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The Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Acts i. 11. "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? 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.”
My Brethren, we have been for some weeks examining the leading facts on which Christianity is founded. I have called your attention to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus as a fact, stating it distinctly, and drawing forth some of the most momentous truths connected with it. Then I brought before you the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead, showing you the nature and evidence of the fact, and the glad tidings of the truth connected with it. Then the ascension of our risen Lord into heaven, again stating with distinctness what the fact is, and pointing out the glorious truths resulting from it. On last Sunday I called your attention to the coming of the Holy Ghost as a fact, stating what and how it was, and pointing out some of the truths connected therewith.
I am now to direct you to another fact,—the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This differs essentially in our views from the former, in that they are all past, while this is future: they are history,—this still remains prophecy.
The reason why this makes such a difference with us, is, because we are in the habit of attributing more certainty to that which is actually done, than to that which is only promised. In this we are right when the word is the promise of man, because man is deceitful, and may promise against his intention of acting; or, granting him sincere, man is changeable, and may alter his mind after promising; or supposing him resolutely to endeavour to do what he honestly promises, he is weak and may be hindered by sickness, by calamity, or death, or by a variety of impediments with which he is continually surrounded, and over which he has no commanding control. But we must guard ourselves against applying this principle where God is concerned. The word of God is sure, “Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken and shall he not bring it to pass?” God is essentially truth,—he cannot deceive. God is
unchangeable,—he cannot alter his mind. God is almightyhe cannot be hindered by any impediment.
The first coming of Christ, to which we have been giving our attention, was long a theme of prophecy. It had its deep and imperishable roots in the word of God. At the fulness of the appointed time, it blossomed forth into manifest history. But now, centuries after it has come to pass, it is not a whit more certain, than it was centuries before it came to
pass: and our reliance on it, now that it is history, cannot be more safe than was the reliance upon it of Moses or Abraham, while it was prophecy.
The second coming of the Lord Jesus, is still prophecy. Here is a plain statement, delivered by angel messengers,* sent direct from God to address the astonished disciples of the ascending Saviour. “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?” They were awe-struck; they were stupified with amazement, and stood gazing up like men beside themselves. Why is this? said the angels: “this same Jesus who is taken
you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." This is the fact: this facť is not directly disputed by any persons professing and calling themselves Christians; it is reiterated in the Scriptures; it is embodied in the confession of every Christian Church: “He shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead.” But though generally admitted as a fact, it is not looked to,-it is not enjoyed,-it is not leaned on by the Christian Church, in the same manner as the fact of the first advent. It is contemplated only occasionally, and then, doubtfully, and of course, ineffectually. There is not that repose of soul upon it which we throw on the cross. And why not? God's word is as certain before accomplishment as after. One reason is, that the particulars of it are not understood. They are not examined as if men wished to know them; and we are all aware of the amazing difference it makes in our interest on any subject, whether we hear or read only the general statement, or are made acquainted with a variety of particulars. It is upon particulars that the mind dwells. Our attention is arrested by each as they successively pass in review, and thus the general object becomes invested with the combined interest of all the details. We have felt this when taking a view of the several particulars connected with our Lord's first coming. I wish now to adopt the same course connected with the second; in order, that, by having the subject broken into its constituent
* They are called men, Acts i. 10, and some suppose they were Moses and Elias, (See Luke 9.30,) others suppose, that although angels
; they were called men, because they appeared in the form of men, Gen. 18. 2.
parts, and presented in succession to our minds, the general vagueness may be dispersed, something of individuality and precision given to the subject, and we may experience that species of interest in it which it is our duty, and our Christian privilege to enjoy, in every word of God.
I.--The first point, then, to which I call your attention is the TIME of our Lord's coming again. This may be considered either directly, with regard to the age of the world, or relatively, with regard to other events which are also to take place.
