In the preceding chapters (passing over the Preface and Introduction) we have seen what the Scriptures, and especially the Lord and the Apostles, have declared respecting the religious condition of the Church and of the world at the time when the Son returns from Heaven. It is a time when faith in Christ has failed in many, and their love grown cold, and iniquity abounds. The Apostles, who saw very early in the Church the beginnings of an apostasy, foretold that it would continue and increase, and finally bring forth as its product the Man of Sin, the lawless one. As the purpose of God in the Kingdom of His Son approached its realization, the hostility of the world would become more determined, and would find its last embodiment in the man who would stand as the great representative of fallen humanity, against Christ the representative of the redeemed humanity.
In considering the apostasy, we have seen its root in the loss of the first love, whereby a separation was made between the Lord and the Church,— the Head and the body, — and He was hindered in the exercise of His headship. Through the same loss of love, the Holy Ghost, sent by the Son, was unable to fulfil His mission. After a time the expectation of the Lord's speedy return passed away, and also the hope of it; and
the Church made it her work to bring all the world under subjection to Christ before His return.
Thus the history of the Church has not been that of a community of one heart and mind, carrying out the will of its Head under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and steadily growing in love, holiness, wisdom, and power; but of a community divided against itself, forgetful of God's purpose, filled with ambition to rule in this world, and covetous of its pleasures and honours. The Holy Ghost has not been able to do His full work in the Church, and therefore her witness to the world has been partial and feeble. The Head, though nominally honoured, has passed more and more from the thought of the Church as her living and ruling Lord, and from the knowledge of men as the King of kings.
We have seen in the movements and tendencies of the present time the preparation for the final fulfilment of the Scripture predictions. Modern pantheistic philosophy is leavening the public mind with its denials of a personal God, of man's moral freedom, and of immortality. Modern science, particularly in its evolutionary phase, is denying a Creator and a creation, and can find in the Universe no Divine purpose, only an endless evolution, in which man appears for a moment as a shining bubble, then disappears for ever. The Bible is put aside by many as a book outgrown, with its doctrine of sin and its legendary miracles and history. Much of modern literature is imbued with the pantheistic spirit, or is critical and skeptical, and, when not positively irreligious is indifferent to religion.
We have seen how the Man of Sin can demand for himself as God the homage of the world, because of the belief that humanity is itself Divine, and he is the highest expression of that Divinity. The line of distinction between God and man being effaced, no mediator between God and man is needed. Christianity must cease to be regarded as a redemptive system, having the cross as its symbol, and calling to repentance. The Church is not the community of those partaking of Christ's resurrection life, but embraces all men as by nature the sons of God.
We have seen the last form which the Church assumes in alliance with the powers of this world, as symbolized by the woman on the beast; and the judgments which come upon her through their final hostility. After her overthrow arises the Church of the Antichrist, which he will make the universal Church, eo-extensive with his kingdom; and which will be full of spiritual power through the energy of Satan.
We have seen the growing tendency among the nations of Christendom to recognize their common interests, and make these the basis of a political unity,— the brotherhood of nations built upon the brotherhood of man. The outlines of a great confederacy are coming more and more distinctly into view, which, when it is perfected, will have Antichrist as its head, and thus make him the great ruler of the world. But his reign is of short duration. He, with the false prophet, perishes, and the returning Lord establishes His Kingdom of righteousness, which will fill the earth and never end.
If what has been said of the teaching of prophecy in regard to the Apostasy, and of its consummation in the Antichrist, and of the present antichristian movements and tendencies of the times, be true, we must ask, What truth need9 to be most strongly and distinctly proclaimed by the Church for the defence of her children? Beyond question, it is the doctrine of the Incarnation. This is the great peculiar doctrine of Christianity, and distinguishes it from all other religions. It is one which tests the faith of men in the highest degree, for it affirms the union of Deity and humanity; and this not as an abstract doctrine, but as realized in the Person of Jesus Christ, and in Him alone. No words can express the transcendent nature of this union ; no finite mind can comprehend its bearings, not only on the history and destiny of man, but on the history and destiny of the Universe, and of all created beings forever.*
To the devout and thoughtful mind, seeking to know the relations of God to men, and discerning spiritual things, what inexhaustible depth of meaning lies in the words: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." What awe-inspiring mystery, and yet what clouds of glory, surround His Person who is Very God and very man, for whom all things were made, the one central figure of the Universe, who binds all worlds and all creatures into unity, — the visible Image of the invisible God.
Let us, then, put ourselves face to face with the fact of the Incarnation, and consider our relations to it as a present reality.
