THE SECOND ADVENT
by Bishop J. C. Ryle
Of all the doctrines of the Gospel, the one about which Christians have become most unlike the first Christians, in their sense of its true value, is the doctrine of Christ’s second advent. I am obliged to say this of all denominations of Protestants. I know not of any exception. In our view of man’s corruption, of justification by faith, of our need of the sanctifying work of the [Holy] Spirit, of the sufficiency of Scripture - upon all these points I believe we should find the English believers were much of one mind with believers at Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, or Rome, in former times. But in our view of the second advent of Christ, I fear we should find there was a mighty difference between us and them, if our experience could be compared. I am afraid we should find that we fall woefully short of them in our estimate of its importance: that in our system of doctrine it is a star of the fifteenth magnitude, while in theirs it was one of the first. In one word, we should discover, that compared with them in this matter, we slumber and sleep.
I must speak my mind on this subject, now that I am upon it. I do so most unwillingly. I do so at the risk of giving offence, and of rubbing against the prejudices of many whom I love. But it is a cross I feel it a duty to take up. And speak I must.
I submit, then, that in the matter of Christ’s second coming
[* NOTE. So we face our enormous practical problem:- Are we overcoming? Is each of us (like a nation involved in war) concentrating on victory, at all costs? “This promise to the overcomer is the promise of the ascended, victorious, crowned, and almighty Saviour to men whom He would have imitate and reproduce the life which He lived while upon the earth. Many fail where one succeeds. The higher we rise in any sphere of life the smaller do the classes become. The promise affords glorious encouragement in the blessed assurance that it is possible in this life-battle to overcome” (T. McCullagh, D.D.). In the words of Dr. Horatius Bonar:- “A throne not merely salvation, or life, but higher than these - glory, honour, dominion, and power. From being the lowest here they are made the highest hereafter. It is Christ’s throne. He [Christ] has a seat on the Father’s throne as the reward of His victory, so we [if judged worthy (Luke 20: 35. cf. 22: 28] have a seat on His [millennial throne] as the reward of ours.” Many of the humblest and obscurest saints will shine out the brightest stars in the coming Kingdom.]
Now I believe this
to have been an unfair system of interpreting Scripture. I hold that the first and primary sense of
every Old Testament promise as well as threat is the literal one and that Jacob
I submit further, that in the interpretation of the New Testament, the
Now I believe that all these interpretations are entirely
beside the mark. I have not the least
desire to underrate the importance of such subjects as death and judgment. I willingly concede that the destruction of
The Truth of Scripture
The plain truth of Scripture I believe to be as follows:
Christ will come again to this world with power and great glory. He will raise His saints, and gather them to
Himself. He will punish with fearful
judgments all who are found His
enemies, and reward with glorious rewards all* His believing people. He will take to Himself His great power, and
reign, and establish a universal kingdom.
He will gather the scattered tribes of
[* NOTE. Keep in mind that he word ‘all,’ must always be interpreted in the light of the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and His divinely inspired apostles: it may not always mean everyone! “It is often urged that this passage [See 1 Cor. 15: 51] declares that though ‘we shall not all sleep,’ but some be alive at the decent of the Lord, yet ‘we shall all be changed,’ and surely, says the objector with emphasis, all means all. Truly; but in verse 22, ‘For as in Adam all die, so also in the Christ shall all be made alive,’ ‘all’ means all of mankind, for every child of Adam will at some time be raised by Christ (John 5: 28, 29). But not all at the first resurrection (Rev. 20: 5). Therefore in this very chapter ‘all’ means different things, and in verse 51 requires limiting, since it refers to a smaller company than in verse 22.” (G. H. Lang.) See “An important text (2)”]
The words of the angels, in the first of Acts, are plain and
unmistakable: “This same Jesus which is taken up
from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into
heaven”. (Acts 1: 11). So also the words of the Apostle Peter: “The times of refreshing shall come from the
presence of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was
preached unto you: whom the heaven must
receive until the times of restitution of all things which God hath spoken by
the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began”. (Acts 3: 19-21). So also the words of
the Psalmist:- “When the Lord shall build up
So also the words of Zechariah: “the Lord my God shall come,
and all the saints with thee”. (Zech. 14: 5).
So also the words of Isaiah: “The Lord of hosts shall reign in
I say “literally and exactly
fulfilled” and I say so advisedly.
From the first day that I began to read the Bible with my heart, I have
never been able to see these texts, and hundreds like them, in any other
light. It always seemed to me that as we
take literally the texts foretelling that the walls of Babylon shall be cast
down, so we ought to take literally the texts foretelling that the walls of
Zion shall be built up - that as according to prophecy the Jews were literally
scattered, so according to prophecy the Jews will be literally gathered - and
that as the least and minutest predictions were made good on the subject of our
Lord’s coming to suffer, so the minutest predictions shall be made good which
describe our Lord’s coming to reign [in
manifested power and glory]. And I have long felt it is one of the greatest shortcomings of the
It proves nothing against the doctrine of Christ’s second coming and kingdom, that it has sometimes been fearfully abused. I should like to know what doctrine of the Gospel has not been abused. Salvation by grace has been made a pretext for licentiousness - election an excuse for all manner of unclean living - and justification by faith a warrant for Antinomianism. But if men will draw wrong conclusions, we are not therefore obliged to throw aside good principles. We do not give up the Gospel because of the outrageous conduct of the Anabaptists of Munster, or the extravagant assertions of Saltmarsh and William Huntington, or the strange proceedings of Jumpers and Shakers. And where is the fairness of telling us that we ought to reject the second advent of Christ because there were Fifth Monarchy Men in the days of the Commonwealth, and Irvingites and Millerites in our own time. Alas, men must be hard pressed for an argument when they have no better reasons than this!
