PAUL'S PROPHETIC VIEW
OF THE SECOND ADVENT OF CHRIST.
HIS CAUTIONS AGAINST UNBELIEF AND SPIRITUAL PRIDE.
While drawing the features of our fallen race, the inspired apostle dipped
his pencil in the darkest colors- but, when consoling the suffering Church,
he, like the ancient prophets, presented to the eye of faith the brightest
views of future glory.
Wrapped in mystic vision, Paul saw the blessedness of heaven, and rejoiced
in the hope of glory soon to be revealed. With sacred delight he proclaimed
the divine purpose and grace, which are now made manifest by the appearing
of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death, and brought life and
immortality to light through the Gospel. It was this glorious hope, this
hope full of immortality, this blessed, this lively hope, yes, this good
hope through grace, which supported the persecuted saints, and enabled them
to take joyfully the confiscation of their goods, knowing in themselves,
that they had in heaven, a better, and an enduring substance.
O! how cheering to the wearied traveler, is the rest of home; how delightful
to the captive, is the air of freedom. Though painful, it will yet be
profitable to reflect upon those trials which the early Christians so nobly
underwent for Jesus sake.
Cyprian, the venerable bishop of Carthage, thus describes the sufferings of
the primitive believers: "They were scourged, and beaten, and racked, and
roasted, and their flesh pulled off with burning pincers, beheaded with
swords, and run through with spears, more instruments of torment being many
times used the man at once than there were limbs and members of his body;
they were robbed and plundered, chained and imprisoned, thrown to wild
beasts, and burned at the stake. And when their persecutors had exhausted
all their old methods of execution, they studied and thought of more. Nor
did they only vary, but repeat the torments; and where one ended, another
began. They sometimes tortured them without killing them, and added this
cruelty to all the rest, to stop them in their journey to heaven. Many who
were importunately desirous of death, were so tortured, that they might not
die- they were purposely kept upon the rack, that they might die by
gradually, that their pains might be lingering, and their sense of them
without intermission; they gave no intervals, or times of respite, unless
any of them chanced to give them the slip and expire in the midst of
torments. All which did but render their faith and patience more
illustrious, and make them more earnestly long for heaven. They tired out
their tormentors, and overcame the sharpest weapons of execution, and smiled
at the busy officers that were raking in their wounds; and when their flesh
was wearied, their faith was unconquerable. The multitude beheld with
admiration these heavenly conflicts, and stood astonished to hear the
servants of Christ in the midst of all this, with an unshaken mind, making a
free and bold confession of Him, destitute of any external support, but
armed with a divine power, and defending themselves with the shield of
Can it be a matter of wonder, that the blood of the martyrs should have been
the seed of the Church. To animate believers under all their sufferings, the
blessed Paul lighted up their path to the lions and to the stake, by the
fullest of assurances of their eternal glory.
Oh! that we, like them, may value the Gospel above every earthly treasure.
The Gospel speaks pardon and peace through the blood of Jesus; the Gospel
unfolds to our view a day of wonders; a day, which, like the pillar of the
cloud, will give light to the children of God, while his enemies shall be
enveloped in darkness. The glories of that day, when Christ shall appear in
his majesty to judge the living and dead, were revealed to the favored
Apostle in all their grandeur.
When writing to the Church of Corinth he was permitted to draw up the
tremendous veil which hides futurity from our view- But let me tell you a
wonderful secret God has revealed to us. Not all of us will die, but we will
all be transformed. It will happen in a moment, in the blinking of an eye,
when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, the Christians
who have died will be raised with transformed bodies. And then we who are
living will be transformed so that we will never die. For our perishable
earthly bodies must be transformed into heavenly bodies that will never die.
When this happens—when our perishable earthly bodies have been transformed
into heavenly bodies that will never die—then at last the Scriptures will
come true: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your
victory? O death, where is your sting?"
