HOLINESS AND THE ADVENT
D. M. PANTON, M.A.
The divorce between the teaching of consecration and the heralding of the
Second Advent is a painful and dangerous development of the moment.
The Keswick Convention, the foremost
platform for the teaching of holiness in England, now has (we understand) no
meeting on its programme for the Advent; and since it might be difficult to
find an Advent Testimony meeting up and down the land where warnings are given to any but the unsaved, Advent truth has
lost its grip, and seems to the outsider little more than an unreal,
speculative, academic forecast of events and dates. The
Judge standing before the doors is no longer the dynamic truth that shook the
Now our Lord's own statement of the duel effect of Advent's announcement is designed to have is, in this trenchancy (sharpness of speech), altogether unsurpassed. Of the faithful and wise steward whom He sets over the Household to feed it, Jesus says: "Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing: of a truth I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath" (Luke 12: 43). The exaltation of a teacher's office, the responsibility of the trust, and the conspicuousness of the example combine to make the Saviour put the double truth in its sharpest form.* But if that servant - that is, the same man: therefore regenerate, for our Lord does not set the unregenerate over His Household, and the servant's reward, if faithful, proves him to be regenerate shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming, and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken, the lord of that servant shall appoint his portion with the unfaithful. The Lord's summary is now as appalling for the unfaithful servant as it is inconceivably joyous for the faithful: That servant, which knew his lord's will, and made not ready - for the Advent shall be beaten with many stripes. The Saviour thus establishes for ever that it is not the fact of the Advent, standing by itself, but the Advent finding us obedient, which will be overwhelming joy. Enter into the joy of thy Lord is made conditional on multiplied talents. To change a conditional promise into an unconditional is a very daring act; for it is altering the Word of God, and putting into His mouth sentiments He has never expressed, and which are not His.
[* James stresses the same consequence of responsibility: "Be not many teachers, my brethren, knowing that we [teachers] shall receive heavier judgment" (James 3: 1) - that is, higher awards, and severer penalties, in accordance with the more exacting standard.]
The Apostle Peter, to whom these words of Christ were addressed, enforces the truth only less than the Lord. He cries the words that thrill us to the soul: The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore of sound mind - let your thought-life be sane, balanced, Scriptural and be sober - un-intoxicated, alert, watchful: we must not imagine that because the end is near we may be fanatical, extravagant, forgetful of the practical unto prayers (1 Pet. 4: 7) - self-watchful, as we immerse ourselves in frequent praying, and constant gatherings for prayer. Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved, he cries again, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness! (2 Pet. 3: 11). As Dean Wace puts it: "We have the more reason to fear that the worst and most terrible of those predictions will be verified, and that we ought to live in preparation for those supreme conflicts which both our Lord and His apostles prophesied would conclude the present dispensation. But our preparation is our own, and how the Lord finds us is a responsibility we cannot cast upon Him. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things, give diligence that ye may be found in peace, without spot and blameless in his sight (2 Peter 3: 14). Anyone who imagines that even the majority of the saved are conforming to these conditions is living in a world of unreality.
the Apostle John now reveals that the same may overwhelm the child of God in
that day. Now, my little children, abide in him;
that, if he shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before
him at his coming (1 John 2: 28).
Had our Lord returned in A.D. 96, as He might have done,* words which have
already actually addressed to a God-appointed chief officer of a God-recognised
church by the Lord Himself would hardly have been an unmixed joy: Thou knowest not that thou
art wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked
(Rev. 3: 17). It is not even a
question of what our Lord will say: it is a question of what He has
said. Therefore John presses the truth home. As Archbishop
Alexander, aptly using the pregnant example of Samson, urged the young men of
[*Christ "must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything" (Acts 3: 21): the Tribulation events must first take place before He will return, (Matt. 24: 15; 2 Thess. 2: 3-6).]
The Apostle James next unveils the element in the Advent which is the sobering fact. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Murmur not, brethren, one against another, that ye be not judged: behold the judge standeth before the doors (James 5: 8). Here the Advent is presented as a direct threat for sin - constant mutual criticism - among believers, and we reach the bedrock truth of the revelation. God never assumes or sanctions joy in sin: even the sinner, under pure grace, is saved [from its power] only if he abandons sin; and [regenerate] believers who, in carnal worldliness or doctrinal rebellion, accept the current teaching that the Advent is all joy for all the saved will not thank their teachers in that day. Bishop Handlet Moule has admirably summed it thus: The preaching of the Parousia, which shall be fully Scriptural, must include two main elements. First, the element of awe, the assurance that God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world; in which the individual must give an account of himself and his stewardship; that a crisis of judgment, dread and ineffable, is before us. The warning sense of sin needs the reinforcement of that warning, now if ever. On the other hand, the true preacher of the Advent will never forget the radiant aspect of it, which is the ruling aspect in the Bible. We have to remember the coming of the Bridegroom for the Bride, the breaking in of the heavenly 'summer'; 'that blissful hope' (to render Titus 2: 13 literally); the gladness and glory, of resurrection."
is left to the Apostle Paul to sum up exactly this whole conditional joy which
is embodied in the return of Christ to His Church. Verily in this [earthly
house of our tabernacle] we groan, longing to
be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven: IF SO BE
- that is, our longing for the Advent is checked and conditioned by our
personal preparedness that being clothed with
our resurrection body, we shall not be found naked (2 Cor. 5: 2). What this clothing is the Holy Spirit has made
clear. It was given unto her [the Bride at
the Advent] that she should array herself
in fine linen, bright and pure: for fine linen IS THE RIGHTEOUS ACTS OF THE
SAINTS (Rev. 19: 8). Thus
the joy of the Advent, once again, is made contingent on obedience in
the very last warning to the
[* It is in this sense that our Lord pronounces the Laodicean Angel (messenger) 'naked'; and counsels him to purchase "white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest" (Rev. 3: 18). That the Angel is a regenerate man, and so already clothed with the imputed righteousness of his Lord (Isaiah 61: 10), is not only manifest from Christ maintaining him in full charge of the church, but from the words which immediately follow: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten."]
But, finally, who shall measure the ecstasy of our possible joy? As actually the last word before the Judgments, in a doxology perhaps the most exquisite in the Bible, the Apostle Jude says: "Now unto him that is able" - once more, the point revealed is only the ability of God, not His arbitrary action, but an ability equal to the wrestling saint's utmost need - "to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with EXCEEDING JOY, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power now and ever" (Jude 24). This is a statement profoundly differing from the current prophetical theology, which runs - Now unto Him who will keep you from falling, and will present you faultless. To keep saints in an un-stumbling walk is a greater feat than to keep the stars in their courses; yet if He has made one Enoch, God can make a thousand. The doxology rises terrace over terrace, each interlocked inextricably with the one below: kept from falling, on earth; consequently, rapt from earth into heaven - 'presented'; found blameless at the Bema; with, consequently, nothing but 'exceeding joy': all are facets of one diamond, and that diamond is holiness. Immediately after his coronation, in the disrobing room, King Edward said to Cannon Duckworth: This is one of the happiest days, if not the happiest, of my life. Who can conceive the joy when the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father? It is joy unspeakable and full of glory.