* It is here assumed as the teaching of the Scriptures and belief of the Church, that this union of natures is without end. The Apostle Paul speaks of "the day when God will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained," and of the "one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus" (Acts xvii, 31; 1 Tim. ii, 5). His humanity, though glorified, is not changed as to its essential elements. His body is the body which was transfigured on the mount, which came out of the sepulchre, and in which He will return to judge the world, and is the norm of the new material creation.
Our belief as to the future of Christianity will depend upon the answer that we make to the question: Is the Son of the Virgin, who died upon the cross, now the risen and glorified Man seated at the right hand of the Father, and the possessor of all power in heaven and in earth? It is a question of fact, which must be answered with a yes or no. Let us first suppose it to be answered in the negative, and note the consequences that must follow.
If the death of Jesus was the close of His ministry, then Christianity as a system of doctrine, religious and ethical, must rest upon His earthly teachings as recorded in the Gospels. His mission ended upon the cross. He did not rise from the dead; He did not ascend into Heaven; He was not made the Head of the Church; He did not send down the Holy Ghost; He is not our great High Priest. Since His death He has been with the other disembodied saints in Paradise, waiting for the resurrection; and has stood in no other personal relations with men than they. He has had no part in the history or government of the world. And if it has been so in the past, we must believe that it will be so in the future. He will not come again to judge the world, to raise the dead, to change the living, and to reign in righteousness.
Christianity, then, resting wholly as to its doctrines upon Christ's earthly teachings, can have only that measure of truth which He Himself possessed and taught. Did He teach His disciples the perfect, the absolute truth, to which no addition can ever be made? No one will say this. If He had all truth, /
the revelation which He could give of God and of man's relations to Him was limited by the spiritual capacity of the disciples, and by the stage then reached of the Divine purpose. "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now." If His voice was silenced in death, Divine revelation could not cease. Others must follow Him in all generations who could lead men into new and higher realms of spiritual knowledge, and make known more of God, His perfections, and His purpose.
The denial of the present existence of the risen Lord, fulfilling His offices as the Head and Teacher of the Church, thus takes from Christianity its claim to be the one, true, permanent, and universal religion. As He takes His place among other religious teachers of the past, distinguished only by the greater measure of religious knowledge which He was able to teach, His teachings must necessarily be supplemented and modified by the teachings of others in subsequent times. It is only when we see in Christ" The Truth," and the one Teacher of all truth, that Christianity can affirm that it has all truth, and therefore is the one universal and unchangeable religion. Himself in Heaven, "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever," He has continued to teach His Church through the Holy Ghost dwelling in her, so far as she had an ear to hear; and all further knowledge of God in all the ages must come through Him.
The Church, then, must plant herself firmly upon the fact of the present existence and offices of the Incarnate Son in Heaven, if she will defend her children from the deceits of the Antichrist. It becomes, therefore, a matter of greatest interest to ask how far those who bear the name of Christ believe in their hearts that Jesus, risen from the dead and made immortal, is now the actual possessor of all power in Heaven and in earth. This is the professed faith of the Church, and affirmed in her creeds, and daily reaffirmed in their worship by millions. It would be presumptuous for any one to say how far this profession of faith is not sincere; but there are many indications that there are multitudes in Christendom who refuse to accept the statements of the creeds in regard to the Incarnation. They accept the Lord as a religious teacher sent of God, but reject Him as the One Incarnate Son, risen from the dead, and the present living Lord. Let us note some of the grounds on which this rejection rests.
We may note first the intellectual difficulties which the fact of the Incarnation presents. The Lord's words to St. Peter: "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven," teach us that the intellect cannot comprehend it. Considering the transcendent nature and the inexpressible greatness of the Incarnation, it is not strange that the scientific mind, seeking to bring all things under law, doubts or openly denies it. Philosophy, also, is baffled in its attempts to bring it within its own domain. The evolutionist can make the Incarnate Son no product of evolution. Both the stupendous character of the fact itself — the union of Deity and humanity in Jesus Christ — and the manner of its realization, present difficulties even to faith which become greater as men, under the influence of the spirit of the time, learn to judge all things in the light of the intellect and not of the Spirit.
We cannot, therefore, be surprised that on the ground of its intrinsic intellectual difficulties, the doctrine of the Incarnation, as it has been held by the Church, and with it the fact of Christ's present existence and prerogatives, is very widely rejected in Christendom. If not wholly rejected, modifications of it are proposed, as we have seen, which essentially change it, and leave us only a shadowy image in place of the risen and glorified Lord.
If it be objected, that as the great Creeds of the Church remain unchanged, their statements as to the headship and rule of the Incarnate Son must be taken as sufficient proof that they are really believed in; it may be replied, that evident proof to the contrary is found in the very imperfect appreciation, if we should not rather say the cold indifference, with which His relations to the Church are regarded by her. When we consider the Divine Majesty of His Person, how great is the honour He gives the Church in that He condescends to stand in closest relationship with her as her Head and High Priest! Without Him, the source of her life, the moving spring of all her activity, her Teacher and Defender and Ruler, she is nothing. We may therefore expect to see her exalt Him and pay Him the profoundest homage, and take herself the place of lowest humility, and strive to obey in everything the intimations of His will. What faith should she have in His words, what fear of His displeasure, what sacrifices should she make for Him, and what joy should she feel in the hope of seeing Him, and of being made like Him!