It proves nothing against the second advent of Christ, that those who hold the doctrine differ among themselves on many particular points in prophecy. Such differences need never stumble anyone, who recollects that unity, on great points is perfectly consistent with disagreement on small ones. Luther and Zwinglius differed widely in their views of the Lord’s Supper: yet who would think of saying that therefore Protestantism is all false? Fletcher and Toplady were both clergy-men in the Church of England, but differed widely, about Calvinism: yet where would be the sense of saying that all Evangelical religion was therefore untrue? In common fairness this ought to be remembered when people talk of the differences among those who study prophecy. It is possible for men to differ much as to meaning they place on the symbols in the book of Revelation, and yet on the matter of Christ’s coming and kingdom they may be substantially agreed.
It proves nothing against the doctrine that it is encompassed with many difficulties. This I fully concede. The order of events connected with our Lord’s coming, and the manner of His kingdom when it is set up, are both deep subjects, and hard to be understood. But I firmly believe that the difficulties connected with any other system of interpreting unfulfilled prophecy are just twice as many as those which are said to stand in our way. I believe too that the difficulties connected with our Lord’s second coming are not half so many as those connected with His first, and that it was a far more improbable thing, “a priori”, that the Son of God should come to suffer, than it is that He should come to reign. And, after all, what have we to do with the “how” and “in what manner” prophecies are to be fulfilled? Is our miserable understanding of what is possible, to be the measure and limit of God’s dealings? The only question we have to do with is, “Has God said a thing?” If He has, we ought not to doubt it shall be done.
The Writer’s Testimony
For myself, I can only give my own individual testimony; but the little I know experimentally of the doctrine of Christ’s second coming makes me regard it as most practical and precious, and makes me long to see it more generally received.
I find it a powerful spring and stimulus to holy living - a motive for patience, for moderation, for spiritual-mindedness - a test for the employment of time - and a gauge for all my actions: “Should I like my Lord to find me in this place - should I like Him to find me so doing”?
I find it the strongest argument for missionary work. The time is short. The Lord is at hand. The gathering out from all nations will soon be accomplished. The heralds and forerunners of the King will soon have proclaimed the Gospel [of the kingdom] in every nation. The night is far spent. The King will soon be here.
I find it the best answer to the infidel. He sneers at our churches and chapels, at our sermons and services, at our tracts and our Schools. He points to the millions who care nothing for Christianity after 1,900 years of preaching. He asks me how I can account for it, if Christianity be true. I answer, It was never said that all the world would believe and serve Christ under the present dispensation. I tell him the state of things he ridicules was actually foreseen, and the number of true Christians [accounted worthy to reign with Him]*, it was predicted, would be few. But I tell him Christ’s [millennial] kingdom is yet to come*; and although we see not yet all things put under Him, they will be so one day.
[* See Psa. 2; Isa. 55: 11-13; 61: 11;65: 18-25, etc. See also Hosea. 2: 18, 21. cf. 2 Pet. 3: 8, 9 with Hosea 5: 15- 6: 2.]
I find it the best argument with the Jew. If I do not take all the prophecy of Isaiah literally, I know not how I can persuade him that the 53rd chapter is literally fulfilled. But if I do, I have a resting-place for my lever, which I know he cannot shake. How men can expect the Jews to see a Messiah coming to suffer in the Old Testament prophecies, if they do not themselves see in them a Messiah coming to reign, is past my understanding.
And now, is there one among the readers of this address who cannot receive the doctrine of Christ’s Second Advent and kingdom? I invite that man to consider the subject calmly and dispassionately. Dismiss from your mind traditional interpretations. Separate the doctrine from the mistakes and blunders of many who hold it. Do not reject the foundation because of the wood, hay, and stubble which some have built upon it. Do not condemn it and cast it aside because of injudicious friends. Only examine the texts which speak of it, as calmly and fairly as you weigh texts in the Romish, Arian, or Socinian controversies, and I am hopeful as to the result on your mind. Alas, if texts of Scriptures were always treated as unceremoniously as I have known texts to be treated by those who dislike the doctrine of Christ’s second advent, I should indeed tremble for the cause of truth.
Is there any one among the readers of this address who agrees with the principles I have tried to advocate? I beseech that man to endeavour to realise the second coming of Christ more and more. Truly we feel it but little compared with what we ought to do, at the very best. Be gentle in argument with those that differ from you. Remember that a man may be mistaken on this subject, and yet be a holy child of God. It is not the slumbering on this subject that ruins souls, but the want of grace! Above all, avoid dogmatism and positiveness, and specially about symbolical prophecy. It is a sad truth, but a truth never to be forgotten, that none have injured the doctrine of the second coming so much as its over-zealous friends.
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