The Coming and the Day of the Lord: Part 4

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ALAS! we are told in terms of uncalled for vehemence that in no school of French or German rationalism is there a bolder subversion of the predictions of God than in this fable! that 1 Thess. 4:1616For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (1 Thessalonians 4:16), with of course 2 Thess. 2:11Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, (2 Thessalonians 2:1) (which, as all admit, synchronizes), is, or could be, unheard by the world. But where is, or what implies, the world here? The apostle is showing how God will bring with Christ the departed saints. The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a call of command (κελεύσματι), with archangel's voice, and trump of God. It is exclusively to raise the sleeping saints and change us who remain alive for His presence, when both are caught up together in clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Not a word implies that the world hears at that moment, not a word that earth and heaven are shaken. Not only is there total silence as to these bold importations, but we are expressly taught by the same apostle that, “when He shall be manifested, then shall ye also be manifested with Him in glory.” We must therefore have been caught up before the common manifestation of Him and His in the same glory. This violence is beneath a sober believer. It is absurd to say that the archangel's voice or the trumpet of God must be heard beyond the saints concerned. When the day comes for man to be raised for the resurrection of judgment, we are told of neither. The voice of their Judge will raise for their doom those that believed not but did evil. We may not add more without divine authority. We have seen how different it will be when the Son of man comes on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory to gather together His elect of Israel from the four winds. Here the rapture on high is not hinted. It is His presence for the earthly people, and therefore as expressly for all on earth to see (Rev. 1:77Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. (Revelation 1:7)); as the other was to gather on high the heavenly ones. Only ignorance can set the one in opposition to the other; and ignorance is apt to be impatient, self-willed, and abusive against what it has not learned from God in scripture. But such a spirit condemns itself to considerate children of God.
The distinction therefore of 2 Thess. 2:11Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, (2 Thessalonians 2:1), and 8 (the presence of Christ simply, and the appearing of His presence) is precise, instructive, and undeniable. The one is to gather together the saints to Christ above; the other is for Him (and we may say for all His saints thus gathered to appear with Him) to crush His enemies. It is then that every eye shall see Him, as it concerns every soul on earth. Timothy was solemnly charged in the First Epistle to keep the commandment spotless, irreproachable, till the Lord's appearing; because responsibility always refers to that day. The rapture is grace to all the saints equally caught up to Christ on high. The appearing will manifest the fidelity or the failure of each saint. Hence the apostle still more straitly testifies by, or charges, His appearing and His kingdom on Timothy in preaching the word and in all his other service; and he connects the crown of righteousness, which the righteous Judge will render “in that day” (not at His presence simply), with His appearing to those who love it.
It would be crass indeed for any to say that the epiphany or appearing of Christ is secret. The question is entirely whether the Spirit of God does not draw a plain and sure distinction between the presence of the Lord to gather His own, and the appearing of His presence to destroy the lawless one and his adherents. If His presence necessarily conveyed appearing, how could the apostle write as he did in the same context, 2 Thess. 2:11Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, (2 Thessalonians 2:1) and 8? If he meant us to learn the distinction, how could he have intimated it more exactly? It is well to leave it to the late Prof. Jowett and the incredulous school to teach that the apostle wrote loosely and reasoned ill.
The world will have bowed down to the antichrist. Gentiles as well as Jews will have accepted him. Just as the blessed Lord Jesus is both the true Messiah and the God of Israel, so this lawless personage, the man of sin, will set up to be both Messiah and Jehovah of Israel; and kings, classes, and masses, will be led away by the fatal delusion. The same unbelief which rejects the true will cringe abjectly to the false. It is Satan's woe for the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea, for those of settled government and for those in a revolutionary state. These are the dismal prospects of the world according to the scriptures. A far different future fills the imagination of men generally. Why wonder at this? How can they truly prognosticate what is to be? No man can discern the future unless by faith he profits by the light of God's prediction, and declines going beyond it.
