THE trial of humanity, whether it will be subject to God or not, is not yet over. It now finds its highest, though not its final stage, in the trial of the Christian Church. Never has humanity been exalted so high in privilege and brought into such close communion with God, for the Head of the Church is the Incarnate Son, and the Holy Ghost dwells in her as in His temple. What holiness, what godly fear, what righteousness, what brotherly love, what unity and peace, should be seen in her! But as the Head was proved through temptation, so must the Church be. How has she borne the trial? Let her history answer. Does not this give us the crowning proof that no trust can be placed in the goodness of the creature? His children, even the most highly honoured and blest, have not risen to the greatness of God's purpose and fulfilled their calling. At best, they have been but unprofitable servants.
As this trial of the Church is still going on, we should carefully compare the present with the past that we may be prepared for the future.
It is not in the spirit of this writing to set forth the sins of the Church, much less to magnify them, or to disparage in any degree the grace of God as shown in its history, and in the faithful and holy lives of many of whom the world was not worthy. It was set by God to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, and it has never ceased to be such. But as it is possible that the light may become dim, and the salt lose its savour, we are permitted, nay, we are bound to note all departures from God's expressed will, all that dishonours the Head, and grieves the Holy Spirit. The Church is the light of the world, and the salt of the earth, only as she abides in Christ, her Head. Separate from Him, although but in part, there follow weakness, division, strife. The Head obscured, dishonoured, though acknowledged in word, faith fails, hope sickens, twilight comes down over Christendom. His children walk with bowed head amid graves, and worship in cold and darkened temples.
We may, therefore, ask what are the present relations of the Church to her Head? As the Incarnate Son is the instrument through which the Father acts, so the Church, His body, is the instrument through which the Son acts. We are therefore most deeply interested in its constitution as made by the Father and in its present condition. Can the Lord now work through it His perfect will?
Looking backward, we see a loving God ever desirous to manifest Himself to man, and man never able to rise into a full comprehension of the Divine way and appreciation of the Divine goodness. All human history shows how vain have been His attempts to reveal Himself as He would, through His Son, and to bring men into full communion with Him. Only a few in all generations have been able to apprehend, and to enter into, the Divine purpose, and to be workers together with the Son. Is it so to-day? All will admit that if we would be co-workers with God and Christ, we may not substitute our ways for the Divine ways, but must retain and diligently use all the means given us. If we cannot rise into the understanding of the Divine purpose, and by our faith lay hold of the means provided to attain its end, God cannot fulfil His promises, and the Church can never accomplish the work God has given it to do. And, more than this, if, through failure of faith, these promises are minimised, we descend from the heavenly region into the earthly and dwell in it as our home. It is as if the Jews in the wilderness had said, "This is the Promised Land; we will abide here." If the Church falls into the earthly sphere and is satisfied, our Lord cannot lead it onward. He is only nominally the Leader.
We may now ask: Is the Church working in the line of the Divine purpose? Does its faith make God's promises realities? Is it fulfilling those functions to which it has been called? Of these we may mention the two chief ones already spoken of—the preaching of His Gospel and the joining in His intercession.
Of the preaching of the apostolic time, it is said: "They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed" (Mark 16: 20, R. V.). As He, when on earth, confirmed His own word by His work, so would He confirm the word of the Church. But we are told by all that the work is now unnecessary, the word is sufficient. The day of signs and wonders is past. We need make no appeal to the senses, we have entered into a higher plane, our appeals are to man's reason and conscience. The confirmation of the word by the signs following, we are told, was only for the apostolic age. But why thus limited? The work of redemption embraces the whole man, body, soul, and spirit, and wherever the redemptive word is preached, it should be confirmed by the redemptive work— healing of the sick, casting out of devils, utterance with new tongues. All these are external signs of the presence of the Divine power which is working unseen deliverance from sin in the spirit.