How unlike this is the reality. As regards the history of the Church, can we see in it the proof that she has had any just appreciation of His headship, and of the high exaltation thus given her, and of the duties it imposed upon her? How little has her conduct before the world been in sympathy with His heavenly dignity, His all-embracing love, His Divine peace. How could the conception of His Kingdom as an earthly kingdom, whether under the rule of a single priest or of a multitude of priests and laymen,— Satan still reigning in the earth, and the Church continuing under the law of sin and death,— have been thought worthy of Him, the immortal and glorified Lord? Such low conceptions of the Kingdom must be based on low conceptions of the King. The Apostles who were with Him in the holy mount, and were eye-witnesses of His majesty, could never have believed that the honour and glory which He received from the Father could be set forth by a bishop of Rome or of Constantinople, or be parted among a multitude of Councils and Convocations and Conferences. He cannot establish His Kingdom upon the earth under the curse; He must first make it new. Those who shall reign with Him must first be made like Him in resurrection life and power.
Whatever we of to-day may say in our creeds of Christ's Divine Person and present offices and authority, our disregard of His commands and promises testifies against us. This is strikingly shown in the neglect of His utterances respecting His return. To watch continually for the returning Lord, that they may have their high calling ever before them, and so be kept from the love of this present world, is His command; but what has been the attitude of the Church toward His return? For many weary centuries the successive generations have been groaning and weeping under the law of sin and death; famine and pestilence and war have made the earth a great graveyard; crime and oppression have filled it with prisons and dungeons; yet only from a feeble few in all the centuries has the cry been heard: "Gome, Lord Jesus, come quickly." And to-day, when crowded cities are full of vice aud misery, when nations are beating plowshares into swords and pruning-hooks into spears, when famine and pestilence mock at the skill of statesmen and physicians, when the roaring of the discontented and restless peoples is like the roaring of the sea, and men's hearts are failing them for fear; do we hear prayers and supplications addressed to Him that He would come and save us? Papal encyclicals, pastoral epistles of bishops, missives of the clergy to their flocks, missionary reports and addresses, are either wholly silent, or speak with bated breath of His return as an article of faith indeed, but as something that does not practically concern us, and not to be prayed for or desired. We hear not the voice of the poor widow crying: "Avenge me of my adversary," — but the voice of one proud and lifted up, saying in her heart, "I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow."
The words of the Lord respecting His return are more than a command to watch; they are a promise of the new and Heavenly Order which He will then establish. It seems scarcely credible that with any true belief of the Lord's present existence in glorified humanity,— the Man in whom manhood is raised to the head of all creature being,— and that He waits with earnest longing to give to His children this perfected and immortal life, and to make all things new; He yet has been unable to awaken in their hearts any real and earnest response. How are the thoughts of all to-day set upon the improvement of the old, the progress of the race, the development of humanity.* With what interest is every scientific discovery heralded, every invention that makes human life more endurable; but with what chilling indifference are all words received that tell of the Heavenly Order which He is to establish. To be made like Him at His coming, and so to share in His glory and blessedness, seems to have no attraction for most who bear His name. Deliverance from the law of sin and death through resurrection or translation, seems too much for faith to grasp; the disembodied state, or the natural and gradual evolution of humanity in the course of the ages, is all that can be believed.
If the children of God truly believe that the Incarnate Son,— Himself the Heavenly Man, made immortal through resurrection,— has promised to return speedily and take them up into the fellowship of His glory, how can we explain it that they do not everywhere desire and pray for the fulfilment of His promise? We can account for it only on the ground that His present existence as the risen and glorified Lord is not to them a reality ; and therefore there is no living hope of their own resurrection, and no longing for the new heaven and earth. Christ being no more seen as "the First-born from the dead," "the Beginning of the new creation," they soon learn to say that the only new order we may expect is a moral one, wrought in the spirits of men, but having nothing to do with material things.
*In the true sense of the term "humanitarian," the Christian Church is the highest of all humanitarian institutions, for in it should be shown the love to men of the Father and of the Son. But as the term is now currently used, it means the good of humanity without reference to God and to His purpose in man. Humanitarianism has become a synonym for the philanthropy which looks only to the present life and the welfare of men on the earth, and therefore occupies itself with the improvement of present moral and social conditions. A life after death, and preparation for it, is not within its province.
