A Lecture, on the Second Advent of Christ, given at
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Is Christ coming again? If so, how will He come? And how will His coming affect mankind?
These are questions which can easily be framed; but their answer involves issues of the most momentous and far-reaching character. Let us consider them with becoming seriousness of spirit.
Note first, then, that we propose to approach our theme from the standpoint which our opening questions suggest.
To inquire, Will Christ come again? indicates an acceptance of the Biblical affirmation that He has come once before. If we really believe in that, in the sense in which the Scripture presents it, we have taken a very long step toward accepting the equally emphatic Biblical doctrine that He will visit this earth again. For the teaching of Scripture is that the First Advent of our Lord was an event of so transcendently miraculous a character as to make all other miracles seem light by comparison. It was - so Scripture affirms - nothing less than the laying hold of human nature by One who was essentially and veritably GOD.
Here, then, in the First Advent, is mystery eluding all human grasp. It will repay us to dwell at some length upon it, and prepare the way for the consideration of our main theme.
The Doctrine of the First Advent,
then, is that One has come to this earth who was, on the one hand, truly Man, possessing all the attributes of genuine humanity, its sinful taint alone excepted. As a child He grew in wisdom even as He grew in stature. As a man He became perfect by the things which He suffered. In all physical and mental characteristics He was one of us. He rejoiced, He sorrowed, He wept; he was hungry, thirsty, and weary; He ate, He drank, He slept, He prayed, He agonised, He entered the dark portals of death.
Yet He constantly declared that He came forth from the Father; that He and the Father were One; that it was the Divine will that men should honour Him as they honoured the Father; that they who had seen Him had seen the Father; while John, who knew Him best, commenced His Gospel with this affirmation: “In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God”.
That we should be told that such a Being as He should be born of a human mother does not surprise us; it seems eminently fitting that it should be so; but neither does it surprise us to be told that He was born physically (as His followers are born spiritually), “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”. The one seems as inevitable as the other. In a word, His essential being, and the manner of
His Entry Into Human Life
were as high above the ordinary laws of existence as the heavens are high above the earth.
Such, then, was the supremely miraculous nature of His First Advent. If, therefore, the doctrine of His Second Advent demands our acceptance of the supernatural, shall that fact stagger us? Are we not, as orthodox believers in the Incarnation, already committed to an event equally, if not far more, startling? Indeed, is not the doctrine of the Second Advent in some ways more easily conceivable than that of the First? The latter involved, as we have seen, the initial problem of bridging the inconceivable gulf between God and His creature man. We believe that it was bridged; we accept all that the Nicene Creed says about it; but who of us can really comprehend it, or completely think it through?
No problem of this magnitude attends the doctrine of the Second Advent. There may be some features that are beyond our reach; but nothing like those that the Incarnation presents. I seriously submit that the return of the Lord Jesus to this earth, while wholly supernatural,
Is at Least Clearly Thinkable
Consider the case. Our Lord rose bodily from the dead - so all present here doubtless believe. In that raised visible and tangible body, our Lord ascended to heaven. We conceive of Him, therefore, at this moment, not as being diffused in space, but as occupying some definite locality in the heavenlies. So far as His glorified physical frame is concerned, we may affirm that He cannot [bodily] be in two places at once. His return to earth, therefore, will be so far natural that it will involve no new problem of incarnation. He is at the moment at which we are now speaking in a given place in heaven, and consequently not here on earth.
At His Second Advent He will be here at a given place on earth, and not there in heaven; arriving on earth, not through the mysterious gateway of a virgin birth; but coming by a movement through space; coming as an angel comes; as Gabriel came to Zachariah in the Temple; as the angel that will blow the advent-trumpet will come. I repeat, all this to me is profoundly supernatural, but it does not overwhelm my intellect as does the sight of the Babe in the manger, whom with all our hearts we worship as God. Thus does an adequate doctrine of the First Advent of our Lord prepare the way for the doctrine of the Second.
