CHAPTER 10 - Unfulfilled Prophecy - Three Future Comings of Christ


As noticed in preceding pages, there will be not less than three future Comings of Christ.
(1) That Coming by which this Christian dispensation of the reign of grace and the heavenly Church will be brought to an end;
(2) "the Coming of the Son of Man," in fulfilment of Messianic prophecy, to bring deliverance and blessing to His earthly people; and
(3) His Coming to judgment in a far distant future, at the close of the kingdom dispensation. But though the Coming of Christ is the hope of His people in every age, Theology gives us nothing but the "Second Advent" of His coming to judgment; and thus disposes, not only of the Christian's hope in the present dispensation, but of Israel's hope in the dispensation which is to follow it.
For while Christianity is based upon the teaching of Holy Scripture, "the Christian religion" depends largely upon the teaching of the Latin Fathers. And before the era of the great Patristic theologians "the hope of the Church" had already been forgotten; and Messianic prophecy had been so perverted or "spiritualised" as to shut out Israel's hope altogether.
But here a question of extreme importance claims attention. The saints of the Apostolic age were taught to live "in constant expectation of the Lord's return." How then is the delay of nineteen centuries to be accounted for? The Infidel's answer is that the Apostolic teaching was false. And some Christians would have us believe that, although the saints were divinely taught "to live looking for that blessed hope," it was settled by a Divine decree that the Lord would not come until long centuries had run their course. If these be the alternative solutions of the problem, most of us will take sides with the Infidel. For though the loss of the Epistles would be a disaster, it would be infinitely worse to charge the God of truth with flagrant untruthfulness of a kind that would not be tolerated in our fellow-men. But we reject both alternatives with scorn. Some, again, would tell us that owing to the evil history of the Church on earth, even from the earliest times, the promise is cancelled, and the hope it engendered is lost. But though God is often said to have "repented" in regard to threatened judgments, Scripture records no instance of His failing to fulfil a promise of blessing. Many a case, however, can be cited where the fulfilment was delayed because of unfaithfulness or sin on the part of His people. And does not this suggest the right solution of our difficulty?
But if the Lord delays His Coming until "the Church" is what it ought to be, is not the promise practically cancelled? Yes; but it was not to the Church that He gave the promise, but to His elect people scattered throughout the Church. And nowhere is it given more explicitly than in the very Scriptures which foretell the Church's apostasy and doom. Plain words are needed here. For in these days, when the Protestant spirit is waning in our land, there is no influence, perhaps, more harmful to Christian life than the prevalent superstitious and errors respecting "the outward frame of Christendom," "the Christian Church," as it is called. Our position in it and our attitude toward it ought to be akin to that which the Lord taught His disciples to maintain toward "the Jewish Church." They were in it, and yet, in a real sense, not of it. For though Divine in its origin and as to its responsibilities, it had apostatised. It was, in fact, "the world" of His prayer on their behalf (John xvii. 16). And as Bishop Westcott wrote of "the Christian Church," the world got into it in the fourth century, and has never since been got out of it. The crisis to which he referred was, presumably, the Conversion of Constantine. When wolves are about, the sheep keep near to the shepherd. And so, till then, the danger of persecution kept the Christians near to the Lord. But the century which followed was marked by such apostasy that, even in the sphere of morals, "the Christian Church" sank to the level of the heathen world.
The account given of it in Salvian's celebrated treatise on "Providence," written in the middle of the fifth century, is appalling. Here are two typical sentences from it:- "A very few excepted who flee from evil, what else is almost every assembly of Christians but a sink of vices. . . . I put it now to the conscience of all Christians whether it be not so, that you will hardly find one who is not addicted to some of the vices and crimes which I have mentioned; or rather, who is it that is not guilty of all ?
(Footnote - full extracts in "The Bible or the Church")
The first Divine warning which Scripture gives of the apostasy of the Church is the Apostle's Paul's address to the Elders of Ephesus (Acts xx. 29, 30). And it is an extremely significant fact that while his Epistles written prior to that epoch were addressed to Churches, his "Captivity" Epistles were addressed to "the Saints at Ephesus "; "the Saints at Phiippi "; "the Saints at Colosse."