With equal sublimity he makes known these wonders to the church at
Thessalonica, "I can tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still
living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who
are in their graves. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a
commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call
of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves.
Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth
will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with
him forever. So comfort and encourage each other with these words."
To the Philippians he also gave this animating hope, "But we are citizens of
heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for
him to return as our Savior. He will take these weak mortal bodies of ours
and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same mighty
power that he will use to conquer everything, everywhere."
What a revelation of grace and mercy is the Gospel of Jesus Christ! "Blessed
are the dead who die in the Lord." A glorious brightness will illumine the
morning of their resurrection, when they shall be called to swell the train
of the all-conquering Messiah. But oh! how awful will be the gloom which
awaits the resurrection of the wicked! If there be a glare of light, darting
through the darkness of that momentous period, it will be the light of
vengeance, emanating from the insulted Majesty of heaven, "for our God is a
consuming fire." To the wilful abusers of divine mercy, there will then
remain nothing but judgment and fiery indignation. The despisers of
godliness will find, when too late, that "it is a fearful thing to fall into
the hands of the living God."
Jesus has graciously forewarned us of the suddenness of his approach. "When
the Son of Man returns, the world will be like the people were in Noah's
day. In those days before the flood, the people enjoyed banquets and parties
and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came
to destroy them all. And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot.
People went about their daily business—eating and drinking, buying and
selling, farming and building— until the morning Lot left Sodom. Then fire
and burning sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Yes, it
will be just like this right up to the hour when the Son of Man returns."
Taught by the Spirit of Christ, Paul thus warns the churches, "The day of
the Lord so comes as a thief in the night; for when they shall say, peace
and safety, then sudden destruction comes upon them, as travail upon a woman
with child, and they shall not escape."
The deluge came with fury poured out, sweeping away whole nations, until all
the shrieks and groans of drowning millions were silenced in the deep.
Equally overwhelming will be the second coming of Christ; "For the Lord
Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire,
taking vengeance on those who know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of
our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction
from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, when he
shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all those who
The earth, with all its idolized possessions, shall then perish in the
general conflagration. At the very time, when worldly minds are in eager
pursuit after wealth and honor- the day of the Lord will come. It will come
as a snare upon all the inhabitants of the earth- it will come as a thief in
the night. But oh! who shall abide, its coming, when the heavens will pass
away with a terrible noise, and everything in them will disappear in fire,
and the earth and everything on it will be exposed to judgment." Carnal men
may ridicule the warning voice, but He, who cannot lie, has proclaimed,
through His Word, this awakening truth; that, "God has also commanded that
the heavens and the earth will be consumed by fire on the day of judgment,
when ungodly people will perish."
Death and destruction will be the end of sin and sinners. But God is love.
Every truth of His Gospel, when received in faith, has a sanctifying
influence on the heart. These sublime revelations of the second coming of
Christ, were therefore employed by the Apostle as powerful excitements to
the duty of personal holiness; "it is high time to awake out of sleep; the
night is far spent, the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast of the the
works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light; waiting for the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who both will bring to light the hidden
things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; for
we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may
receive the things done in his body, according to what he has done, whether
it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord we persuade
men." Peter, like his beloved brother, exhorted believers to the practice of
universal holiness, "Since everything around us is going to melt away, what
holy, godly lives you should be living! You should look forward to that day
and hurry it along—the day when God will set the heavens on fire and the
elements will melt away in the flames."
Will the Church of Christ suffer loss by this awful devastation? Far
otherwise. The sinner's downfall will be the day of the believer's
exaltation. How cheering to every child of God, is the assurance and
exhortation of Peter, "But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new
earth he has promised, a world where everyone is right with God. And so,
dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every
effort to live a pure and blameless life."
