THE RAPTURE IN THESSALONIANS
By ROBERT GOVETT, M.A.
It will be observed, that Paul is silent as to the multiple rapture, or the discriminating of the saints. Can such omission then be accounted for, or does not Paul’s omission throw discredit upon the doctrine?
To which it must be replied - First, that if a doctrine be once made out from Scripture, the silence of the other sacred writers does not in the least weaken it.
Secondly, we may discern why the apostle omitted to notice it. For the questions treated of by him are mainly two, and they are consolations addressed to quiet certain vain fears. (1) The first of these was, a fear lest the dead saints should have no part in the [Millennial] Kingdom. (2) The second was a fear that the living saints were already in the day of the Lord, and would have to make their way through the tempest.
(1) Now in order to answer the first it was enough to reply, that, as death did not hinder Jesus, the head of the coming kingdom, from entering upon it, so neither would it prevent the saints, who were one with Jesus, from entering it also. He appends also further intelligence respecting the mode of the resurrection; which proves that the living, far from being alone in the kingdom, would not be even first in it.
Such a mode of reply then did not require, and could hardly admit, any notice of distinguishing rapture. Whether the rapture takes place at thrice or at once, the same assertion holds good, that the living and dead will be jointly partakers of the ascent.
(2) But with regard to the other fear, the case was different. The apostle might have treated the question so as to bring the discrimination into view. He might have said - ‘The watchful saint will escape that day of terrors; the unwatchful will have to pass through it.’ But then it must be remembered that he had to meet the alarm of saints, who were persuaded that though they were watchful, the day of dread had come upon them. To tell them, then, that some of the saints would have to endure the perils and sorrows of that day, would hardly have tended to allay their fears. All at Thessalonica were not only watchful, but in full expectation; and therefore the cautionary view would manifestly be less needed, than where the saints were ignorant or asleep on this momentous topic.
it was not proposed to Paul, as an inquiry, whether any of the
Even the unruly of the Thessalonians - were still watchful, and would be partakers of the first rapture, though, if they continued in their unruliness, they would be subject to rebuke after their ascent. For every distinct offence of the saints has its answering and distant recompense.
The main subject of Paul is the Presence and this is but one, however many of the saints’ entrances into it may be. He takes up the raptures only as relating to, and introducing to, the Presence; and he treats of the Presence only as referring to the life or death of the saints (1 Thess. 4.), or as taking the watchful saint out of the Day of the Lord.
Thus we may see the reasons why our Lord brings it forward; and why the apostle does not. Paul viewed only the physical difficulties; and hence gives the rapture only as seen from the point of God’s power to surmount them. These difficulties abide the same, however often the rapture may be repeated. But Jesus presents the moral aspect of the rapture or God’s requirements from man. Jesus puts forth warning to the careless; Paul, comfort to the terrified. Thus the one wisely omits what the other had as wisely disclosed.
Paul’s omission on this point is parallel by another omission of a like kind. Jesus views both the Church and the Jews as of two classes: and presents the escape of the one, the trials and woe of the other. Paul recognizes but the one class of the Jews, and but one of the Church. The Jews with him were wholly impenitent; the Church wholly watchful.
Yet, in spite of the acknowledged omission, an attentive eye may, I believe, gather hints confirmatory of the doctrine even from the Epistle before us. For what says the fifth chapter of the first Epistle? The Apostle there is setting forth as one view the contrasted positions of the Church and the world. The Church is awake and sober, the world is sleeping and drunken; and answerably thereto, the one is seized on by the Day as by a thief, the other escapes. But would it not follow from such a principle, that if the believer have left the characteristic and holy position of safety in which the Church is to stand, that he also might be overtaken by that day as a thief? After describing the terrors of the day of the Lord, Paul warns the saint to be unlike those on whom that day will come; (1 Thess. 5: 6-8). And he winds up the epistle with a prayer, that they might be found blameless in body, soul, and spirit, in the Presence (verse. 23). He does not assume, as it constantly is assumed by many, that all ‘the Church’ will be ready. All the Thessalonian Christians indeed were awake to the return of the Lord. But that is not true of believers now; and even to these Paul drops a word of exhortation, not to resemble the world in its slumbers and drunkenness. Else, it is implied, if they were so overtaken, they would be dealt with as of the world.
But he closes on a note of reassurance. "Who died for us, in order that whether we keep awake or lie down to sleep, we may together live with him" (1 Thess. 5: 10). Many Christians, especially of those who despise prophecy, are spiritually asleep. They are pursuing, with full bent of soul, the world’s prizes. And thus they are blind to the effects of the Saviour’s return. Here, then, we obtain a reply to the momentous question: ‘Is it perdition of such to give themselves up to spiritual slumber?’ And the reply, in grace is: ‘No!’ The Saviour has died; and disobedience to this command will not be their destruction. Those spiritually alive in Christ shall not be for ever mixed up with the spiritually dead.