2. But let us advance a step further. The First Advent not only makes the Second possible, in the sense that one miracle prepares the way for another; but the attendant circumstances of the First are such as to help us to clarify
Our Thoughts concerning the Second
Take, for example, the relationship of our Lord’s First Coming to prophecy. God was pleased, the Scriptures inform us, to call out a nation to be the channel of Divine revelation. A large part of that revelation was the unfolding of a purpose of salvation which was to bless mankind; and the very heart of that Gospel which was thus preached beforehand, was that salvation was to be found in a Person.
Of the Coming of this Person, prophets and Psalmists
give the fullest and most detailed predictions.
He was to be the Son of Abraham, of the tribe of
Yes; but how were these prophecies fulfilled? Quite literally; as literally as the most literal of Jewish expositors ever interpreted them. It is true that the Jewish doctors found some difficulty in explaining the Scriptures which referred in the same breath to Messiah’s sufferings and glory; when speaking generally they interpreted the Messianic prophecies in the most matter-of-fact way; and in the most matter-of-fact way they were actually fulfilled.
Literal Parallel between Both Advents
“Where” - said Herod to the chief priests and scribes – “where is Christ to be born?” Their answer was: “In Bethlehem of Judaea, for thus it is written by the prophet”; and He was born there just as they and Micah had said.
Now, if the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning our Lord’s First Advent were thus literally to be understood, may we not confidently believe that the New Testament predictions concerning His Second Coming will be fulfilled in an equally literal manner? May we not conclude from them, even after taking full account of any passages in which the prediction of Christ’s coming again may refer to a historical or a personal Pentecost, or to such events as the destruction of Jerusalem or the
Fall of the
may we not still conclude, I say, that Christ will
really come again to this earth in person; to raise the sleeping saints and to transform those that are alive and remain;
to destroy Antichrist, to restore
For, be it noted, the references in the New Testament to our Lord’s Second Coming are as integral a part of its teaching as the references to His First Coming are an integral part of the Old.
In the volume I hold in my hand, The Lord’s Return, by Dr. Graham Scroggie, this is demonstrated beyond question. Our Lord Himself, it reminds us, constantly declared, sometimes in plain statement, or some times in parabolic from, that He would come again. “The Son of Man shall come”; “They shall see the Son of Man coming”; “Your Lord doth come”; “When He cometh in the glory of the Father”, are phrases which a score of times fell from His lips. Moreover, He elaborated the theme. He declared that His Coming would be personal and visible, that it would be sudden, that it would be after a protracted period, and be heralded by
Signs in the Heavens
and on the earth; but that its precise day and hour were not known. He spoke of the purpose of it. He would come, He said, to reckon with His servants and to reward them; to judge the nations, and to enter upon His Kingdom upon earth.
Not less largely does the theme bulk in the teaching
of the Apostles. Paul’s Epistles to the
Thessalonians are dominated by it. It is in the first of these that the
majestic words that most of us read as we lay our dead to rest are to be found
(1 Thess. 4: 13-18). Paul’s letters to the
From the Gospel according to St. Matthew to the Apocalypse of St. John, it is one of the major themes of Christian revelation; and none of the varied ways in which its clear implications are sought to be explained away permit us, as Dr. Denney has said, “to call in question what stands so plainly on the pages of the New Testament and what filled so exclusively the minds of the first Christians - the idea of a personal return of Christ as Judge of all.”
Messianic Prophecies of the Old Testament
3. But consider the matter still further. Do not those of us who believe the First Coming of our Lord to be a literal and historic fact, regard it as an event without which there would have been no hope for mankind? Assuredly we do. As the Scriptures have shewn, and as secular historians have confirmed, our Lord’s birth occurred at a period of
Universal Moral Bankruptcy
The Jew had been put under Law, and had failed. The Gentile had been left to reason and conscience, and had equally failed - so the Apostle Paul declared in the opening portion of the Roman Letter, in which he tore the veil from the moral obliquity of both the pagan and the Jewish world.
If man was to be saved, none but the Son of God could save him; and He must become incarnate to do so. If the sinner’s guilt was to be put away, only thus could He achieve it. If the water of life was to flow into the parched desert of a death-doomed world, He alone was able to supply it. It was aut Christus aut nullus. That He has done this is the great Gospel story.
