D. M. PANTON, B.A.
The ever-deepening shadows of coming judgment around us, which - as we have several times ventured to predict - are certain to modify the views of multitudes of Christians on prophecy, have now been reinforced by an ambitious and elaborate volume,* favourably reviewed by all the leading evangelical journals to an astounding degree, which assures us that all Christians must pass through the Great Tribulation. So this old problem, so terrific in its consequences, is once again upon us, whether we will or no; and every opening of a fresh year makes the knowledge of what exactly is going to happen more urgent - more desperately urgent - for us all.
[* The Approaching Advent of Christ, by Alexander Reese.]
TWO DOMINANT VIEWS
two understandings of Scripture divide the
This startling alternative makes the victory of either group morally impossible. For how is it conceivable that saints of God so able and devoted as J. N. Darby and Dr. Torrey on the one hand, or else Dr. Tregelles and George Muller on the other, could be totally wrong on a great subject of Scripture study, totally astray in the exposition of plain and explicit Scriptures? Both sides can produce explicit Scriptures and powerful arguments. There must be a compromise, and is. The gradual removal of the Church by successive raptures,* according to the ripeness of the grain, is the golden mean between two blank contradictions, a golden mean which accepts, on their face value, unaltered and unmodified all the Scriptures that bear on rapture. It is significant to note at once that 'the rapture of the Church' is a phrase unknown to Scripture, for the simple reason that there is no such thing as a simultaneous removal of the whole Church, either before the Tribulation or after it.
[* There is no mention of ‘successive raptures’ or multiple raptures in Scripture. There will be a selective rapture of watchful saints, who will be able to escape ‘all that is about to happen’ before the Great Tribulation commences (Luke 21: 36); and another rapture of those ‘who are still alive, that are left till the coming of the Lord’ (1 Thess. 4: 15), at its end, when Christ descends to establish His Millennial Kingdom, (verse 17). cf. Acts 1: 11; Rev. 11: 15; Micah 4: 1-4; Isa. 35: 1, 2. Between these two raptures, the careless saints who are ‘left’ will have to endure ‘tribulation, the great one’, under Antichrist, will persecute them and put them to death with the Jews: but there is in hint of any ‘successive raptures’ taking place during that dreadful era. Modern-day apostasy – (i.e., a denial of millennial truths and conditional promises of God.) - within God’s churches (Matt. 24: 5), would indicate that these events will happen in the near future. Ripeness for rapture must occur before the Tribulation commences, not during the time of persecution and martyrdom. See, Luke 12: 47; Gal. 6: 7, 8; Rev. 20: 4.]
A MORAL DISTINCTION
Now we are at once arrested by an outstanding fact. Between the two dominant views on the one hand, and the Scripture statements concerning rapture on the other, the fundamental difference is a moral one. The two current views throw the entire responsibility of what is coming to us upon God; whether we escape the Tribulation, or pass through it is the sovereign act of God: whereas the Scripture lodges the responsibility foursquare upon the shoulders of the [regenerate] believer himself. The current views dissociate rapture completely from all sanctity in the [regenerate] believer. In the first view, the grossest backslider is flashed into sudden glory; in the second the saintliest character must undergo the coming judgments: the Scripture, on the other hand, explicitly states the reverse of both these statements; for it establishes rapture on a moral basis. All moves - including the great Day of the Lord - towards the perfecting of the saints. Those rapt before the Tribulation, kept watchful by the warnings they heeded, escape; while the terrors of the Day of the Lord, which they experience, will stab wide-awake all Christians who are now plunged in unbreakable slumber.*
[* And those who must accept most of the blame for the Church’s ‘unbreakable slumber,’ are its teachers: and many of them are aware of scriptural truths which they are unwilling to disclose to others!]
RAPTURE A REWARD
Now what the truth is can at once be determined by discovering exactly what rapture is. If rapture is of grace [only], it a gift; if it is a reward, it is of [a regenerate believer’s] works; and one word of our Lord [spoken to His chosen disciples] is decisive. He says:- "Watch ye" - he is actually addressing apostles - "and pray always that ye may be ACCOUNTED WORTHY to escape all these things that shall come to pass" (Luke 21: 36): the escape (He says) is contingent on the worthiness: that is, the escape is not a gift of grace, but a reward conditional on watchfulness and prayer. It is most significant that in the great galaxy of faith in Hebrews Eleven, the sole hero of faith associated with reward is Enoch, the rapt; and his rapture is explicitly stated to be the fruit of his walk, not of his standing. "He was not found, for before his translation he hath had witness borne to him that he had been well-pleasing unto God", who "is a REWARDER of them that diligently seek him" (Heb. 11: 5). Thus we learn why, as the exact date of the Advent is hidden, so the Scripture is totally silent on the degree of sanctity demanded for rapture: the date is concealed in order to produce perpetual watchfulness; the standard of worthiness is concealed in order to produce perpetual preparation.