Oh! that the Eternal Spirit may awaken our solicitude and quicken our steps
to the only Ark of safety. Jesus is the sinner's refuge from the coming
storm. Abiding in him by faith, we shall be quiet from fear of evil, amid
the melting elements, and a burning world. When the wicked are calling upon
the rocks and hills to cover them, and to hide them from the face of Him
that sits upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, the righteous
shall lift up their heads with joy; for He, who summons the world to
judgment, is their friend and Savior.
To the Apostles, the second coming of Christ was, therefore, a, period of
joyful expectation. When they would support believers under the pressure of
affliction, they did not draw their consolation chiefly from the prospect of
death, as being the termination of their bodily sufferings; but from the
glorious appearing of their God and Savior, who would re-animate their
sleeping dust, and complete their glorification in his eternal kingdom. They
calmly reposed all their hopes upon the faithfulness of Jehovah; and knowing
in whom they lead believed, they could strengthen the weary pilgrim, by the
sweetest assurance of final rest.
Filled with these bright expectations of future glory, founded on the
promises of Jesus, the happy Paul animated the Philippian converts- "Every
time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. I always pray for you, and I
make my requests with a heart full of joy because you have been my partners
in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it
until now. And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will
continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus
comes back again. It is right that I should feel as I do about all of you,
for you have a very special place in my heart. We have shared together the
blessings of God, both when I was in prison and when I was out, defending
the truth and telling others the Good News."
Being well acquainted with the innate evils of the heart, his Epistles are
models for ministerial faithfulness; in which, to guard us against false
security and presumption, caution is blended with encouragement- warnings
with promises- and fear with hope.
Many are the hindrances, and many the snares which beset us on our way to
glory. The corruption of the heart- the subtlety of Satan- the power of
temptation- the fear of man- the allurements of the world- are continually,
in one way or other, opposing our journey heavenward. But Christ is our
Savior. His wisdom is engaged to guide us, and his power to uphold and
Happy then is the man, whom grace has united to the Friend of sinners.
Because Jesus lives he shall live also. While in the body he lives by faith
in the blood of Jesus- by faith in the power of Jesus- by faith in the
promise of Jesus; and when out of the body, his perfect spirit shall forever
dwell with Jesus.
Drawing back from God is drawing onwards to perdition. The further we depart
from God the nearer we approach to ruin. How important then is the grace of
perseverance. The distinguishing mark of true believers consist in their
abiding in Christ, and evidencing that union by the fruitfulness of their
lives. Mere outward profession is no certain indication of inward piety,
neither is a long continued profession any safeguard against declension or
final apostasy. Who would have thought, that Solomon, the wisest of men, who
built so magnificent a temple for the worship of Jehovah, and who prayed so
fervently at its dedication, would, in his old age, have been turned away
after other gods, and been led even to build high places for the abomination
of the Heathen! Surely he who trusts his own heart is a fool.
After many years of promise, the heart may discover its insincerity, should
God be pleased to bring the professor of his religion into the furnace,
either of prosperity or of adversity. Demas fell through the love of this
present world. The stony ground hearer withered away, beneath the scorching
beams of persecution. Nothing but the grace of God can keep us from falling,
either partially or finally. Can we then be surprised, that the well
instructed Paul, who preached the Gospel of the grace of God with such
unmixed purity, should guard its possessors against the wiles of Satan, and
the remaining corruption of their hearts?
Having explained to the Corinthians the spiritual privileges of the
Israelites, he tells them- "Yet after all this, God was not pleased with
most of them, and he destroyed them in the wilderness. These events happened
as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did or
worship idols as some of them did. All these events happened to them as
examples for us. They were written down to warn us, who live at the time
when this age is drawing to a close. If you think you are standing strong,
be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin." Then, for their
confidence in the faithfulness of their Redeemer, he adds, "No temptation
has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will
not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,
he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it."
In like manner the Apostle showed the Hebrew converts the danger of
unbelief, as exemplified in their own history- "With whom was he grieved
forty nears? Was it not with those who had sinned, whose carcasses fell in
the wilderness? And to whom did he sware that they should not enter into his
rest, but to those who believed not? So we see that they could not enter in,
because of unbelief."
