reign, and of the beams of His glory on the earth, will not alter the heart of unregenerate men, and so we find the millennium will be followed by an outburst of man’s wickedness and hatred to God, more terrible and daring than any that had preceded it—an open attack on the glorified Christ upon His Throne. But, unlike that hour of His sorrow when He hung on Golgotha, in which His enemies gathered like ravening and roaring lions around Him and were allowed to vent their wrath upon Him unavenged, is this the day of His power. Swift judgment falls upon the assailants. So it is written—“fire came down from God out of Heaven and devoured them” (Rev. 20:9). This is followed by the final doom of Satan and his hosts, the judgment of the Great White Throne, and the passing away of the present heavens and earth. Then there shines out in bright and blessed splendour the new Heavens and the new earth “wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13), the fair eternal home and rest of God and His redeemed, into which the new Jerusalem is seen descending “as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev. 21:2). And, beloved fellow-saints, surely we should accustom our souls to think and meditate often on this ever-blessed vision, this Divine description of our eternal home. When we are absent from our earthly dwelling-place, where our friends and loved ones are, we often find our thoughts and affections turning thither. We cannot restrain them if we would. Unwittingly, shall I say, we find ourselves humming “there’s no place like home.” And if it be so with our earthly tent and those we love below, how much more ought it to be our habit to turn, with longing eye and heart, to that home and mansion which “eternally shall stand.” As the late beloved Robert Chapman sang—
May not an exile, Lord, desire
His own sweet land to see?
May not a captive seek release,
A prisoner, to be free?
A child when far away may long
For home and kindred dear;
And she that waits her absent
Lord May sigh till He appear.
Yet alas! how seldom do we hear its “glories confessed” with an ardour worthy of the theme. Saints of earlier and less-enlightened days, who knew less of the world than we do, had more to say about it. It may be they were behind us in their general knowledge, but it often occurs to me, as I read their utterances and listen there, as it were, to the breathings of their hearts, that they were miles ahead of us in their aspirations after heavenly things, and in their enjoyment of them. They were less at home on earth, and better acquainted with the City to which they were going. It was of this City that the aged Bernard so sweetly sang—
“Jerusalem the glorious! the home of the elect!
O dear and future country! our eager hearts expect,
E’en now by faith I see thee, e’en here thy walls discern
To thee my thoughts are kindled, and strive, and pant, and yearn.”
To view this fair City, the exiled John was led by an angel to a “great and high mountain.” Surely we may gather from this, that in order to have this glorious scene revealed to our hearts now, we need to be on the mount of God, in communion with Him in spirit, far from that world in which everything is so utterly opposed to Him. He sees the holy Jerusalem “descending out of Heaven from God” toward the earth. The first eight verses of Revelation 21 give a view of the City in its relation to the eternal state, the new heaven and the new earth: the following verses give a retrospective view of the City in its relation to millennial times, as we judge. The contrast between the restored heavens and earth of millennial times, and the freshly created heavens and earth of the eternal state, is plainly marked. In the millennial earth sin remains in the flesh of those inhabiting it, although not as now in manifested form: in the eternal state every trace of the fall, all “the former things” will have passed away. The leaves of the tree of life will be used for the “healing of the nations” during the millennium, whereas, in the eternal state their shall be “neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”
The New Jerusalem during the Millennium
The New Jerusalem is first seen descending toward the earth, but during the millennium it will not descend into the earth, but rather appear over it, the abode of Christ and His heavenly people, the seat of His government and glory. As one has said—“the Adamic earth is not adapted to its glory. It remains therefore throughout the millennium connected with the earth, but not in the earth, and it is not until the first heaven and earth have passed away, and new Heavens and a new earth created, that it descends again, and finds a home suited to its glory.” During the thousand years of Christ’s reign it would appear as if it occupied a place between the Heaven above—the dwelling place of God—and the earthly Jerusalem, the metropolis of the world of that time. It will be filled with the glory of God, and hung as a lamp to lighten the earth below with its holy light. “The nations shall walk amidst the light thereof” (Rev. 21:24, R.V.). The earthly Jerusalem, “the City of the Great King,” will be lit up by the beams of glory from the Heavenly City, as it is written—“Arise; shine for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” (Isa. 4:1). That glory will fill the Temple (Ezek. 43:1), and be a defence and a shadow to Jehovah’s earthly people (Isa. 4:5). “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it” (Isa. 4:1-5). The Transfiguration scene on the Mount was a foreshadowing of this blessed time. In the Heaven of heavens, high above all, God the Father is heard speaking. Lower down, and within the vision of those who stood upon the earthly Mount, Christ is seen transfigured, shining in heavenly glory, in company with Moses and Elias, fit types of the sleeping saints who have been raised and of the living changed without tasting death, while the earthly people, like Peter, James and John, basking in the light of that face which did “shine as the sun” are well able to see and hear the converse of the Heavenly company. So shall it be when the glory of God—now shining in the face of Jesus Christ, but hidden to the world—shall beam forth in all its brightness in the Heavenly City, and radiate through its crystal walls to the earth beneath.