What is particularly awful for that day is the intimation in verse 12 of our chapter, which connects with the lawless one. “Whose presence is according to the working of Satan in all power and signs and wonders of falsehood, and in all deceit of unrighteousness to those that perish, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this reason God sendeth them a working (or, energy) of error, that they should believe the lie, that they all might be judged who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Here we see that Satan will work in imitative counteraction of God's power that wrought in Christ. It is no trickery of priests or monks, no winking Madonnas, or liquefying blood, or profane fire ostensibly of the Holy Ghost. The same terms are here used of Satan's energy in the man of sin, as Peter employed in Acts 2:2222Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: (Acts 2:22) of the Lord Jesus as demonstrated by God to the Jews. On the other hand God will give up men by a judicial blindness to believe the lie of Satan that man, and especially this man of sin, is supreme God; so that he even dares to sit down in the sanctuary, showing that he is God. It will be divine retribution. They had rejected the truth, they had no love for it that they might be saved. They imputed the undeniable works of power and wonders and signs of the Lord Jesus to Beelzebub; they ascribe to the only God those of Satan by this minion of his, the man of sin. As the Jews were at last given up to blindness for their unbelief, so will Christendom be. Jews, professing Christians, &c., will combine to worship the son of perdition, as Jews and Gentiles united to crucify the Lord of glory. And the last will be worse than the first. “I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.”
But at this very time among the distant and till then heathen nations will be a great and true work of God's mercy, when godly Jews, forced to flee from the scene of the antichrist in Jerusalem sustained by the dragon-honored Roman Emperor, are used of God to win a countless throng of Gentiles by preaching the gospel of the kingdom; as we learn by comparing Matt. 24:1414And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14) with 25:31 to the end, also with Rev. 7:99After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; (Revelation 7:9), &c., and 14:6, 7. It is an “everlasting gospel.”
The lawless one as here depicted must await the dreaded hour when God sends judicial darkness, and the western powers and the Beast animated by Satan like the False Prophet combine against Jehovah and His Anointed. But the Lamb shall overcome them (for He is Lord of lords and King of kings), and they that are with Him, called and chosen and faithful (Rev. 17:14; 19:1414These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful. (Revelation 17:14)
14And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. (Revelation 19:14)
Of course many will tell us how dangerous it is to predict; and so it would be for them, us, or any uninspired men. But the study of prophecy is calculated and meant to keep us from predicting. Those who value and study the written word should be humble enough to praise God for the lamp of prophecy. If you despise the inspired prophecies, you may set up to be a prophet; and if you do so, who can wonder if you are a false one? God alone knows and can tell the future. But God has revealed it; and we have the responsibility of believing or of being infidel, A man cannot truly believe these things without their leaving a divine impress upon his soul. If you have Christ the hope in your heart, show it in your hand and on your forehead, seeking to stand true to Him whom you believe. The Lord Jesus is coming; but He is to appear also. He is not merely coming to receive His own, when the result will be in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Cor. 15:5252In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:52)). That the world should see the change and translation of the saints, as it is unknown to the scriptures, so it seems neither necessary nor fitting1.
The Lord has many ways of taking His own to Himself without death. Suppose the Lord were to cause a tremendous earthquake to happen, would not the wise men of the world say that the Christians had been swallowed up in the earthquake? It is easy enough to conceive a way in which the Lord could conceal the matter; but He does not conceal from us, nor will He from men, what He will do to the misleader of the Roman world or others. He will not conceal His judgment from the world, and even the various forms and times in which it will fall. Then certainly He will be manifest to every eye. Hence we find that, whenever judgment is in question, manifestation characterizes it.
When the Lord Jesus in His sovereign grace called Saul of Tarsus, his companions were allowed to feel the tokens of some extraordinary action going on, though they knew nothing about it really. There were not a few in the throng going to Damascus, yet only one man saw the Lord Jesus. All the rest heard but an inarticulate sound. They did not hear the words of His mouth; Saul of Tarsus did. Then, again, we find Philip caught up and carried to another place; but what did the world know of all that? There was a subsequent occasion when the apostle Paul was caught up into the third heaven. But this was so far from being divulged for the sake of the world, that the apostle says only “whether in body or out of the body, I know not: God knoweth.” Nothing, then, is easier than for the Lord to conceal or show things partially on these occasions; but He will display them on a grand scale when the judgment of the world comes, after taking on high His people previously.
