CHRIST’S SECOND APPEARING THE CHURCH’S BLESSED HOPE
Premillennialists have done the Church a real service, by calling attention to the place which the second advent holds in the Word of God and the scheme of divine truth. If the controversy which they have raised should issue in a fresh and impartial inquiry into this branch of it, I, for one, instead of regretting, shall rejoice in the agitation of it. When they dilate upon the prominence given to this doctrine in Scripture, and the practical uses which are made of it, they touch a chord in the heart of every simple lover of his Lord, and carry conviction to all who tremble at his word; so much so, that I am persuaded nine-tenths of all who have embraced the premillennial view of the second advent, have done so on the supposition that no other view of it will admit of an unfettered and unmodified use of the Scripture language on the subject—that it has its proper interpretation and full force only on this theory. Assertions to this effect abound in the writings of all modern premillennialists. But the fact of the scriptural prominence of this doctrine, and their inference from this as to the time and the objects of it, must not be confounded. On the former, we are cordially at one with them; on the latter, we are directly at issue with them. And believing, as we do, that the clearing of these preliminary points will go far with many to settle the whole question, we think that a chapter on each of them will not be misspent.
With them we affirm, that the Redeemer’s second appearing is the very pole-star of the Church. That it is so held forth in the New Testament, is beyond dispute. Let any one do himself the justice to collect and arrange the evidence on the subject, and he will be surprised—if the study be new to him—at once at the copiousness, the variety, and the conclusiveness of it. It is but a specimen of that evidence that we can give here.
Is it careless sinners, then, or lax professors, that are to be warned?
“What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.” (Matt. 16:26, 27.)
“The Lord is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” (2 Pet. 3:9, 10.)
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire.” (1 Cor. 3:13.)
“Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 14, 15.)
“Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” (Rev. 1:7.)
Is it saints that are to be stimulated to a fearless testimony for Christ, to patient suffering for his sake, to hope, to constancy, to heavenly-mindedness—to universal duty?
“Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8.)
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings: that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (1 Pet. 4:12, 13.)
“Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.” (James 5:7.)
“Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 1:13.)
“Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching.” (Luke 12:35–37.)
“And now, little children, abide in him; that, when He shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.” (1 John 2:28.)
“When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth.” (Col. 3:4, 5.)
“It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in Him (ἐπʼ αὐτῷ, in the coming Redeemer) purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2, 3.)
“The crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8.)
“Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 3:20.)
“That which ye have (already) hold fast till I come.” (Rev. 2:25.)
When the Thessalonian converts turned to God from idols, it was, on the one hand, “to serve the living and true God;” and on the other, “to wait for his Son from heaven.” (1 Thess. 1:9, 10.)
This “waiting for Christ” was the distinguishing excellence of the Corinthians: “Ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:7, 8.)
The last passage suggests a class of texts, in which the second advent is placed in a light peculiarly interesting. As the Church never dies, and all that are in Christ between the two advents are viewed as one continuous living body, so in the case of them all—whether dying before or found alive at his coming—grace is represented as terminating in glory, without an allusion to aught as coming between. The close of the believer’s career is regarded as merging in the solemnities of the second advent; the beams of his Lord’s glory are seen brightening the horizon of his present abode. Riveted to the day when the Lord is to rend the heavens and be seen on his great white throne, all intervening events are absorbed, the whole intermediate space vaulted over, and that august and decisive scene fills the view, communicating its high tone to the character, and supplying a motive of its own to every duty.
“Occupy till I come.” (Luke 19:13.)
“The very God of peace sanctify you wholly: and I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thess. 5:23.)
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6.)
“And this I pray that ye may be without offence, till the day of Christ.” (Phil. 1:9, 10.)
“God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.” (1 Thess. 5:9, 10.)
“As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” (1 Cor. 11:26.)