The New Heavens and New Earth
“We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:13). This, although not the proximate hope of the Church, is the great end of the purpose of God: the final consummation of all His dispensational workings. Blessed and glorious as the millennial Kingdom will be, it falls short of absolute perfectness; it is not the “eternal glory” to which the saints have been “called” (1 Pet. 5:10): it is not the eternal rest of God and His redeemed. This rest will only be reached when every trace of sin and sorrow has been done away, when every mark of the fall and the curse has been wiped off: the last enemy destroyed, and the whole of God’s redeemed—including those who will live on the earth in mortal bodies during the millennium—have been brought into the perfectness and glory of the new creation. Then it is that all that connects itself with the first Adam and the first creation disappears for ever, the old heavens and earth pass away, and new heavens and a new earth appear, in which God will be all in all; the fair Paradise of God; the eternal home of the last Adam and His Bride, into which neither Satan, or sin, or sorrow shall ever enter. The glory of the new Heavens and new earth we can at present but feebly apprehend. The first creation was glorious ere sin had marred it: even now, amidst its groans for deliverance, there are traces of its great Creator’s hand, which proclaim His wisdom and His might. But the beauty and the glory of the new Creation will exceed the old, as the glory of Christ the Second Man exceeds that of the first Adam, who was of the earth. It will be a creation worthy of Him for whose glory it will be formed, and under, whose headship and dominion it will be placed. It will stand secure for ever in the power of His redemption—even the Lamb who was slain. With this glimpse of the Eternal State the curtain drops and the Scripture ends. The Book of God had opened with an account of the creation of the first heavens and earth, and with a view of the first Adam and his bride amid the beauties of an earthly paradise, with its tree of life and flowing rivers: and the Book of God now closes with a view of the new Heavens and the new earth, and of the Last Adam and His Bride amidst the eternal glories of the Paradise of God, where “the Tree of Life” for ever grows, and “the River of the Water of Life” unceasingly flows. Fair scene! over which no cloud shall ever roll, or day of sorrow come. Full well may we sing:—
“Beneath Thy touch, beneath Thy smile
New Heavens and earth appear,
No sin their beauty to defile,
Or dim them with a tear.”
The New Jerusalem in the Eternal State
It is to this new earth that John sees the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down from God as a Bride adorned for her husband. Her thousand years of millennial blessedness, during which she had flooded the earth with her glory beams, are past, but her freshness and beauty are still the same. She appears as a Bride adorned, clad in her bridal robes—in the fair, unfading loveliness of resurrection—descending now as the tabernacle of God: His eternal dwelling place among glorified men, whose capacities for the enjoyment of God, and for abiding in His presence will be perfect, His will shall then be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Heaven and earth will no longer be at variance as they now are, but in blessed unison, courts of the same glorious dwelling place of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Triune God of Light and Love—“ALL IN ALL.”
A View of the Holy City
To John’s enraptured vision the City is at length revealed and described by an angel. Surely it was of grace that God’s lonely witness was allowed to see this glorious sight of the Heavenly City and the calm, eternal Sabbath of rest that lay beyond the sorrows of his earthly lot. The sight of that Eternal City would never be forgotten. It would ever be present to him in his lonely Patmos. If we by grace have the vision made plain to us, our hearts shall be so won by it, that the world with all its tinsel glory, will fade and die. It will have no charm, no attraction, by reason of the glory that excelleth. Holy Jerusalem! Perfection of beauty! how our grovelling spirits need thee!
“Yes, I need thee, Heavenly City,
My low spirit to upbear;
Yes, I need thee; earth’s enchantments
So beguile me with their glare.
Let me see thee: then these fetters
Break asunder—I am free;
World! thy pomp no longer charms me,
Faith has won the victory.”
The Book of the Revelation abounds in symbols, and this description of the Heavenly City is chiefly symbolic in its character. Without attempting to expound these symbols—for we only know in part—yet surely we may gather from them the character of that Heaven and home to which God is leading us.
“The city was pure gold like unto clear glass.” Divine righteousness—absolute purity. “The building of the wall was of jasper,” a perfectly transparent medium; nothing to sully the Divine glory, as, alas! there is in us now. “The street (or broadway) of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.” No spot or stain contracted there! No more need of the Layer or Brazen Sea! All is purity, perfectness, holiness there. “The city lieth foursquare: the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal,” a transparent cube, fifteen hundred miles each way: perfect alike above, around, below. “And had a wall great and high”—perfect security: no roaring lion, no subtle serpent there. Watchfulness no longer needed; the day of the sword and shield is past. “The gates of it shall not be shut at all”—perfect freedom; yet “there shall in no wise enter it anything that defileth.” Solemn words for the sinner and the unclean. Gates open, yet no desire to enter. Hell would be more tolerable than such a Heaven to unregenerate man; everything holy and Christlike there.
“The charms that woo the senses
Shall be as pure as fair,
And all, while breathing o’er us,
Shall tell of Jesus there.”
“The city had no need of the sun”—“the glory of God did lighten it”—“the Lamb is the light thereof.” “The throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it.” All Divine: all of God and the Lamb. “The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s Land.”
“God and the Lamb—’tis well,
I know that source Divine;
Of joy and love no tongue can tell,
Yet know that all is mine.
God and the Lamb shall there
The light and temple be;
And radiant hosts for ever share
The unveiled mystery.”
“I saw no temple therein.” In the earthly city there will be a temple (Ezek. 41), but in the Heavenly City all are priests, and all abide equally near, in the holiest. “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple.” And, better than all the glory, “they shall see His face.” O blessed sight! Not a brief glance, but a long, eternal gaze. “Thou settest us before Thy face for ever,” and there, for ever like Thee and with Thee, and with all Thy redeemed, glorified in Thine image, we shall behold Thy glory and gaze upon Thy face throughout eternity. This shall be Thy people’s Heaven, and this their everlasting home.
“Soon where earthly beauty blinds not,
No excess of brilliance pails,
Salem! City of the Holy,
We shall be within thy walls.
There, beside yon crystal river,
There, beside life’s wondrous tree,
There, with nought to cloud or sever,
Ever with the Lamb to be,
Heir of glory,
That shall be for thee and me.”