But as already said, there is a bearing on service. Timothy was to keep the injunction, laid on him, spotless, irreproachable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 6:1414That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: (1 Timothy 6:14)). There is a pressure of responsibility; and responsibility in scripture attaches to His appearing, as sovereign grace does to His coming and receiving us to Himself for the Father's house. But it is the merest fallacy to conclude that our abiding on earth till then is implied in keeping it, any more for us than for Timothy. Neither departure to be with Christ nor being caught up to be with the Lord at His coming hinders like fidelity on our part or on his. But another principle is involved.
It is the same principle in 2 Tim. 4:1, 81I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; (2 Timothy 4:1)
8Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)
. Responsibility is again impressed, and with especial force not only for Timothy but for all saints who love His appearing. The verse is as plain as it is solemn and important. “Henceforth is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge will award to me in that day; and not only to me, but also to all that have loved (and do love) his appearing.” His coming for us would here be quite inappropriate, because it would simply imply being caught up to be ever with Him But His appearing is the day when faithfulness will be revealed publicly, and the work of each be made manifest; and if it abide the test of that day which declares, each shall receive reward according to his own labor. Besides, even now to love His appearing, who will judge every evil thing and set right the world long disordered and envenomed by the Serpent, is not only a joy, but the deeper because all will be to His praise whose appearing will alone bring it to pass. Were one filled with earthly care, or courting wealth and honor of men, how could one love His appearing who will judge it all and establish His righteous reign? It is indeed a “blessed hope” (Titus 2:1313Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; (Titus 2:13)), though there be what is incomparably more in being with the Lord Himself in the Father's house, and beholding His glory outside and above the world (John 17:2424Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:24)).
Let us refer to one scripture more and a solemn one, Rev. 17. Two evil objects of judgment are set before us; one called the great Harlot, the other the Beast. The first object is seen sitting upon many waters, “with whom the kings of the earth” &c. (verses 1-6). At first they are together: the corrupt woman, seated upon a well-known and remarkably characterized Beast; the Beast with seven heads and ten horns, the meaning of which symbols is not doubtful. Much may be gathered by comparing verse 1 here with verses 9, 10 of chap. 21. “And there came unto me” &c. Is it not plain from the comparison, that the one is the counterpart of the other? that Babylon, the harlot, is Satan's sad contrast to the bride, the Lamb's wife? As the one is the holy city having the glory of God, the bride of the Lamb, the other corrupts herself with the kings of the earth, to their corruption also. This explains why she is styled “Harlot.” She is the great ruling city of the world, which has her kingdom over the kings to their ruin. Not so the church glorified, the body of Christ, the Lamb s wife. “And the nations shall walk by her light; and the kings of the earth bring their glory unto her” (the heavenly city). The bride is said to be “the holy city, Jerusalem,” that comes down out of heaven from God. This, then, is the holy (not the great) city. If we read in the ordinary text “He showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem,” the word “great” ought, as is known, to be expunged, and the word “holy” transposed to take its place, “the holy city, Jerusalem.”
But still the very fact that the holy city, Jerusalem, is the church glorified, gives no little help for understanding Babylon. What is the religious body which under the shelter of Christ's name, pretends to be the mother of all the churches? Can anyone hesitate? Was there ever a system of such varied idolatry, hypocritical corruption, and atrocious cruelty in the Savior's name?
Granted, that much evil has been done by mischievous men actuated by strong feeling in so-called established churches, the national body of this country, the national body of Scotland, and that of any other land; but what is this in comparison with the pretensions of her that claims all countries and tongues, kings as well as subjects? Can there be a question who and what she is? Has there ever been any but this one, the great harlot that sits upon the many waters?