The Son of God has come to save.
From highest heaven the light has shone,
0 Life, that overcomes the grave!
0 Love, that bids our fears be gone!
But is not His Second Coming equally indispensable for the world’s well-being? For ourselves, we see no other remedy for the world’s manifold ills. We are aware that some base their hope for the world’s betterment on the alleged processes of natural evolution.
The wonder of the physical universe, we are told, is the product of mysterious but potent forces that have brought order and beauty out of chaos, and the multitudinous forms of life out of protoplasm. The operation of the same forces, it is alleged, will effect a like miracle in the moral and spiritual realm. The world’s disorders, its “taint of blood, defect of will”, will all ultimately disappear, without any adventitious aid. But will they? As we all know, the basic theory upon which such views are built has long been challenged by competent persons as being as contrary to scientific fact as it is contrary to Scriptural teaching. But has it, in any case, any practical comfort to give us? “Move upward, working out the beast, and let the ape and tiger die”, sang Tennyson.
But, as Dr. Scroggie has written in the volume already referred to: “Have long centuries of civilisation accomplished this in us? Literature ethics, politics, philanthropy, culture, reform, conferences, federations, leagues and pacts - have these ‘worked out the beast and made the ape and tiger die’? For answer we have but to consider the state of the world at the present time”. We agree, and add that if the
Only Gateway to a Golden Age
is that of evolution, or the inherent and growing goodness of human nature, we may well write over its portals: “Abandon hope, all ye that enter here”.
The expectation of others is in the diffusion of Christian principle, the leavening of society by Christian influence. Now, it is blessedly true that the saints are the salt of the earth, and keep it sweet; it is a known fact that when the Gospel is savingly received it humanises and civilises; it is a matter of history that every spiritual revival leaves a residue of social and national blessing behind it. Nevertheless, we may still ask, Does the experience of the Christian Church afford ground for believing that it is by this means that the millennial age will be brought in?
More important still, does Scripture give any support to such a hope? We think not. Neither our Lord’s foreview of the Christian age, contained in Matthew 13, nor His description of the events leading up to His Return, recorded in Matthew 24, lend countenance to it.
Commenting on His parable of the wheat and the tares, Archbishop Trench says: “We learn here that evil is not as so many dream, gradually to wane and disappear before good, but is ever to develop itself more fully, even as on the other side good is to unfold itself more and more, and more mightily also. Thus it will go on, until at last they stand face to face, each in its highest manifestation, in Christ and Antichrist”.
And, we may add, Apostolic teaching confirms that it is not until Christ shall have
Finally Destroyed Antichrist
with the breath of His mouth and the brightness of His coming, that the golden age, of which men have dreamed, and prophets and psalmists written and sung, shall dawn upon a weary and war-worn world.
It is not that for one moment we would belittle any earnest human effort to promote righteousness and peace among men; but not by that pathway, we believe, will the millennial age be reached. The key that will alone unlock its portal is
The Coming of the Son of Man.
We summarise briefly as we close. In our preliminary study of the Second Advent, let us, as we have suggested, view the future in the light of the past; prophecy in the light of history; the Second Advent in the light of the First?
Has Christ come once? Has that coming involved a miracle of the highest conceivable order? Then the miraculous pre-supposition of a Second Advent as Biblically stated need not prevent our acceptance of it.
Have the many and detailed prophecies which foretold Christ’s first coming been literally fulfilled? Then may we reasonably expect that those which predict His coming again will be fulfilled in like manner.
Was the only hope of that old pre-Christian world the entry of the Son of God into human life, “to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself”? Then may we confidently hope - amid the bankruptcy of all human efforts to create the brave new world of which men so glibly speak - that there will be a second visitation from on high; that Christ will “appear the second time, apart from sin, unto salvation”, a salvation even now “ready to be revealed”.
This is the Blessed Hope; this is the Only Hope.*
[*Reprinted from “Watching and Waiting” and “The Prophetic News” and a pamphlet “Is Christ Coming Again?” by the F.I.E.C.]