In all God's redemptive dealings with men, He has appealed to their senses, as well as to their reason. Of this the Old Testament gives countless examples. Nor were these confined to the old covenant. No words of the martyr Stephen converted Saul, the Lord must appear visibly to him. The absence of the work, so far from being a proof of a higher plane of missionary operations, is rather a proof that the Lord is not confirming the word.
But let us ask further, whose word in the missionary work of to-day the Lord should confirm. We see in the missionary field many diverse sects, each striving to propagate its peculiar doctrines, and to build up its distinctive organisation. All preach in Christ's name, all claim His authority. Will He work alike with them all? We have, then, this dilemma: Either these differences of the doctrines preached are unimportant, or important. If unimportant, they dishonour the Lord by causing needless and harmful divisions in His Church; if important, they still more dishonour Him, since the sanction of His name is given to much false doctrine. And the heathen ask in perplexity, What is Christian truth? Which of its many sects truly represents Christianity?
Need we wonder that eighteen centuries have passed, and that Christianity, as regards the number of believers, has to-day but a secondary place among the religions of the world? The gates of hell can never prevail against the Church, but divided against itself, it can never accomplish the work given it by the Head. Unity with Him, and unity among its members, are essential conditions of success.
The second great function of the Church is intercession. While the great High Priest in Heaven is offering His intercession, His children on the earth are to join with Him. The Church must know for what the Head is interceding, and make His intercession its own, and offer it with one heart and one voice. But neither of these conditions have been realised in the past. The Church, if in unity with the Head, cannot be divided against itself; and if so divided, cannot be in unity with its Head. Discordant sects cannot offer united prayer. The sectarian spirit, which ever seeks its own, will show itself in all their worship, and especially in the narrowness and meagreness of the prayers. A sect, however numerous, cannot enter into the largeness of Christ's intercession, the catholic and loving spirit is wanting. Wrapped up in its own selfish interests, and insensible to its own sin of division, there cannot be the sympathy with its Head, and with the trials and sorrows of their brethren, which is necessary to fulfil the priestly calling. It is in vain that the High Priest stands before the golden altar if the worshippers put no incense into His censer. He can pray for them, but not with them. His prayers are added as perfume to theirs, making them a sweet savour to God, but they cannot supply their place. We may not fail to note that unity with its Head, and unity among its members, are as necessary to the Church in offering intercessions as in preaching the Gospel.
Another failure of faith is seen in the refusal to give the Incarnate Son His due place, as He to whom the Father has given authority over all. There is a practical denial of His rule both in the Church and in the State. The distinction between these two forms of rule has been already pointed out, and need not be dwelt on here. In the Church, His body, in which dwells the Holy Spirit, His rule is personal and absolute. No one can hold any office in it except through His appointment. But His rule in the State is providential, it is not His body, nor indwelt of the Spirit. He does not in any visible way appoint its rulers, but sets them in their place by His providence. The powers that be—those whom He permits to rule—are thus ordained of God. They are in a real sense His rulers.
In the Church, Christ's rule is so to be seen that there shall be no questions of authority arising among His ministers, no contention who is the greatest. There can be no self-appointed leader, dividing His children into rival and hostile sects (1 Cor. 1: 12). The ordinance through which He makes known His will as to who shall serve Him, has been already spoken of. If it be lost through unbelief, unity of rule cannot be preserved. All leaders of factions will claim His authority, and they who best represent the popular tendencies of their times will have most followers. To obey those set over them in the Lord, simply as His appointees, is already a strange and offensive doctrine to many.
If we turn to the State, we see, as a matter of fact, that very few rulers in Christendom give us any reason to believe that they recognise a King in Heaven. The title "King by the grace of God " may be retained in some states as a formula, but all civil history since the Lord ascended shows how little His supremacy has been practically regarded. And to-day it may be said that to most governments and peoples He is little more than a nonentity. No manifestation of His present will in human affairs, civil or ecclesiastical, is expected or desired.