There can be no reasonable doubt about the meaning of Babylon; but, as if to preclude the possibility, we have several marks. First, she dominated once the Beast as none ever else did, arrayed in all the world's splendor, and earth's richest ornaments. Next, she abandoned herself up to illicit union with the kings of the earth for their gifts of power. Then, her golden cup was full of abominations, and “the unclean things of her fornications” beyond all rivalry. Lastly, she is a vindictive claimant,2 the most unrelenting of persecutors, drunk with the blood of the saints. Have you not heard of an ecclesiastical body which thinks it her duty, for the love of God and the good of men's souls, to exterminate heretics? She is herself as innocent as Pilate. She kills none; she only hands them over to the civil power to be punished! Alas! there never was a Pagan power, nor the worst of Jewish fanatics, nor the most frenzied of Mohammedan scourges, which so tortured the saints of God as Babylon has done. So clear is her identification that one needs not even to tell her very name. Surely the truth must be very evident when it is unnecessary to say who she is to the most unlettered, where the Bible is read.
Nor is this nearly all we are told here. The last verse says, “The woman is the great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth.” There is a distinction we may note here. The chapter does not confound the harlot and the woman. It is the woman that is declared to be the symbol of the ruling city. This is unquestionable, for there never was one that ruled as this city did. The better history is known, the more it will be felt that Rome only it can be. That one city ruled more and longer than any other since the world began; and everybody in the apostle's day would know where that city lay and what was its name.
It was not Athens; for Athens could never for any considerable time rule even Greece. It was not Jerusalem before, nor Constantinople since. Some think that this refers to a future Babylon in Chaldea; but such a city must be built on the plain of Shinar. How then could it be truly said to be built on seven hills? So many heaps of her ruins could hardly be an answer. The old Chaldean capital had been a. great city; it passed away, and only remains to occupy the curiosity of learned men. Here was one ruling over the kings of the earth. But one city could be said so to reign in the days of John, and no city ever has so reigned since. London, vaster than any and of world-wide influence, is in no sense reigning over the kings of the earth.
This city was to become the harlot, and so to exercise power over the Roman Beast or empire, the Beast of seven heads and of ten horns. But at first sight there is a difficulty here; for the Roman empire has disappeared. It existed and has fallen. How then are we to understand the chapter? The historian tells us that the Roman empire long ago declined and fell. There he stops; he could not lift the veil; and alas he believed not in God's revelation. Not history explains prophecy, but prophecy explains history. Prophecy is the, true and divine key to the prospects of the world. Accordingly here is the explanation—the Beast that then was, the Roman Beast, would cease to exist. “The Beast that thou sawest was, and is not.” Its vast power was to perish; and the infidel historian chronicles the fact. But behold in the word another thing which history could not divine. If God's word is true and sure, the Roman Beast is to revive. It is well known that its revival has been essayed. Charlemagne tried; Napoleon the First tried; Napoleon the Third would have liked well to have tried. Not that one has sympathy with those who pretend to forecast the person. There were many that fixed on the last-named fallen potentate; and a few cling still to the notion of a relative. They are premature: better leave guess-work to such as do not search into prophecy.
Here is the word of God. Why should any predict? You had better not pretend to it; the word of God has spoken already; be content with His predictions. Now the word of God has said nothing of the sort; it speaks of the Beast that should ascend out of the bottomless pit (or, abyss), and go into perdition. Why add to this? Why speculate? Let us only believe. The restrainer will then be gone. Diabolical power will revive the Roman empire. And they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the Beast that was, and is not, and—. The common reading “and yet is” (καίπερ) is incorrect. “And shall be present” καὶ πάρεσται) is the true reading and sense. Here, then, we have the clearest intimation that the Roman empire is to be reconstructed, under the most fatal influence for a little, before the age ends and the Lord returns in judgment.
Let us look back for a moment at the history of the world, and compare it with the present and the future. In the time of John the Roman empire ruled the known world. The empire had then but one governor or chief. Gradually the power began to weaken and wane. First came the division into east and west. Then some time afterward the Germanic barbarians broke up the Western empire and founded those separate kingdoms of Europe, which, after feudalism, passed into the constitutional monarchies of modern times. Such has been the result of the breaking up of the Roman empire. Here we find the two conditions: the Beast that was, and the Beast that is not. But it “shall ascend out of the abyss (or, bottomless pit).” This will be a new trait in the world's history. The worst of powers is better than anarchy; the most grinding tyrannies are safer than no authority at all. But a new state is to rise for the old power, absolutely without God, and under Satan's unhindered agency, drowning men in perdition.
