Ready and Waiting
I must speak my mind on this subject, now that I am upon it. I do so at the risk of giving offence and rubbing against prejudices. But speak I must.
I submit, then, that the Church has gone too long not seeing that there are two personal advents of Christ spoken of in the Old Testament - an advent in humiliation and an advent in glory too, an advent to suffer and an advent to reign. We have got into a vicious way of taking all the promises spiritually and all the curses and denunciations literally. The curses on Jews and Babylon and Edom and Egypt we have been content to take literally; the blessings on Zion, Jerusalem, Jacob, Israel, and so forth, we have taken spiritually and comfortably applied to the Church of Christ. No man can read sermons or commentaries and not be aware of this. I believe it has been a wrong system of interpreting Scripture. I believe that prophetical denunciations and prophetical promises in their primary sense are always to be taken literally. That primary sense we have sadly lost sight of, and by so doing I think we have got into a slumbering and sleeping state about the second advent of Christ.
But I say further, that the Church has gone on too long putting a strange sense on the passage which speaks of the coming of the Son of man in the New Testament. Some tell us that this expression always means death. No man can read the thousands of epitaphs on tombstones in which the Son of man's coming is thrust in, and not observe how widespread this view is. Some tell us it means the conversion of the world. Some tell us it means the destruction of Jerusalem. That also is a very common way of interpreting the expression with many. They find Jerusalem everywhere in the New Testament prophecies, and, like Aaron's rod, they make it swallow up everything else. Now, I have no desire to underrate the importance of death, the conversion of the world, or the destruction of Jerusalem; but I must express my own firm belief that the coming of the Son of man is an entirely distinct subject from any of the three I have mentioned. And the acceptance they have met with I hold to be one more proof that in the matter of Christ's second advent the Church has slumbered and slept.
The plain truth of Scripture, I believe, is as follows: When the number of the elect is accomplished, Christ shall come again to this world, with power and great glory. As He came the first time in person, so He shall come the second time in person; as He went away visibly, so He shall return visibly. Then shall be fulfilled those words of Acts: "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"; and the words of Zechariah 14: "The Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with Thee"; and the words of Enoch in Jude: "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of His saints." And the grand shortcoming of the Church these days has been and is this: that we ministers do not preach enough about this second advent, and private believers do not think enough about it. There are a few, but what are they? Many do not. We none of us live on it, feed on it, act on it, work from it, take comfort in it, as God intended us to do. In short, the Bridegroom tarries, and we all slumber and sleep.
It proves nothing against the true doctrine that it has sometimes been fearfully abused. I should like to know what doctrine has not. Salvation by grace has been made a pretext for licentiousness; election an excuse for all manner of unclean living; and justification by faith a warrant for antinomianism. But if men will draw wrong conclusions we are not obliged to throw up good principles. We do not give up the gospel because of the extravagances of those who don't preach it.
Nor yet does it prove anything against the doctrine that it is attended with many difficulties. I do not think there are half so many difficulties as those connected with the first coming, and yet those difficulties were all overcome. I am satisfied there are far more difficulties upon any other system of interpretation, whatever it may be. And after all, what have we to do with the "how" and "in what manner" prophecies are to be fulfilled? Our only question is, "Has God said a thing?" If He has, no doubt it will be done.
For myself, I can only give my individual testimony; but the little I know experimentally of the doctrine makes me regard it as most practical and precious, and makes me long to see it more generally received.
I find it a powerful spring to holy living; a motive for patience, for moderation, for spiritual-mindedness; a test for employment of time - "would I like my Lord to find me so doing?"
I find it the strongest argument for missionary work. The time is short. The Lord is at hand. The gathering out from all nations of a witnessing people will soon be accomplished, and then the King shall come.
I find it the best answer to infidels. I tell them it proves nothing that all the world is not holy after eighteen hundred years; that it was never said it would be in the present order of things; that the King will come one day and then make all bow before Him.
I find it the best argument with the Jew. If I do not take all the prophecy of Isaiah literally, I know not how I can persuade him that the fifty-third chapter is fulfilled. But if I do, I have a resting place for my lever which he cannot shake.
Who is there that cannot yet receive the doctrine of Christ's second personal advent? I invite you to consider the subject calmly. Dismiss from your mind traditional interpretation; separate the doctrine from the mistakes and blunders of many who have held it; do not reject the foundations because of the wood, hay and stubble; do not condemn it because of injudicious friends. Only examine the texts which speak of it in the same calm way that you weigh texts in the Romish and Socinian controversy, and I am hopeful as to the result on your mind.
~J. C. Ryle~
(continued with # 14)