Another illustration of the loss of faith is seen in the matter of the angels. In the beginning, God created them to be the helpers of His Son in His dealings with men. This office they have fulfilled. Have they ceased to fulfil it? All know the general disbelief in the activity of angels, good or evil. It is not said that many Christians disbelieve theoretically in their existence, but that, practically, to most they are as non-existent. This is especially true of the good angels. When we consider how important a part they have played in man's history, and their ministry to the Lord when on earth, and what is foretold of their ministry in the future, we may well wonder that they have so utterly died out of the faith of the Church. In some parts of it, belief in the Virgin Mary, or in departed saints, as our helpers, is substituted for it. Yet, if we believe the Scriptures, as the angels have played a great part in the past, so they are to play even a greater part in the future. We are told that when the King shall return to sit upon the throne of His glory, all the holy angels will be with Him. They will be the reapers of the harvest (Matt. 13: 29). Michael and his angels overcome the dragon and his angels (Rev. 12: 7), and an angel binds Satan and casts him into the abyss.
If we turn to the evil angels—Satan and his hosts—we see how closely their history interpenetrates that of man. From the Fall of Adam to the Temptation of Christ, they have been active to deceive and lead astray. God has also made use of them as instruments to inflict His judgments. They appear continually along the pathway of the Lord, in demoniacal possessions and other diseases, thus giving Him manifold occasions for the exercise of His power. They tempt Judas to his destruction, they stir up the hostility of the people, and oppose the Lord in all His work. The Apostle John says: "The whole world lieth in the evil one" (1 John 5: 19. R. V.). The Lord has given us the petition, "Deliver us from the evil one" (R. V.).
Great Satanic activity in the future is foretold. To the Beast, Satan gives his power and great authority (Rev. 13: 2-). He also enables the false prophets with him to work signs and wonders, to deceive. When cast out of the heavenly region, he descends to the earth, to gather all its kings to the day of the great battle. During the Kingdom period, he is bound, but when loosed he deceives the nations. There is no assured peace on earth till he is cast into the lake of fire.
It is plain that to ignore the existence of evil spirits is a most dangerous thing, and especially is this so when Satan and his angels come in the guise of angels of light. His teachings will then be what the world at large most desires to hear, because most flattering to its pride, and even many Christians will be so deceived as to say, "These are not the words of a devil, they are the words of God." No enemy is so dangerous as a secret one. An army that marches carelessly and securely through an hostile land will surely come to grief, and so those who dwell where Satan is god and prince, and ignore his existence, will be taken captive by him at his will. It is presumptuous folly to ignore an enemy whom the Lord called "the prince of this world," and against whose deceptions the Apostles often warned the Church.
Another point in which our faith fails is seen in the current notions of death and of the resurrection. Death in the Scriptures is presented as "the wages of sin," and the work of Christ is to make us free from the law both of sin and death (Rom. 8: 2). But many deny any connection between death and sin. They affirm that death is a purely natural event, necessary through the physical constitution of man; it is not, therefore to be feared. We are to meet it as the beasts meet it. It is true that most who say this deny any future existence, embodied or disembodied. On the other hand, there are many who affirm that death is the real entrance into life. The body is a clog to the spirit, and we are happily rid of it. If this be so, any resurrection of the body is incredible. All teaching of the Scriptures respecting it is to be rejected, and even the resurrection of Christ given up as a fact. Instead of speaking of a new heaven and earth, where the righteous dwell in glorified bodies, we must speak of "a spirit-land," a dim region of ghosts and phantoms. This exaltation of death and of the disembodied state is seen in making dead men joint intercessors with Christ, and in offering to them our prayers for their help. All this shows strikingly how little the fact that death is "the wages of sin" enters into the spirit of our religious belief, and how little faith we can have in the fact of the Lord's resurrection, or belief in our own. This is also seen in the disuse of the rite of the anointing of the sick, as a Church ordinance, and in the absence of earnest prayer that the Lord may speedily return and bring the departed with Him.