There is still another class of texts—the most delightful, perhaps, of all, and certainly the most telling upon the heart—in which the widowed condition and feeling of the Church, while her Lord is absent from her in the heavens, are brought to view. And from whom do we get this idea in its perfection? Is it from the apostles, expressing the feeling which his absence created in the hearts of his loving people? No; it is from Christ himself, intimating what he expected at their hands—taking it for granted that they would not be able to do without him. “And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and the disciples of the Pharisees, and thy disciples fast not? And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast while the Bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the Bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old,” &c. (Luke 5:33–39.) Would it be incongruous in the Church to mourn and feel desolate in the presence of her Lord? Not less incongruous, it seems, is it not to cherish the feeling of desolation in his absence. And both are such incongruities as confounding the seasons of fasting and feasting, as putting a piece of a new garment upon an old, as putting new wine into old bottles, and preferring new wine to old. Still more touchingly does this thought find vent in his last discourse with his disciples, as he sat with them at the communion table in the upper room of Jerusalem, the night before he suffered. As he broke to them, by little and little, the sad news that he was about to leave them, he poured forth the richest consolations in the view of it—“staying them with flagons, and comforting them with apples.” But he had no wish to carry this too far; and Jesus will think it an abuse of his consolations, if we have learned from them to do without him. Christ’s Word, and the seals of his love conveyed to our hearts by the blessed Spirit, are inexpressibly dear to his loving people—but only in the absence of himself. And never do we please Christ so much as when we “refuse to be comforted,” even with his own consolations, save in the prospect of his Personal Return. “Do ye inquire among yourselves of that I said, A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again, a little while, and ye shall see me? Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:19–22.)
But some will say, What though we admit all this? The second coming of Christ is still an event which will not take place till the end of the world. Holding it, therefore, as an undoubted truth, we must, in the mean time, look to events nearer home. The death of any individual is, to all practical purposes, the coming of Christ to that individual. It is his summons to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. It is to him the close of time, and the opening of an unchanging eternity, as truly as the second advent will be to mankind at large. On this I submit the following remarks:—
First, It is at once conceded that there is a perfect analogy between the two classes of events—Christ’s second coming, with its concurrent circumstances and final issues, on the one hand; and the death of individuals, and all its consequences to those individuals, on the other. Nor can the application to the latter, in their proper place and subordinate sense, of the warnings suggested by the former, be reasonably objected to. It is, in fact, hardly possible to resist it. It comes spontaneously. Still, however, it is in the way of analogy alone that texts expressive of the one can or ought to be applied to the other. It can never be warrantable, and is often dangerous, to make that the primary and proper interpretation of a passage which is but a secondary, though it may be a very legitimate and even irresistible, application of it.
Second, It is not enough that we believe the doctrines of Scripture numerically, so to speak. We must believe them as they are revealed—in their revealed collocations and bearings. Implicit submission to the authority of God’s Word obviously includes this. If, then, Christ’s second appearing, instead of being full in the view of the Church, as we find it in the New Testament, is shifted into the background, while other anticipations are advanced into its room, which, though themselves scriptural, do not occupy in Scripture the place which we assign to them, are we “trembling” at the authority and the wisdom of God in his Word, or are we not rather “leaning to our own understanding?” “Let not your heart be troubled,” said Jesus to his sorrowing disciples: “In my Father’s house are many mansions: I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go away”—What then? “Ye shall soon follow me? Death shall shortly bring us together?” Nay; but “If I go away, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1–3.) “And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall”—What? Take you home soon to himself, at death? Nay, but shall “so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10, 11.) And how know we that, by jostling this event out of its scriptural place in the expectations of the Church, we are not, in a great degree, destroying its character and power as a practical principle? Can we not believe, though unable to trace it, that God’s methods are ever best; and that as in nature, so perhaps in revelation, a modification by us of the Divine arrangements, apparently slight, and attended even with some seeming advantages, may be followed by a total and unexpected change of results, the opposite of what is anticipated and desired? So we fear it to be here.
Third, The coming of Christ to individuals at death—however warrantably we may speak so, and whatever profitable considerations it may suggest—is not fitted for taking that place in the view of the believer which Scripture assigns to the second advent. This is a proposition of equal interest and importance. It would bear to be established and illustrated in detail. A hint or two, however, may suffice.