He has taught the world the noblest principles of religion, and illustrated them in His own life, and these are ultimately to revolutionize society and new-create the world; but beyond this we may not go.
With this wide spread of unbelief in the Deity of Christ, and in His place as the one Mediator between God and man, we see the strong and increasing tendency to make humanity Divine, and thus to make any mediatorship unnecessary. Christianity presents God in the Person of the Son descending into humanity, first to redeem it from sin and death, and then to lift it up into heavenly light and glory. Antichristianity presents humanity as in its nature Divine, beginning indeed in animality, but continually ascending, and revealing more and more through the ages its Divinity. We stand at the parting of the ways. The time has come for a final decision to be made. Will the Church have the Lord return, and bring with Him the Heavenly Order, beginning with the resurrection of her members and completed in the new heaven and earth; or will she have a development of the present earthly order, a gradual improvement of the race? Before her stand Christ and Antichrist: One, the representative of a humanity first redeemed and then glorified; the other, the representative of a humanity which needs no redemption, but is itself Divine. Between them the choice must be made.
All the tendencies and movements of the time are toward the denial of the need of any Saviour from sin, of any living Lord, and of any coming Judge. Can the Church offer any effectual resistance to these tendencies and movements? She cannot, unless she first make the existence of her Head a great reality to herself, and be so filled with the Spirit of truth and of unity that she can bear witness of Him unto the world in the fulness of faith. No one will say that she can now bear such a witness.
Could we suppose that at this stage in the history of the Church a council could be held of her chief leaders of all the divisions to formulate a creed, how much of the statements of the present creeds would be retained? Would there be agreement even upon the Apostles' Creed? We cannot doubt that there would be many dissentients, and many more in respect to the Nicene Creed. Still worse would it fare with the Athanasian. It may be questioned whether any statement of the doctrine of the Incarnation could be made, except one so vague and general as to allow the largest liberty of interpretation. That the Incarnate Son, raised from the dead, Lord of all, is now the Head of the Church, would beyond doubt, in many quarters, call forth the strongest opposition.
It is in this loss of faith in the great central fact of Christianity, its corner-stone, that we find the special preparation for the Antichrist. Doubtless, in times past many have professed to believe it who did not truly believe it; and in these we see the hypocrisy re-appearing which was so marked and general in the Lord's day,— not conscious, but unconscious. The Scribes and Pharisees thought that they believed the Scriptures and kept the Law, till the Lord condemned them by showing them in His own Person the true nature of faith and obedience. Thus in the past many have thought that they had faith in Christ as the living Lord, and in all His prerogatives, and rendered Him all obedience and honour. But in our day large numbers, under its stimulating antichristian influences, have awakened to the consciousness that they do not truly believe in Him as the present Incarnate Son, and can no longer affirm it in their creeds and worship. An avowed denial takes the place of a quasi-belief. And many more seem to be moving rapidly to the same result.
It was said many years ago by C. Maitland, (" Apostolic School of Prophetic Interpretation "), that "in the day of Antichrist, besides the unequalled trouble, death, and perhaps bodily torment, there would be also the torture of sickening doubt, of writhing and racking despair. The grounds of faith will be so obscured as to render argument hopeless. . . It will be a man's first difficulty to realize the faith for which he is called to suffer. . . For in that day Christianity will seem to the world to have been a dream." A recent writer already quoted speaks of Christianity now seeming to many as "a parenthesis in the world's story, a dream that is passing away." It is the Spirit of truth alone who can make the promises of God a reality to us; and if He be grieved and depart from us, our faith cannot comprehend them,—they become to us empty words. And as it is with His promises, so with His threatenings of judgment. We hear them unmoved. Even the words of awful meaning spoken by the Lord: "There shall be great tribulation, such as was not from the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be," awaken in many no fear, no dark forebodings, no repentance for the sins which bring upon us such overwhelming judgments.
The duty of the Church to the world is plain. She must affirm with far greater distinctness and vigour than she has done since apostolic days, the prerogatives of her Head; and warn the world that He lives to whom the Father has given all authority and dominion in Heaven and earth; and that He will not always suffer His authority to be derided, and His Father's name to be blasphemed. As the sense of sin diminishes, so also the fear of Divine anger. Therefore will the judgments upon the scoffers and blasphemers be the more terrible, " when He shall be revealed from Heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire."
Upon His unfaithful children He will also bring sore judgments, but in love; not for destruction, but to purify them. The "wood, hay, and stubble" will be burned, but the "gold and silver and precious stones" will survive the fiery trial. The foolish virgins will pass through the Great Tribulation, but be delivered, and stand at last joyful in the presence of their King. Antichrist and his armies being cast out of the earth into the lake of fire, all nations will worship the Father through the Son; and the Church will sit with Him on His throne, and throughout all the earth be holiness, righteousness, and peace.