We may note also how the sin of the Jews in the rejection of God as their theocratic King, and in the choice of a man to be their ruler, has repeated itself in the Church. For Christ, the Divine but invisible Head, must be substituted an earthly and visible one, thus making the Church a secular Power. It takes its place among the kingdoms of this world, superior to them all, indeed, because its head as Christ's vicar has authority over all. The many evil consequences from thus confounding the ecclesiastical and the secular, the priestly and the kingly, are seen on every page of Church history.
The change of the Church from a commonwealth to a monarchy brought with it a narrowness of judgment and loss of charity and sympathy most prejudicial to the work the Lord had given His Church to do. The Heavenly Head only has all fulness. No one man, however enlarged, mentally and morally, can contain it. He could express Himself in His wisdom and power only through an office in which all types of human nature should be represented and united. This was the Apostolate, His elders, chosen by Him. When the twelvefold Apostolate gave place to a single man as the earthly head, the inevitable result was that upon the Church at large was impressed his individual characteristics. In his teachings, his favourite doctrines could be made prominent; in his administration, his personal likings; in his political action, his notions of public policy. How greatly these personal characteristics have affected the history of the Church every reader of Church history knows. Who can believe that if the rule of the Heavenly Head, through apostles chosen by Him, had directed the action of His children, there would have been the Crusades, or the Dragonnades, or the cruelties of the Inquisition, or the bloody religious wars between Christian nations, brethren in Christ?
The contrariety between the Church's claims to be the Divinely appointed instrument of God to establish righteousness and peace upon the earth, and the history of its own unrighteousness and strifes, is too glaring to escape notice; it awakens unbelief and must provoke the just indignation of the Lord.
But without entering into specific details, we may say in general that the tendency of the present time is to substitute Christ's principles for His Person. This is especially seen in the humanitarian spirit which makes Christianity to be essentially good-will to men, and labours for their improvement. The Lord, it is said, will redeem the world by His teaching of social ethics. His works on earth are often referred to as an example. But what were His works? We are told that when on earth "He went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil" (Acts 10: 38). If the acceptance of His principles enabled us to do the same works, a great change in human society for the better would speedily appear. But to do the good works He did, we must be, as was He, "anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power." The world acting on ethical Christian principles would indeed be morally another world, but principles are but foundation stones on which a builder must build. Except as brought into action in living men, they are ineffectual abstractions. They will not convey the supernatural life, nor bring the resurrection of the dead, nor the new heaven and earth. Redemption is a work, not a system of ethics, and a continually progressive work.
To do good to our fellow-men is a fundamental principle of Christianity, but what is the end aimed at? It is not some small and transient improvement of man's temporal condition, nor any degree of social progress. The good that the Lord sets before him is far higher than the highest civilisation. It is the Kingdom of righteousness and peace, of immortality and glory. Of this Kingdom He is the King, and only under Him can all nations be blessed. All our real progress is to be judged of by the place given Him in the rule of the world.
The substitution of the Lord's principles for His Person works in the Church the same evil as did the substitution of the Law for the personal rule of Jehovah among the Jews. Judging ourselves by any ethical standard, we shall surely mistake our spiritual condition. He must judge us "whose eyes are as a flame of fire."
Mention has been made of the degree to which unconscious hypocrisy prevailed among the Jews in the Lord's day, and how difficult, therefore, it was for Him to reveal to them their true condition. It may be questioned whether this hypocrisy does not prevail in equal degree in the Christian Church. We may, like the young ruler (Luke 18: 21),say: All God's commandments have we kept, what lack we yet? Will He not say to us, "Sell all that thou hast . . . and follow Me"? In the church at Laodicea, representing the last phase of the Christian dispensation, this spirit of unconscious hypocrisy appears fully developed. "[We] are rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." Will He not say to us, as He said to Laodicea: "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see'' (Rev. 3:17-)?