1. The death of believers, however changed in its character, in virtue of their union to Christ, is, intrinsically considered, not joyous, but grievous—not attractive, but repulsive. It is the disruption of a tie which the Creator formed for perpetuity—the unnatural and abhorrent divorce of parties made for sweet and uninterrupted fellowship. True, there is no curse in it to the believer; but it is the memorial of the curse, telling of sin, and breach of the first covenant, and legal wrath. All the ideas therefore which death, as such, is fitted to suggest, even in connection with the better covenant, are of a humiliating kind. Whatever is associated with it of a joyous nature is derived from other considerations, by which its intrinsic gloominess is, in the case of believers, relieved. But the Redeemer’s second appearing is, to the believer, an event of unmingled joyousness, whether as respects the honour of his Lord, which will then be majestically vindicated before the world which had set it at nought, or as respects his own salvation, which will then have its glorious completion. How, then, should the former event be fitted to awaken feelings, I say not equally intense, but even of the same order, as the latter? In connection with his second appearing, the believer is privileged to regard his own death as bound up with the Redeemer’s triumph, and a step to his final victory with him. But as a substitute for it—as being to all practical purposes (as they say) one and the same thing with the expectation of the Redeemer’s appearing, this looking forward to one’s own death will be found very deficient in practical effect.
2. The bliss of the disembodied spirits of the just is not only incomplete, but, in some sense, private and fragmentary, if I may so express myself. Each believer enters on it for himself at his own death. His spirit is with Christ, resting consciously under his wing from the warfare of the flesh, and tranquilly anticipating future glory. “He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds—each one walking in his uprightness.” (Isa. 57:2.)
But at the Redeemer’s appearing, all his redeemed will be collected together, and perfectly, publicly, and simultaneously glorified. Is it necessary to point out the inferiority, in practical power, of the one prospect to the other, or to indicate the superior class of ideas and feelings which the latter is fitted to generate?
3. To put the expectation of one’s own death in place of the prospect of Christ’s appearing, is to dislocate a beautiful jointing in divine truth—to destroy one of its finest collocations. Here it is, as expressed by the apostle: “The grace of God which bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Tit. 2:11–14.) Here both comings of Christ are brought together; the first in “grace”—the second in “glory;” the first “bringing salvation”—the second, to complete the salvation brought. To the first we look back by faith—to the second we look forward by hope. In the enjoyment of the fruit of the first, we anticipate the fulness of the second. Between these two the apostle here beautifully places the Christian’s present holy walk. These are the two pivots on which turns the Christian life—the two wings on which believers mount up as eagles. If either is clipped, the soul’s flight heavenward is low, feeble, and fitful. This is no casual collocation of truths. It is a studied, and, with the apostle, a favourite juxtaposition of the two greatest events in the Christian redemption, the first and the last, bearing an intrinsic relation in their respective objects. “As it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation.” (Heb. 9:27, 28.) “If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Rom. 8:17.) And who does not see that the comfort and the profit of this collocation in our own minds is as great as is the beauty of it in the text of Scripture? All is thus made to centre in the Person of Christ—the contemplations and the affections of the believer travelling between his Abasement and his Exaltation, and finding in Jesus, under both aspects together, a completed salvation.
 “Homines omnium ætatum conjunctim unum quiddam repræsentant: fidelesque jam olim expectantes, habentesque se loco illorum, qui victuri sunt in adventu Domini, pro eorum personâ locuti sunt.… Unaquæque generatio, quæ hoc illo tempore vivit, occupat illo vitæ suæ tempore locum eorum, qui tempore adventus Domini victuri sunt.” [“Men of all ages conjointly have a lively anticipation of (realize to themselves the immediate fulfilment of) some one thing; and so believers, who are now long waiting, and who regard themselves in the light of persons who are to live at the coming of the Lord, have spoken in accordance with this their character. . . . Each generation, which lives at this or that time, occupies, during that period of their life, the place of those who are to live at the time of the coming of the Lord.”]—Bengel, ad 1 Thess. 4:15.