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By D. M. PANTON, M.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 the great subject of Scripture study, totally astray in the exposition of the plain and explicit Scriptures? Both sides can produce explicit Scriptures and powerful arguments. There must be a compromise, and there 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 a thing as a simultaneous removal of the whole Church, either before the Tribulation or after it.
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 believer himself. The current views dissociate rapture completely from all sanctity in the believer. In the first view, the grossest backslider is flashed into sudden glory; in the second view, 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.
RAPTURE A REWARD
Now what the truth is can at once be determined by discovering exactly what rapture is. If rapture is of grace, it is a gift; if it is a reward, it is of works; and one word of our Lord is decisive:- "Watch ye" - he is actually addressing apostles - "and pray 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 of 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 will 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 the 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 a 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 excommunication sins (1 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 to prove that he has never been born again, but "that the spirit [of the believer thus excommunicated] may be saved in the 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".
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 Philadelphia, 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 [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
[* There is no article before ‘firstfruits’, for it is but a section - the body escort of the Lamb.]
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 as addressed to the Church, both so interpret Scripture that that prayer is never prayed, and can never be prayed. For if 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 the Lord?
[FOOTNOTE. Rapture before the Tribulation (Luke 21: 36), cannot be the same as rapture at its close (Matt. 24: 29, 30; cf. 1 Thess 4: 16, 17): the distinction is not being made today, and the former is, without doubt, conditional.
There is nothing definite stated in Scripture (as far as I can find) to suggest more than two raptures. After the first removal, the next will occur at ‘the end of the Age’: that is, at the end of the Great Tribulation; and the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.]
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"It is astonishing how men will attack a citadel the very
ground plan of which they have never attempted to master. Some critics
(happily but few) of reward according to works urge that it is a Roman doctrine
and a variety of Purgatory by which salvation is to be won. The exact reverse is the fact. The truth
on reward takes out of the hands of Rome the Scriptures on which she rests to
salvation by works; the works that Rome puts before salvation,
reward puts after it, so making [eternal] salvation by works for ever impossible: it isolates
foundation from superstructure, salvation from reward, gift from prize, resting
from wrestling, and thus completely establishes evangelical truth while as
carefully safeguarding Christian responsibility; and it delivers from the very
error the critic deprecates - an Arminianism
(sacerdotal or otherwise) in which works done after faith are a condition of [eternal] salvation.
No man can meet
"For only in the double revelation is there the perfect balance of truth. Justification is instantaneous on a simple act of faith once for all: reward follows on sanctification through a lifetime of service. That a believer’s sins, if unconfessed and un-abandoned, will be judged by our Lord on His return is clear from 2 Cor. 5: 10:- "We must all be made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Is there a believer anywhere in the world who denies that ‘bad things’ done in the body are ‘sins’? but if this is conceded, the discussion is closed. Moreover, it is to ‘receive the things done,’ that is, (in the case of evil) their punitive consequences: as Paul says elsewhere (Col. 3: 25) - "He that doeth wrong shall RECEIVE AGAIN FOR THE WRONG that he hath done, and there is no respect of persons": “no plea that the offender is a believer, or a very distinguished believer, will avail ought."
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ACCOUNTED WORTHY TO ESCAPE
By G. H. PEMBER, M. A.
Upon the vexed question of the translation of the Church there has been much controversy. One large party has pronounced that all her living members will be removed from the earth before the Tribulation: another, that the whole number of them will have to remain here until the end of the same dread season: a third, that those of the living saints who, through their walk and behaviour after conversion, are found worthy, will escape the Tribulation; while such as the Lord finds living in ease and carnal security will have to be cleanses from worldly lusts by passing through the trial. This last mentioned view seems to us to be the true solution of the problem; while, at the same time, it suggests a probable origin of the others.
But we would pray for power to remember that over-confidence and dogmatism are altogether out of place in the discussion of subjects so profound and solemn. With chastened and humbled hearts must we enter the Holiest, sprinkled with the Blood of our slain Lord, and leaning, not upon our own wisdom, but upon the aid of that Spirit Who Alone knows the mind of God and Alone can reveal it. And if these be our conditions, there will be found in us none of that vain self-reliance, at times bordering upon arrogance, which is so often conspicuous in discussions even of the most solemn themes.
A vital passage is Luke 21: 36, which runs as follows:-
"Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Now in the ten verses immediately preceding these words, the Lord has been describing the Great Tribulation, which shall come as a snare "upon all them that dwell upon the face of the whole earth." Evidently, then, there is but one way of escaping a trouble so universal - namely, by a previous translation from the earth. And the last clause of the verse reveals that those who are thus translated will find themselves in the presence of "the Son of Man Which is in Heaven." We have, then, to discover who these favoured ones are, and, with that purpose in view, most carefully mark what the text tells us respecting them.