It is evident that, whatever changes may have occurred in the world's affairs, there has never been a power without the sanction of God, bad as its exercise of authority may have been. The letting loose of the power of Satan is not yet, because there is One who withholds now (2 Thess. 2); but when He withdraws the hindrance, the beast ascends out of the bottomless pit. Here John of course speaks symbolically of the Roman empire in its last Satanic uprising to power. In the end of this age Satan will be allowed by God to re-establish that great object of human ambition. Men are even now yearning after an energetic central authority in the West. It is the plain fact that the ten horns, or kingdoms (supposing for the moment that the kingdoms of Western Europe comprised just ten), have no political coherence. One of their marked features has been that they are constantly in danger of war with each other. They have sought, by what they term “the balance of power,” to maintain a measure of mutual understanding, peace, and order. But in consequence of this very arrangement no one power has been allowed to get the upper hand.
Many have desired it; but the result of their policy, when action has been tried before the time, is that such prove abortive and perish. By and by it will be accomplished. Then the Beast will be reconstituted. There will be unity, one central authority, without extinguishing the separate kingdoms, save that the little horn acquires three. Thus there will be the revived Roman empire with distinct kingdoms. The future state will consist of the imperial headship, along with the subordinate kingdoms of the once united western empire. The balance of power will then be required no longer in the West. But in the East and North there will be mighty adversaries whom some so ignore that they confound as if they all were the same, though one will besiege, and the other be besieged. Between them all the day is coming when Satan will deceive the world. God will accomplish His own purpose of gathering out His saints to Himself. Then the world is allowed to have its little moment, when Satan has consummated his power on earth. (See Rev. 17:12, 1312And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings, which have received no kingdom as yet; but receive power as kings one hour with the beast. 13These have one mind, and shall give their power and strength unto the beast. (Revelation 17:12‑13).)
The state here described is perfectly unexampled before or since the fall of the Roman empire. One knows the independence of even the least of the kingdoms. They do not like others to interfere, if they be ever so little. Several too join—some for, and some against. Such is the way things have long gone on in the political field of the West.
Here the principle of national independence will have disappeared. Separate or party action is all gone. The time is come for a vast change in the world. This will be the character of it: a great imperial power, called the Beast; not absorbing all, but wielding the separate powers of the west. The Beast is a type of strength, no doubt, but absolutely destitute of reference to God. So it has been really throughout; but then boldly and avowedly rejecting God at the close. The western imperial system will have thrown off all care for God or thought of Him, yea it will defy Him. Apostasy will have prepared the way. This imperial power will have the direction of the properly Roman dominion, the western nationalities of Europe.3 The separate kings will be flattered with the idea that they have each a separate existence and will. But they are only as the sinews of the strong man who sways them all. What follows their destruction of Babylon? “These shall make war with the Lamb.”
What a difference from the blessed reign of peace and righteousness, no less than from what men dream as the gradually optimist future! On the other hand, the saints come from heaven, being with the Lamb when the conflict arrives. (Compare Rev. 19:1414And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. (Revelation 19:14).) Being changed, they are forever with the Lord, and follow Him out of heaven. So, when the final contest arises between the Lord Jesus and Satan represented by the leader of the West, the Lord is accompanied by His saints. They are here styled “called, and faithful, and chosen.” Some have thought they must be angels; but this they are not. For angels are never called “faithful.” And, again, they are said to be not merely chosen but “called.” How could an angel be “called”? Calling is an appeal of grace, which comes to one who has gone astray in order to bring him back to God. But this is never true of an angel. The gospel is God's calling fallen and guilty man to give him, through faith and because of redemption, a place with Christ in heaven. Those who believe on Him are here shown to be with Him; and they are “called, and faithful, and chosen.” They have been there from Rev. 4 or rather just before, as the chapter implies.