With close self-application, he then presses this fact on their consciences-
"Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his
rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. Let us labor to enter into
that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief- for there
remains a rest to the people of God."
Lest an undue fear of losing heaven should arise in their hearts from the
awful examples which he had brought before them, and so cause their hands to
wax feeble, and their feet to grow weary; how delightfully does he compose
their apprehensions by a view of the tenderness and the all-sufficiency of
Christ- "That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven,
Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This
High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same
temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne
of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace
to help us when we need it." "For we are made partakers of Christ, if we
hold the beginning of our confidence, steadfast unto the end."
What a wonderful display of mercy and judgment is also revealed to us in the
eleventh chapter to the Romans. The Apostle himself was so overpowered by
the view of the divine sovereignty, that, like a person standing on the
brink of some vast abyss, he exclaimed, "Oh! the depth of the riches both of
the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are his judgments, and his
ways past finding out!"
The Jews, as a people, having rejected their Messiah, were to be cut off
because of unbelief; while the Gentiles, embracing the offers of mercy
through faith in the blood of Christ, should be grafted into the good olive
tree- the Church of God. But, lest this grace should be abused through
spiritual pride, the Apostle, with his wonted fidelity, guards them against
an evil so offensive to God- "But you must be careful not to brag about
being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. Remember, you
are just a branch, not the root. "Well," you may say, "those branches were
broken off to make room for me." Yes, but remember—those branches, the Jews,
were broken off because they didn't believe God, and you are there because
you do believe. Don't think highly of yourself, but fear what could happen.
For if God did not spare the branches he put there in the first place, he
won't spare you either."
Is then the promise trade to Abraham come utterly to an end? Has God
forgotten to be gracious? Can his truth fail? Paul answers these questions-
"I want you to understand this mystery, dear friends, so that you will not
feel proud and start bragging. Some of the Jews have hard hearts, but this
will last only until the complete number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so
all Israel will be saved. As concerning the Gospel, they are enemies for
your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the Father's
sake; for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance."
To the disputer of this word, who impiously cavils at the dispensations of
Jehovah, and measures His dealings by the scanty lines of human reason, we
would say with Zophar- "Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover
everything there is to know about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher
than the heavens—but who are you? It is deeper than the underworld—what can
you know in comparison to him? It is broader than the earth and wider than
True humility is the basis of excellence in the Christian character. The
humble believer will not dare to arraign the eternal God before the bar of
his finite understanding. His language and feelings are those of the
Psalmist, "Righteous are you, O Lord, and upright are your judgments;" while
with the lowly minded apostle he asks with profound admiration, "For who can
know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be his counselor? And
who could ever give him so much that he would have to pay it back? For
everything comes from him; everything exists by his power and is intended
for his glory. To him be glory evermore. Amen."
True humility is ever accompanied by a patient continuance in well-doing.
How important to all who desire an interest in those blessings which shall
terminate in eternal glory, are the words which Jesus spoke to the Jews who
followed him- "If you continue in my words, then are you my disciples
indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.''
To continue in the Word of Christ, we must first know it; and in order to
know it, we must diligently study it. But as a distinguishing state of heart
is required to the right understanding of the Word of Christ, which we have
not naturally, we must be earnest in prayer for the sacred influences of the
Holy Spirit. As newborn babes we must desire the sincere milk of the Word,
that we may grow thereby. In the spirit of children, we must receive with
meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save our souls. With humility
and teachableness we must sit at the feet of Jesus, and listen to his voice.