It is because of this spirit of self-sufficiency and self-complacency that it is so hard for us to believe that any Divine judgment can come upon us. It seems to be taken for granted in all quarters that the Head of the Church, though not wholly pleased with its history and its present condition, is not greatly displeased, much less does He see anything to provoke His severe judgments. Do we in this read aright the mind of the Lord? What does the Old Testament teach us? What sore judgments did He inflict upon His covenant people of old for their disobedience and sinfulness; and will He judge less severely those to whom He has given the highest measure of spiritual light and grace, and whose sins, therefore, have greater enormity? If He could say to the Jewish Church, "I have brought up children, and they have rebelled against me" (Isa. 1:2), what will He say to the Christian Church? Brought into the closest communion with Him through the Incarnate Son, and blessed with all spiritual blessings, has it fulfilled His purpose in it? Has it obeyed and honoured its Head, and walked in all holy conversation and godliness? Have the nations seen in it a model of unity, righteousness, and peace? If His anger burned against His ancient people, the house of Moses, His servant, how much more against His Church, the house of His own Son (Heb. 3:6). How must His heart be pained, and His spirit filled with indignation, that those lifted up to sit with Him in the heavenly places, the nearest and dearest to Him, should have fallen after the example of Jewish unbelief. As the sin of His Church is committed against greater knowledge, must not its punishment be the more severe?
That there are terrible judgments before us (how near or how distant we need not here ask), we know from the words of our Lord Himself. We need only refer to His words (Matt. 24: 21). He tells us that before His coming, there will be such tribulation as never was before, nor ever after shall be. Are these idle words? Have they no meaning for us of to-day? Can we read them with perfect unconcern? We know that there have been days in the past which may be distinguished as days of God's anger and fearful judgments, yet all were but foreshadowings of the judgment that comes upon the world when the wickedness of man has come to the full.
Two questions here meet us: What is the highest measure of human wickedness—man's culminating sin? And what signs of it do we now see?
We have already considered the relation of the reasonable creature to his Creator, whether it be one of dependence or independence. Shall the creature, angel or man, or other, obey God, or may he act according to his own will? It is a question to be settled in the beginning of creature history, and in the nature of man.
If we look backward, many and diverse have been the sins of men in the past, but none have been like the sins of the last days. There is a development of wickedness. Always before have men recognised some Power higher than themselves, whose will they were to obey, and, however mistaken their notions of this Power, they acknowledged its authority, even when they disobeyed it. The culminating sin of man, the sin of the last days, is the denial of any personal Power higher than himself—of any will above his own.
This denial of a God takes several forms. First, the atheistic. The purely material atheism is generally discarded and we need not dwell upon it. Now there is put in the place of God an unknowable Energy or Force, diffused through the uerse, but beyond the grasp of human thought, and working without beginning, or end, or purpose. We may be vaguely conscious of it, but it has neither intelligence nor will. Between such an Energy and man, there can be no moral relation, no sympathy, no communion, no obedience or disobedience, no sin, and no punishment. This is in fact atheism.
Again, with some, the denial of a God takes another form, the pantheistic. The distinction between the Divine and human, between the Creator and the created, is blotted out. God is not a person, He has neither intelligence nor will. There has been no creation, the finite is coeternal with the infinite. The worlds have always existed, and without them, God would not be God. They are an integral part of Him. Man, as a part of the infinite, has no finite independence, no moral freedom or responsibility; in him God comes to self-consciousness. Man is, therefore, in the fullest sense Divine.
Thus, if God be "an impersonal Energy," or be "the Absolute," there can be no one Incarnate Son. We cannot speak of Him as revealing God, or as a Redeemer, for there is no sin and no redemption, no heaven, no hell. Christianity is blotted out of existence. Incarnation ceases to have any meaning. There is no place in the uerse for the Incarnate Son, and no need of Him.