But there is more. What becomes of the woman? We hear about her too in verse 15, where we discern her vast quasi-spiritual influence. It is not a national body (inconsistent with the true nature of the church as this must be), but an idolatrous, persecuting, pretentiously religious system, claiming to be the spouse of Christ, but really an unclean harlot that extends her corruption over all the world. For if Rome be her center, she sits upon the many waters, peoples, and crowds and nations and tongues. How easily seen who and what she is, and what only such a system can he! There is but one such in Christendom, though she has daughters too.
Further notice (as in verse 16), what a change takes place!4 Instead of these horns, or kings of the West, being any longer subjected to Babylon, they turn furiously with the Beast against her. Would it not be an incredibly strange thing for the Pope to turn against his own church or city? Hence the Pope is not the Beast, and has nothing directly to do with Babylon's destruction. It is the symbol of the empire in its last phase, when the Beast from the abyss is thus joined by the various leaders of the different kingdoms of the West against that proud and most guilty system.
Babylon had long intoxicated men, persecuted the saints, and dallied with the kings of the earth. Now the turn of the tide comes: Babylon was not of God, but a corrupt idolatrous imposture. But there is nothing of Christ's mind in her destroyers. It is Satan against Satan, and his kingdom shall come to naught. The end of the haughty world-church is come, and, soon after, that of her destroyers. The Beast and the ten horns, throughout the Western empire, have their one mind in this revolt from the Roman harlot, to strip, eat, and burn her, according to the language of the prophecy.
There are solemn premonitory signs even now. Let me mention only one fact noticed by both Romanists and Protestants. You are all aware of Ecumenical Councils lately held in Rome. One distinctive character is remarkable, as emphatically indicative of the change that has taken place even among the Western powers. For the first time the Pope could not ask one Catholic sovereign to sit in the council. It was composed simply and exclusively of priests. Not a single ambassador or representative of the crowned heads was there. There never was such a state of things before in medieval or modern Europe. Originally indeed, at Nice, it was not the Pope who convened or took the lead but the Emperor, who at least kept the turbulent bishops in a measure of order.
Granted, that infidelity underlies the change. It is overflowing even now everywhere, as by and by the Beast will be steeped up to the eyes in blasphemy. He and the horns will be given over to the hatred of God, while at the same time they will at last hate the Harlot which had deceived them so long. It is a violent reaction against the vileness of Babylon, but no less a rejection of divine truth. You see its spirit in our own country and day. Leading men glory without shame in spoiling the religious dignitaries and their earthly goods. This is going on in all lands; but the end of it will have a deeper dye. Do men call it “the Eternal City"? Alas! the Romish priests keep it hidden from their hearts that Babylon, the great city of the west, is doomed to be thrown down and found no more at all, but her smoke to rise up unto the ages of the ages, everlasting like Sodom and Gomorrah, when the Lord reigns over the earth, and the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.
It is not of course meant that we are yet come to the Beast and the ten horns of Rev. 17. But enough has been said to show the rapid trend of the present times—the strong way in which the wind blows in the West. Men prepare to turn violently against what they had been so long enslaved to. As the end approaches, the word of God asserts its majesty and power to men of faith, as fresh as at the beginning, but by the mass is more and more slighted and scorned. We are verging toward the close of the profession of Christianity on the earth, when the Lord again leads His own to go forth and meet the Bridegroom. Besides, we have these admonitory symptoms that the world gets weary of hollow earthly religion, and becomes ashamed of forms which are themselves no better than empty superstitions. And no wonder, for there is not an outward ordinance remaining, scarcely even a form, which has not been utterly perverted, as well as the truth itself to a great extent ignored or denied.