First, then, (1) they must be sought only among those who will be alive at the time of the end. (2) They must belong to the same class as the disciples whom the Lord was addressing. (3) They must be persons who know and believe that the Tribulation is impending, and who pray without ceasing for deliverance from it. (4) They will have to win this great favour by being accounted worthy of it. Bare faith in God, or Christ, will not procure it for them: it is not a gift, but a prize to be won, in the strength of the Lord, by the fruits of faith, by conduct and works after conversion. And (5) they are to be translated from earth to Heaven where the Lord Jesus is, and to remain with Him while their brethren are being harassed and slain by harlot and Beast in succession.*
[* The old idea that the title, ‘Son of Man,’ indicates a Jewish connection is untrue. The title is one of deep humility, and, therefore, with a single exception was used only by the Lord Himself. The other mouth that uttered it was that of Stephen, a Christian believer. And how could we ever forget the intimate association with ourselves? For was it not the Son of man that our Lord died, and redeemed us from all our iniquities?]
In the fourth chapter of the Revelation a change of Dispensation becomes manifest. The very word ‘church’ is never again found, until the prophecy has ended in chapter 22: 5. The Sanctuary of the Lampstands has disappeared, and its place is taken by the Throne, before which stand those heavenly things which were the patterns of the Tabernacle-furniture. (Rev. 4: 2, 5, 6; 8: 3.) Presently the Lord appears as a Jew, "the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David." (Rev. 5: 5). Then again, we have the martyrs crying for vengeance, (Rev. 6: 9-11), the sealing of twelve thousand from each of the twelve Tribes of Israel, (Rev.7: 1-8) the Two Witnesses destroying all who would hurt them, (Rev. 11: 5) and other signs that the Church-period has gone by, and the final Seven Years of Israel’s probation have commenced. And, since this great change occurs immediately after John’s ascent to heaven, (Rev. 6: 1) we cannot but regard the latter event as indicating the moment when the Firstfruits will be removed and the Church upon earth broken up, so far as her official character is concerned.
Thus the great controversy as to whether the then living members of the Church will be removed before or after the Tribulation appears to have been founded upon a mistake that all of them would be removed at the same moment.
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By R. J.
No true Christian can go right through life without sooner or later, on a small scale or a great, finding himself misunderstood and opposed by fellow-Christians, some of whom may be personally dear to him. Faithfulness to one’s vision is sure to involve a trial of this kind, and it is no light one. Sweet friendships are often sundered thereby, tender affections wounded to the quick; it is a heart-piercing thing to see a beloved face turned from you, to perceive cordial trust alienated at the very moment when you are in greatest need of it; it is hard to keep silence on the subject that is first in your thoughts, because it happens to be just the one subject that has divided you from your circle or your closest friend. Seldom are such breaches thoroughly healed in this world.
Be vigilant therefore lest you be seduced to betray your soul or be less that true to what the Spirit of all truth requires of you. Neither by silence nor by speech seek to win commendation by seeming to agree where you do not agree or to admire what you conscientiously feel to be wrong. The temptation may be sore to win an advantage by concealing your true convictions when the temper of your company is hostile to them, but to yield to it is to be guilty of the sin of quenching the Spirit, which none can do without harming others as well as himself.
To speak the truth in love is often hard, but grace is afforded to him who makes the effort in faith and humility. It is hard to blame when you long to praise, to point out a shortcoming or wound a proud man’s self-esteem; but when it has to be done, do it without fear or falsity as though you stood before the judgment seat of Christ, and leave the outcome to Him. Be gentle, modest, and strong, and your Lord will sustain you. Let there be no smallest trace of self-seeking or self-righteousness in any difficult thing that you have to say or do in the name of Jesus, and you will have no cause to regret the stand you take whatever you have to suffer for it. For in the long run it is better to hold the respect of Jesus than that of fallible man, and even in the sadness of a lonely hour His whispered word of peace is worth more than all the adulation of the world.
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COURAGE AND HONESTY
Henry VIII, deeply incensed with a sermon by Bishop Latimer, order him to apologize on the following Sunday. The Bishop began: - 'Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art to speak? To the high and Mighty Monarch, who can take thy life, therefore take heed. But consider well, Hugh - upon whose message art thou sent? Even the great and mighty God, who is all-present, and who is able to cast thy soul into Hell. Therefore, take care that thou deliver thy message.' He then repeated the same sermon, but with greater intensity. The Court trembled. The King, summoning the Bishop, asked sternly how he dared to be so bold. Latimer, falling on his knees, said that he had done his duty to his God and his Prince. Henry, rising, took the Bishop by the hand, exclaiming, - 'Blessed be God I have so honest a servant!' "