But we may briefly note the doctrine of the Immanency of God, now often presented, which, though not denying His personality, or, in direct terms, the Incarnation, yet tends to make it of comparatively little value. God, we are told, is so in man by his spiritual constitution that a Mediator is scarcely necessary. He reveals Himself immediately, and speaks alike to all. He is in every man's soul. To say that we may have immediate intercourse with God is not, indeed, to say that we are God, but it narrows the work of the Incarnate Son, both as the Revealer of the Father and as the Way of approach to Him. One has said: "Man is conscious of an immanent soul within or behind his individual life, wherein, as in a firmament, justice, love, freedom, arise and shine." But the Lord's words are to be strictly taken. "No man cometh to the Father but by Me." Those holding the Divine immanency in its more advanced form stand on a slippery declivity, down which it is easy to slide into the abyss of pantheism.
We may now understand why the judgments of God should be so severe at the end of this dispensation. It is because the sin of man has attained its highest possible degree. It is the culmination of creature pride. If a man say, "I am God," he is lifted up into a region of haughty selfcomplacency where no words of the Father can affect him. He is deaf to all solicitations, he hears no warnings, he fears no judgments. How shall such a son of pride be brought to a full sense of his sinfulness and weakness? It can be only through heavy chastisements. He must be made to feel that there is One above him who has the right to demand obedience, and whom he must obey.
If, therefore, the Lord spoke of such a time of tribulation as never had been, nor should be again, we see in What connection it stands to man's culminating sin. God's very existence denied, His Son rejected and despised, His faithful children persecuted—all this, indeed, may be done by the atheist, and yet repentance and pardon be possible. But when man says, "I am God," what can the Father do but put forth His avenging hand, and cast the lawless one who thus speaks, and all his hosts, into the lake of fire?
Does any one say that it is impossible that man should rise to such a pitch of pride and presumption as to claim for himself Divinity? Let him read what Saint Paul says of the man of sin, the lawless one, who seats himself in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God (2 Thess. 2: 3~9)-' We are thus assured that this exaltation of man is yet to come. We must believe this, even if we see no present signs of it. There is one to come who will seat himself in God's throne, and will demand and receive the adoration of the nations. All whose names are not written in the book of life shall worship him (Rev. 13:8).
1 We give the words of Saint Paul as paraphrased by Prof. G. R. Stevens (Messages of Paul). 2 Thess. 2:1-12: "I tell you plainly that certain events will occur before the Lord comes. There will be a signal manifestation of wickedness, culminating in the appearance of a false Messiah, who shall make the most blasphemous pretensions, even setting himself up as an object of supreme worship. ... At present there is a certain power which is repressing those evil forces, so as to prevent their premature manifestation. In secret they are working, and preparing to break forth, but some one is holding them in check. For a time he will restrain them, then he will himself be removed, and thereupon the one who embodies this wickedness will assert himself. The Lord will then come in His glory and power, and utterly destroy the monstrous pretender, who with Satanic wickedness sought to deceive sinful men, and to prevent their being saved by Christ."
The question here meets us, Do we see the budding signs of this antichristian spirit? Are there those now preparing the way by their religious teachings? It may be admitted that the number of avowed atheists and pantheists is comparatively small, but this does not disprove the wide diffusion and great influence of their principles. The present bears all the marks of a transitional period, and the change within the last half-century in the reception of these errors is confessed by all thoughtful observers, and is hailed by many as a sign of "the maturing intelligence of our time." Not a few openly declare that Christianity is outgrown except as an ethical system.
If it were necessary, abundant quotations might be given from many quarters of the growth and wide diffusion of the pantheistic spirit especially.1 That man can live and be blessed without God is the teaching of atheism, but pantheism takes us a step onward.