THE DAY OF THE LORD
Now this discovery of what rapture is - namely, a reward completely disarms both the opposing camps. For what is the central argument in both, supporting the removal of the whole Church at or in the Tribulation? The first group denies that any believer can incur the terrors of the Day of the Lord; the second group denies that what all Christians shall pass through is the Day of the Lord: that is, both groups seek to avoid, at all costs, all that conflicts with grace. But rapture occurs in the day of justice, not in the day of grace - the day in which our Lord says - "I know thy works": the withdrawal of ambassadors is not the last act of peace, but the first act of war; and the withdrawal of God’s ambassadors is an action of the Day of Wrath. So far as the Day of Wrath being impossible for the child of God, wrath already occurs in principle, and can occur in fact. For the Church is directed by the Holy Ghost, in the case of a believer guilty of one of the excommunicating sins (Cor. 5: 11), "TO DELIVER SUCH A ONE UNTO SATAN FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FLESH" - an exact summary of the Day of Vengeance; but, not in order that he may be eternally destroyed, nor prove that he has never been born again, but "that the spirit [of the believer thus excommunicated] may be saved in day of the Lord Jesus" * - when, from the Judgment Seat, our Lord opens His Reign on earth. It is exactly so in the days that are coming. It is the descent of Satan, occurring after the rapture of the Manchild, that creates the Great Tribulation, and he sets out (Rev. 12: 17) to exterminate the ‘remainder’ who "hold the testimony of Jesus".
[* The salvation of the "spirit"(1 Cor. 5: 5), is not what many regenerate believers imagine it to be. To understand the expression aright, we need to turn to God's dealings with His redeemed people who had had a different spirit to that of Caleb. "In every deed, as I live, and as the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord;" – (the very truth of God which can only occur when Christ returns to establish His Millennial Kingdom here [Psa. 2:8; Rev. 11:15], and which is now being rejected and disbelieved by multitudes of His redeemed people.) - "because all those men which have seen my glory, and my signs, which I wrought in Egypt and in the wilderness, yet have tempted me these ten times, AND HAVE NOT HEARKENED TO MY VOICE; surly they shall not see the land which I sware unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that dispised me see it: but my servant Caleb, BECAUSE HE HAD ANOTHER SPIRIT – (Caleb and Joshua believed they could all conquer the enemy and inherit the land, if only they would believe the words of God and live to please Him, verse 8) - WITH HIM, and hath FOLLOWED ME FULLY, him will I bring into the land ..."(Num. 14: 21-24).
This is what the "the salvation of the spirit" is all about. It will occur at various times for different regenerate believers when they are aroused from a spiritual slumber by the Holy Spirit. At that time they will have a different spirit, and will realise the enormous loss of their millennial inheritance. All within the redeemed family of God, who now despise that kingdom and that inheritance, will receive "another spirit," and consequently, they will weep and wail - (in Hades/Sheol the place of the dead) - at their enormous loss. 1 Cor. 6: 9, 10; 10: 11; Heb. 6: 4-6. The common belief that we immediately ascend into heaven at the time of death is a myth: we must wait for the time of resurrection; and the intermediate place of the souls of the dead is not above the earth but under it. John 3: 13; 14: 3; Luke 16: 23; Rev. 6: 9-11]
A CONDITIONAL PROMISE
No passage is plainer or more decisive than our Lord’s promise to the Philadelphian Angel, and none more critically overthrows both views dominant in the Church. "Because thou" - it is no promise to the whole church in Philadeilphia, much less to the whole Church throughout the world, but a promise to a selected church officer for the action he has taken - "didst keep the word of my patience" - here is no privilege whatever based on the new birth, but a promise to a selected believer as a reward for a definite doctrinal action - "I also WILL KEEP THEE" - therefore without the ‘kept word’ no believer will be correspondingly ‘kept’ - "from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world [‘habitable earth’] to try them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. 3: 10). Words are meaningless if a promise so sharply conditioned is to be enjoyed by all believers, freed from all conditions whatever; and equally impossible is it to reconcile it with being kept safely through the Tribulation. For the Angel is dead. As a matter of fact, he can never be kept through the Tribulation, for he can never be in it, and such an exposition would only make our Lord’s promise false: whereas, since he is to be kept out of the Trial, his death has already fulfilled the promise; a promise which will cover all the living also who fulfil its conditions.
A CONCRETE FACT
now, in the Apocalypse, we see conditional rapture in concrete fact. "I saw, standing on
PRAYERLESSNESS [FOR RAPTURE]
The practical consequence of this unfortunate dual error is that, while both groups, it is astounding to know, accept (for the most part) our Lord’s commanded prayer for escape is addressed to the Church, both so interpret Scripture that that prayer is never prayed, and can never be prayed. For we all must escape, or if we all must pass through the Trial, in either case such a prayer is merely unbelief: therefore, on one ground or another, the prayer to escape, the only subject on which our Lord ever commanded perpetual prayer - "PRAY ALWAYS" - is never prayed - at Second Advent meetings, or conventions such as Keswick, or (with rare exceptions) in any of the Churches of God throughout the world. But individuals pray the Prayer. The writer has prayed it daily for thirty-six years. The prayer may not, by itself, ensure our rapture - much depends on the watchfulness that is to accompany it; but it must enormously increase the likelihood. Is it not safest to follow in the counsel of our Lord?