 “Felix, inquam, illa anima quæ quotidie gemit et luget, quia auctorem omnium mundi Salvatorem Christum non videt. Ipsa profecto ridebit in die novissimo, et gaudens gaudebit in æternum cum Christo. Illa vero quæ non gemit de Christi abscessu, videat ne irrefragabiliter ploret in ejusdem Christi adventu. Illa sponsum sponsa suum non amat, quæ pro desiderio illum videndi aliquo tempore non suspirat.… Scio et certus sum, quod absterget Deus omnem lachrymam ab oculis ejus, cum venerit dies nuptiarum Christi et ecclesiæ, tempore illo quo fuerint virgines introductæ in thalamum regis æterni. Sed quomodo ab oculis tuis absterget lachrymas, si pro ejus amore non gemis et ploras?”—Bernard. in Cœna Domini, Serm. ix.
 “Quod (that the day of the Lord will come as a thief) unusquisque debet etiam de die hujus vitæ suæ novissimo formidare. In quo enim quemque invenit suus novissimus dies, in hoc eum comprehendet mundi novissimus dies: quoniam qualis in die isto quisque moritur talis in die illo judicabitur.… Imparatum autem inveniet illa dies, quem imparatum inveniet suæ vitæ hujus ultimus dies.” [“Because (that the day of the Lord will come as a thief) everyone ought to fear the last day of his life here. In whatever state his own last day finds each one, in that state the last day of the world will overtake him; such as he is on the last day of his death, such each one will be judged on that last day. . . . But that day will find unprepared anyone whom the last day will find unprepared.”]—August. Ep. cxix. 2, 3.
“Par est ratio judiciorum incertæque obitus horæ, quavis ætate, ac diei novissimi.” [“The principle of the Divine judgments, and of the uncertainty of the hour of death, resembles in every age that of the last day.”]—Bengel, ad Matt. 24:42.
 The author of “Premillennialism a Delusion” argues that, as the disembodied state knows neither space nor time, there can be to it no real interval between death and the resurrection, and so the coming of Christ to individuals at death is to them identical, in the strictest sense, with his second personal advent.—(Pp. 104–134.) This may be very good psychology, for aught that I know; but the exegetical question—Whether the coming of Christ, held up by the Lord himself and his apostles so emphatically as a motive to action, means his personal appearing?—can never, I apprehend, be determined on such grounds.
 Beautiful here are the words of Bengel:—“Inter ascensionem et inter adventum gloriosum nullus interponitur eventus, eorum utrique par: ideo hi duo conjunguntur. Merito igitur apostoli, ante datam Apocalypsin, diem Christi, ut valde propinquum, proposuerunt. Et congruit majestati Christi, ut toto inter ascensionem et inter ad adventum tempore sine intermissione expectetur.” [“Between His Ascension and His Coming in glory no event intervenes equal in importance to each of these two events: therefore these two are joined together. Naturally therefore the apostles, before the giving of the Apocalypse, set before them the day of Christ as very near. And it accords with the majesty of Christ, that during the whole period between His Ascension and His Advent, He should without intermission be expected.”]—Ad Act. 1:11.
 חֹלֵ֤ךְ נְכֹהֽוֹ, “that walketh in his uprightness,” or “that walketh straight before him.” In whichever of these ways this last clause is taken, nearly all interpreters, ancient and modern, understand it to describe the character of the blessed dead in the present world—not their condition after death.
 The point of this beautiful passage is missed, I suspect, by most readers, as it certainly is by many commentators. In the one verse “death” and “judgment” are held up as the two great stages of the curse of the law. In the other verse, we have the corresponding stages of redemption from the curse, which Christ accomplishes by his two advents; at his first, “bearing the sins of many,” and when he comes the second time, “appearing without sin unto salvation.” “As man,” says Dr Owen on this passage, “was to die once legally and penally for sin, by the sentence of the law, and no more; so Christ died, suffered, and offered once, and no more, to bear sin, to expiate it, and therefore to take away death, so far as it was penal. And as after death, men must appear again the second time to judgment, to undergo condemnation thereon; so after his once offering to take away sin and death, Christ shall appear the second time, to free us from judgment, and to bestow on us eternal salvation.”
 See a similar view of the coming of Christ in Dr. Urwick’s interesting work on the Second Advent.