1 A very recent writer, eminent in the scientific world, thus writes (The Hibbert Journal, April, 1904): "We are rising to the conviction that we are a part of nature, and so a part of God. . . . We are no aliens in a stranger uerse governed by an outside God, we are parts of a developing whole. . . . This sense of union with Divinity, this is what science will one day tell us is the inner meaning of the redemption of man. ... As a matter of fact, the higher man of to-day is not worrying about his sins at all, still less about their punishment. . . . The savage inventions of a jealous God, who prevents the worship of anything but Himself, who thinks more of His own glory and dignity than of the creative work of evolution, who arranges that if people do not theorise correctly, here and now, they shall suffer eternal pain,—all these ignorances fall into the region of blasphemous fables, henceforth to be promulgated by fanatics alone."
1 A very recent writer, eminent in the scientific world, thus writes (The Hibbert Journal, April, 1904):
"We are rising to the conviction that we are a part of nature, and so a part of God. . . . We are no aliens in a stranger uerse governed by an outside God, we are parts of a developing whole. . . . This sense of union with Divinity, this is what science will one day tell us is the inner meaning of the redemption of man. ... As a matter of fact, the higher man of to-day is not worrying about his sins at all, still less about their punishment. . . . The savage inventions of a jealous God, who prevents the worship of anything but Himself, who thinks more of His own glory and dignity than of the creative work of evolution, who arranges that if people do not theorise correctly, here and now, they shall suffer eternal pain,—all these ignorances fall into the region of blasphemous fables, henceforth to be promulgated by fanatics alone."
The race, it affirms, has outgrown its childhood, it has come to a consciousness of its Divinity, and with this its consciousness of absolute freedom. It was long ago said that" man will never be free so long as he believes in a God," and the spirit of this utterance is manifesting itself more and more. We are, it is proudly said, getting rid of the hindering superstitions of the past—a belief in a Creator and a creation, in an Incarnate Son, in sin and redemption, in a heaven and a hell. We hear not a few saying: Let the Bible rest on the shelf, a venerable but antiquated book, and let the Man of Galilee quietly sleep in His unknown grave. Let the dead past be buried; the work of to-day is to bring in the glorious kingdom of man.
We are now approaching the final stage of that controversy which began with the creation of reasonable beings, whether the will of the Creator or of the creature is to rule. We are taught by the inspired word what the end in its leading features is to be. The lawless one of Saint Paul (2 Thess. 2:8), the Antichrist of Saint John (1 John 4: 3), the Beast of the Revelation (Rev. 13: 1; 17-: 11), appears; the godless rally around him; Satan accredits him with all signs and lying wonders (2 Thess. 2), and gives him his great power and authority. Now he forms the great antichristian confederacy (Rev. 17: 12), and as the choice was made by the Jews between Jesus and Barabbas, so again by Christendom, between Christ and Antichrist. Those who remain faithful to their Lord, and will not worship the Beast, nor receive his mark, are persecuted unto death (Rev. 15: 2). The mixed secular and ecclesiastical system symbolised by Babylon is cast down and thrown like a millstone into the sea (Rev. 18: 21). This reign of the Antichrist is the time of "the great tribulation" of which the Lord spake, but when the distress of His elect is at its height, the Lord Himself appears, the Beast is cast into the lake of fire, and Satan is bound. The Lord reaps His harvest of purified ones, his marriage with the Church takes place— the union in glory; and He establishes that Kingdom of righteousness under which all the nations are to be blessed.
Saint Paul affirms that even in his day "the mystery of lawlessness doth already work" (2 Thess. 2: 7), and Saint John said, "Even now have there arisen many antichrists" (1 John 2:18). This antichristian spirit has been active all along in Christian history, but its culmination is not till the end, when it finds full embodiment in the last Antichrist.' How near or how distant is his coming we do not know. Our Lord bids us note the signs of the times, not the physical only, but chiefly the moral and religious. Do not we already see "the abomination of desolation," or the abominable desolator, entering into the Holy Place? Are not the kingdoms of the earth—the mountains—sinking into the sea (Psa. 46: 2)? And out of the sea comes the Beast, who rules the nations as their god (Rev. 13).