But, to receive rightly the word of God, we must abide in the doctrine of
Christ. We must continue steadfast in the profession of the Truth. We must
not be carried about by every wind of doctrine, but have our hearts
established, and our hopes rooted and built up in Christ. We must walk with
holy perseverance in the precepts of the Gospel, not running amiss like a
broken bow, nor drawing back unto perdition; but going on with progressive
step from grace to grace, until we appear before God in glory. If we are
enabled, through the power of the Holy Spirit, thus to study, receive, and
abide in the Word of Christ, evidencing our union to Jesus by the fruits of
righteousness, we shall be privileged to enjoy the sweet promises of the
Gospel; for our Lord has declared, "Then are you my disciples indeed."
How expressive is the word, 'indeed'. It implies, that all who seem to be
disciples, are not disciples indeed. This was the case with some of those
Jews who surrounded our Savior when he made this declaration- "They were
offended at his doctrine, and walked no more with him."
Are no such instances of defection to be found among us? Do we never see
some, who, having run well for a season, turn back again into the world?
When Jesus appeals to our affection, as he did to that of his disciples,
"Will you also go away?" can we reply with Peter's sincerity, "Lord, to whom
shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Stability in the truth of
the Gospel, and continuance in well doing, are essentially requisite if we
would be disciples indeed. To the persevering believer, Jesus has promised
eternal glory, "He who endures unto the end shall be saved. To him who
overcomes, will I grant to sit with me in my throne. Be faithful unto death,
and I will give you a crown of life."
The question, then, for self-examination is not so much what we were, as
what we are. If we are now cold, indifferent, and worldly, it matters not
how zealous we might once have been. Our former state of zeal and active
exertion can yield us no present profit, except as it thunders in our ears,
"Remember from where you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works."
The tinseled Christian may gain the admiration of those who regard the
outward appearance, but he will never be approved of by Him who looks at the
heart. O! may we never substitute knowledge for grace, profession for
principle, words for practice, nor zeal for love.
When God teaches, he teaches to profit; and the effect of his teaching is
visible to all, by the renewal of the heart unto holiness. Hence our Lord
does not say merely, "You shall know the truth;" but, as if he intended
particularly to guard his followers against resting in barren speculations,
he subjoins, "And the truth shall make you free."
The truth, received into the heart, makes the believer free, from the
condemning power of the law, from the pollution of sin, from the tyranny of
Satan, from the fascinations of the world, from the fear of death, from the
torments of hell.
Learn then, O follower of the lowly Savior, to bear contempt with
cheerfulness, when contempt is poured upon you because you are a disciple
indeed, and boldly confess your faith and hope in the atonement of Jesus.
It is easy, in a circle of Christian friends, to admire humility, and to
talk upon the duty of bearing reproach with patience; but when we find
ourselves really despised- when we are set at nothing, where we expected to
be honored- then is the time when pride and mortified self-love will rankle
in our bosom, and when our utmost vigilance will be required to overcome
these evil workings of the flesh.
At seasons like these, let us look unto Jesus. Let us consider him, who
endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest we be weary and
faint in our minds. Let us remember what he suffered for our sakes, though
Lord of all, that we may be abased at the sight of ourselves, and lie in
self-abhorrence at the foot of the cross. And for our encouragement to
persevere, let us never forget his own gracious words, "Whoever shall
confess me before men, him will I also confess before my rather who is in
How blessed then is the Christian indeed. He follows the Lord fully; his
every power is devoted to his service. He knows the truth through the
teaching of the Spirit; he receives the truth in the simplicity of a little
child; he continues in the truth, amid errors of every name; and abiding
therein, firm unto the end, he obtains, at length, through the merits of his
Savior, that crown of glory which fades not away.
O that we may be Christians indeed; the meek and lowly followers of the
Lamb, bearing his image in humility, love, and purity, until we each
resemble him in his perfection of beauty, when we shall see him as he is, in
his eternal kingdom.
"And while on him we gaze,
And while his glorious voice we hear,
Our spirits are, all eye, all ear,
And silence speaks his praise.
Oh! might I die, that awe to prove,
That bliss of pure ecstatic love
Before the Great Three One!
To dwell in his eternal joy,
To find an ever sweet employ
In songs around the throne."