In these evil days we need to hold fast the great truth which Bishop John Ryle, of Liverpool, championed so fearlessly, that "there is only one true Church," the spiritual fold which includes only those who are Christians in the deeper sense. His Christian Leaders of the Last Century is, incidentally, a grave indictment of "the Christian Churches" in our land. He shows, indeed, that at that epoch they were the enemies of Christ and of His people. When toward the end of the eighteenth century William Carey sought to excite interest in missions to the heathen, among his brethren in the Baptist Ministry, he was put down as a troublesome faddist. For "if the heathen were elect, they would be saved without their help; and if God wished them to send out missionaries He would renew the gift of tongues." And when Carey and Thomas sailed for India in June, 1793, they went out as emissaries, not of "the Christian Church," but of a dozen Baptist Ministers- "troublesome faddists "-assembled in the low-roofed back parlour of Widow Wallis, at Kettering, in October, 1792. Thus was launched, to quote Sydney Smith's sneer, by a few 'consecrated cobblers,' the first English mission to the heathen in India.'
If the men who took the initiative in work of this kind had waited for "the Christian Church " to promote missions to the heathen, the heathen would possibly be still unevangelised. For even the Church Missionary Society was the offspring of the despised "Clapham Sect." The meeting at which it was founded was held in neither Westminster Abbey nor St. Paul's, but in a hired room in a poor sort of City inn. And it was not till forty years afterwards that Ecclesiastical dignitaries accorded it their patronage. For by that time all the Churches had begun to feel the influence of the Evangelical revival of the early decades of last century.
Still deeper and far more widespread was the influence of the revival which marked the middle of the century. But no sooner did the spiritual power of that revival begin to wane than a new apostasy set in. And as the result our National Church has been so thoroughly corrupted by Romanising influences that it is no longer Protestant, and the great Evangelical Party is but a memory of the past. And all our British Churches have been leavened with the Kultur of that German infidelity which has reduced that nation morally to the level of savages.
But what bearing has all this upon the truth of the Lord's Coming? It is owing to a false estimate of "the Church" that so many devout Christians neglect that truth, seeing that it is ignored in all our doctrinal standards. It will be said, perhaps, that it has no place in the "dogmatic theology" of the Epistles. True, for it is a fact of great significance that the Coming of the Lord is never mentioned as a doctrine that needed to be expounded, but only as a truth with which every Christian was supposed to be familiar.
And the reason of this is clear. For the very first day on which a convert was privileged to enter a Christian assembly he heard the words, "As often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till He come." And if "unlearned in doctrine," he might well ask, "But has He not come? ", and then all would be explained to him; and ever afterwards, as week by week he heard those charter words, the hope of the Coming would be inseparably linked with the atoning death of Christ.
But with Christians generally all this is now forgotten, and the Lord's Supper points only back to Calvary. And it is too commonly associated with "the cult of the Crucifix," which reaches the Pagan level in "the reservation of the Sacrament" and "the Mass." Indeed, there are many, even among spiritual Christians, who habitually speak of the Supper as "remembering the Lord's death." We do thus "proclaim the Lord's death "; but the vital and essential element in the sacred rite is that to which the Lord's own words give emphasis: "This do in remembrance of ME "-not a dead Christ, but an absent Saviour and Lord.
If then, shaking free from every false or superstitious estimate of "the Church" and its theology, the Lord's Supper regained its right place in Christian thought and Christian experience, the truth of the Coming would be restored to the place it held in Apostolic days; and a vague sort of intellectual faith in a "Second Advent" in a vastly distant future, would give place to a real heart-belief in the Lord's return, as a present hope, to cheer and oomfort us in sorrow, and to influence character and conduct in our daily life.
Of days in Israel when their religious leaders failed them it was written, "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another; and the Lord listened, and He heard it; and a book of remembrance was written before Him." And in these days of ours let us remember that it was not "the Church" or its leaders that promoted missions to the heathen, but a few lightly-esteemed Christians who were fired with the enthusiasm of faith in God. And if even a very few spiritual Christians in every place would begin to "speak often one to another" about the Coming of the Lord they would soon come together to pray for His return. And from such small beginnings, it may be that, for the first time in the history of Christendom, companies of His people shall be found meeting together to claim 'the fulfilment of His promise, "Surely I am coming quickly," and to pray the prayer which He Himself has given us, "Even so, come Lord Jesus."