Such being the future opening before us, how earnestly should we cry: "Lord, have mercy upon us!" The questions which the Church of to-day should ask itself are: How long will the Head endure the dishonour brought on Him among the nations? How long will He tolerate the semianarchy that now prevails in His Church, and makes it impossible for Him to fulfil His purpose? Is He not justly angry with His people to whom He has given such grace and honour? Is He not even now kindling that fire in Zion that shall purge away the dross, the fire of His love that purifies, not destroys? Does not the Father's anger burn as He looks upon the nations bearing the name of His Son, and sees how little His King is honoured by their rulers, or obeyed as One having authority over them (Psa. 2: 6)?
1 For a fuller discussion of the signs of the approach of Antichrist see the writer's Christianity and Antichristianity in their Final Conflict. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1898. How can this anger be turned away? It can only be by humble confession of our sin, and by sincere repentance. But this is not the spirit of our day. To fall upon our knees and cry, "Have mercy upon us," "Come, Lord Jesus, and save us," are the acts of the humble and penitent.
1 For a fuller discussion of the signs of the approach of Antichrist see the writer's Christianity and Antichristianity in their Final Conflict. G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1898.
How can this anger be turned away? It can only be by humble confession of our sin, and by sincere repentance. But this is not the spirit of our day. To fall upon our knees and cry, "Have mercy upon us," "Come, Lord Jesus, and save us," are the acts of the humble and penitent.
Here is the peril, that we justify ourselves, and walk on in the ways of division and strife, grieving the Holy Spirit and hindering the Lord in all His work. To mistake the purpose of God, to ignore the sins of His people, and to cry "Peace, peace," when he Has taken the sword of judgment into His hands, is the most fatal of errors. The false prophets of this class were, as we have seen, active in the Lord's day, and carried the multitude with them. Are they less active in our own? God is long-suffering, but His purpose may not fail through the weakness and wickedness of man. Unwillingness to believe that God would forsake His Temple and permit His holy city to be destroyed, made the false prophets of old deceive the people by their nattering predictions. Is it not so to-day? Is not the belief deeply fixed and wide-spread that the honour of the Head of the Church forbids the thought that it can fail to do His will? We are God's elect; therefore all is well with us. May not the words of Saint Paul teach us as to the Divine ways (1 Cor. 5: 5)? As God's minister, the Apostle delivers a transgressor "unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." May not the Lord act in like manner with His disobedient people? May He not give them into the hands of Satan, and of his vicegerent the Beast, during the great tribulation, not for eternal destruction, but for purification, that they may be saved?
It was long ago said by an English writer, C. Maitland, speaking of the trial of Christian believers at the end, that "in that day of unequalled trouble . . . there will be the torture of sickening doubt, withering and racking despair. The grounds of faith will be so obscured as to render argument hopeless. ... In former persecutions there has ever been an easy answer to the blasphemies; but now it will be man's first difficulty to realise the faith for which he is called to suffer. ... In that day Christianity will seem to the world to have been a dream." Is not that day near at hand?
Let me add a word to those to whom this book is dedicated,—believers in Christ Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God, but troubled and dismayed by the antichristian tendencies and movements around them. To you, my friends, let me recall our Lord's words, spoken to His anxious disciples just before His departure: "Ye believe in God, believe also in Me." Yes, Lord Christ, we do believe in Thee. Help Thou our unbelief. Strengthen our faith. Let Thy promise be fulfilled to us: "Peace I leave with you, My peace give I unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." Help us, O Son of God, Head of the Church, Great High Priest, Prince of the Kings of the Earth, to abide in Thy peace, and strengthen us so to follow Thee, that we may be "counted worthy to escape the things that shall come to pass," and to stand with Thee upon Thy holy Hill.