A Christian must be beyond measure prejudiced by his earthly system and too excited against the fuller and heavenly truth, who could dream of saying, “Coming to take vengeance is the primary object of His leaving heaven.” Had he annexed and limited vengeance to “the day of the Lord,” he might perhaps be justified; but it is so flagrantly opposed both to 1 Thess. 4:16, 1716For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16‑17), and to 2 Thess. 2:11Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, (2 Thessalonians 2:1), that God's word condemns the unspiritual deliverance beyond appeal, and proves the importance of distinguishing between “that day” and “the presence of the Lord” which has for its primary object the gathering of His saints to Himself above. Not a hint is breathed in 1 Cor. 15:5656The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. (1 Corinthians 15:56), more than in those Epistles of vengeance or judgment in awry form or degree. The one speaks of “a mystery"; because to raising the dead saints, which is no mystery but an O. T. truth, the apostle adds the new revelation that “we” (Christians) “shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in an eye's twinkling, at the last trumpet; for it shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” The other says, as an equally new revelation, that after the dead saints rise, we the living that remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall be always with the Lord. They are the divine expression of grace, and of nothing but grace.
Shortsighted brethren (and they are many, if this be a comfort to them) confound this heavenly gathering together with the wholly different gathering together of the “elect” of Israel, as in Matt. 24 where not a word implies any catching up to join the Lord. They are scattered to all quarters and need to be gathered, when the time comes for the Son of man's presence for the earth. They are expressly called His “elect” in Isa. 65:9, 15, 229And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there. (Isaiah 65:9)
15And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord God shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name: (Isaiah 65:15)
22They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. (Isaiah 65:22)
, as in Matt. 24:31. As in the same verse “a great sound of trumpet” summons the elect of Israel, so in that day (Isa. 27:12, 1312And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall beat off from the channel of the river unto the stream of Egypt, and ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel. 13And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:12‑13)) a great trumpet shall be blown summoning them to worship Jehovah in the holy mount at Jerusalem. This the Lord clears and confirms in Matt. 24. The context alone can decide whether the elect be of Israel, of the church, or of Gentiles; for it is true of all three as the different parts of the Lord's prophecy on Olivet prove. But blessed as they are to be on earth, it is quite distinct from those caught up to meet Him for heavenly glory. From these all thought of vengeance is excluded. Israel's deliverance is accompanied by the destruction of their enemies. Our rapture to the Lord is entirely and exclusively a question of sovereign grace in its consummation for heaven and in being thus ever with Him, our best and brightest privilege. But even His presence for the earth, though necessarily involving vengeance on the wicked, has for its “primary object” the deliverance of the sorely tried and scattered or beleaguered Jews, and the gathering of His elect of Israel.
The want of eye-salve is not duly felt. They are rich and increased with goods, especially the old clothes of Judaism and the new suit of philosophy; and they have need of nothing. Hence, by not distinguishing things that evidently and profoundly differ, the whole truth on this subject is embroiled and thrown into confusion. For the kingdom of God embraces earthly as well as heavenly things. How sad to misuse the less to darken or deny the greater! There is to be the Father's kingdom where the righteous are to shine as the sun; there is to be the Son of man's kingdom where His earthly people shall be blessed and honored as never before; but in order to this last the sword of divine judgment must clear the way for the Lord's righteous scepter. No such earthly dealing applies to the heavens, or on our behalf before going on high. There the Lord went up triumphantly and in peace; there and thus at His call shall the heavenly saints be caught up. How can saints overlook the contrast or fight against it!
The “desperate shifts” are exclusively with those who are blind enough to swamp grace and judgment, heaven and earth, heavenly family and earthly people, in one strange conglomeration.
Assuredly scripture gives no countenance to such disorder. It is ignorance or calumny to say that any one sought to discredit the champion of this Babylonish system. God allowed that he should also fall info the wildest delusion, to say nothing now of the gravest error as to Christ which he himself acknowledged and in part recanted, many of his chief associates more fully than was charged on any of them. But, apart from this, what does an excuser mean by such a cry? Is he not aware that the one he thus goes out of his way to defend taught openly and definitely, that the church is to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent in the day of glory? See “Thoughts on the Apocalypse,” pp. 45-51 (1843). Is this, or is it not, heterodox and even, blasphemous? Was it ever retracted? Surely it is “a crooked device” to ignore such extravagant and fatuous falsehood, and to impute deceit, wanton cruelty, and unscrupulous misrepresentation to brethren who had to clear the Lord's name from being a cover for this and many other serious errors.