1. In connection with the first we neither know nor can know the time precisely of our Lord's coming;—and for this simple reason, that God has not made it known. It is not recorded in the written word of God. It is not given to be revealed in the living word of God-Jesus Christ, God manifested in the flesh. It is amongst the secret things which are yet hid in the Father, who is God invisible. In this chapte we read, that when the Apostles asked our Lord if he would at that time restore the kingdom to Israel, they received this reply: “It is not for you to know the times and the seasons which the Father hath put in his own POWER. Mark this expression. Are not all things in God's power? Yes; but in a different
When God hath once spoken a thing it is out of his power, in a certain sense, not to fulfil his word. St. Paul
says of God, He cannot deny himself. And it is written, The Scripture cannot be broken. "If, then, a revelation had been given in Scripture of the time of restoring the kingdom to Israel, or the time of the second coming of Christ, God would in a certain sense have put it out of his
own power into that of the creatures who received the revelation; and he could not deny his own word: but if he has withheld any revelation of the matter,-if he has preserved silence upon the point,-if he has given no pledge: then he has kept it strictly within his own power: yet there is no doubtfulness in the mind of God as to the fulfilment of the purpose; it is as sure though he has not given a revelation, as if he had: it is his intention, and not his declaration, that constitutes true certainty. There is essential certainty in the mind of God,-revealed certainty in the word of God. If he has made no revelation, he has the point in his own power. This will explain the saying of our Lord in the 13th chapter of Mark, the 32nd verse: “Of that day and that hour knoweth no man;
no, not the angels which are in heaven, neilher the Son, but the Father. Not the Son, because he is God manifest the word of God. In the unity of the godhead, whatsoever the Father knoweth that knoweth the Son; but in his mediatorial communications to mankind-his Messiahship, or anointing to a specified office and work, this point is not among the things transcribed into God manifested in the Son, but is reserved in the unrevealed invisibility of the Father.
But it may be inquired, are there not prophetic periods revealed? Do we not read of 2300 days, and then the sanctuary shall be cleansed? And do we not read of 1260 days, and 1290 days, and that blessed is he that cometh to the 1335 days? And is there not much written in Daniel and the Apocalypse, explanatory of these dates? Most true. And those students of God's word and providence, who examine into those periods, with all the advantages of accurate historical information, and critical acquaintance with the original languages, do well, very well, and are entitled to the gratitude of the Church. Much may doubtless be ascertained, and much that is valuable: but still the precise date of the Lord's Advent cannot be known. matter of dispute, whether the above-mentioned periods of prophetic chronology are to be considered as literal days, or as years of 360 days each. But rejecting as untenable, for many reasons, the notion of literal days, still the periods in question are involved in obscurity as to their commencement, and consequently of course as to their termination.* And even if
It is yet a
* This remark applies also to the chronology of the world: so that the exact time of the Lord's Advent would be still unknown, even if we could adopt with confidence the interpretation of St. Barnabas. Consider, says that Father of the Apostolic age, consider, my children, what that signifies, he finished them in six days. The meaning of it is this: that in six thousand years the Lord God will bring all things to an end. For with him one day is a thousand years, as himself testifieth, saying, Behold! this day shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, shall all things be accomplished. And what is that he saith, And he rested the seventh day? He meaneth this; that when his Son shall come, and abolish the season of the wicked one, and judge the ungodly, and shall change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then he shall gloriously rest in that seventh day.—Epist. Barn. $ xv. Archbishop Wake's Translation.
Many persons feel disposed to place much reliance upon the statements of the primitive Fathers, as being the most competent interpreters of the mind of the Apostles. I know not how the above passage will fare with such persons; whether they will deem it decisive in the way of scriptural interpretation, and of course adopt it; or whether they will adventure an exercise of private judgment, arraign it at the bar of Scripture, and deny that there is any sufficient foundation for it—as we presume to do with another statement in the same epistle of St. Barnabas:--Understand, therefore, children, these things more fully, that Abraham, who was the first that brought in circumcision, looking forward
in the Spirit to Jesus, circumcised, having received the mystery of three letters. For the Scripture says that Abraham circumcised three hundred and eighteen men of his house. But what, therefore, was the mystery that was made known unto him? Mark first the eighteen, and next the three hundred. For the numbered letters of ten and eight are I H; and these denote Jesus. And because the cross was that by which we were to find grace, therefore he adds three hundred; the note of which is T, the figure of the cross. Wherefore, by two letters he signified Jesus, and by the third his cross. He who has put the engrafted gift of this doctrine within us, knows that I never taught to any one a more certain truth: but I trust that ye are worthy of it.-Ibid. s ix. Wake's Translation.
The writings of Paul and Barnabas are as different in tone and character, as if many centuries had intervened between the two men. The reason is obvious. Paul was kept from Judaising by special inspiration of God. Barnabas was not.