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James Dodson


OUR pre-millennial brethren regard their view as necessary to the highest motive power for the Christian life. It is for this reason they esteem it of such supreme importance, and press it with such vigor. It is not the fact and certainty of our Lord’s coming so much as its possible immediate nearness, upon which this great power depends. It is only as it is thought each day the glory of His coming may flash across the sky before night, that believers are impelled, in full measure, to that attitude of waiting and readiness which is most conducive to growth in character and faithfulness in service. If this be not the great motive of the Christian life itself, it is thought to add intensity to all other motives. The hope of it is the grand inspiration, the supreme joy. It makes love glow and adds fresh ardor to the desire to be holy. It quickens every spiritual energy, and makes labor and sacrifice easy. It arouses missionary enthusiasm, as the work of preaching the Gospel for a witness to all nations is pressed, in order that the glad day for His return may be hastened, by fulfilling its conditions. Without the motive power of the thought that our Lord may appear at any moment, many think the Christian life to be powerless and dead.

There is no dispute but that the personal advent of our Lord is held up in the New Testament as a grand object of Christian anticipation, and as fitted to stir the energies of the new life to activity and faithfulness. The real question is whether its motive power depends upon the conviction that His advent is possibly near, or upon the assurance, whether near or far away, of its certainty, and that we shall, whether near or far, have our share in all the blessedness of that glad day for the Lord’s people.

If the blessedness of the hope of the Lord’s coming and the strength of its motive power, have depended upon its possible immediateness, then, for eighteen centuries, all believers would have had to rest upon what was to prove illusive and, in the end, disappointing, for their chief comfort in affliction and their chief inspiration in labor. Can we believe God intended all these increasing hosts of believers down through the centuries to have as their chief dependence for growth in character and faithfulness in life, an expectation which He knew was to prove altogether empty and false? For He knew that the time of the Lord’s second coming was not to be possibly near during all this time, but was as fixed in His plan and purpose as any other event. But our pre-millennial brethren ask us to accept more than this. They would have us believe God to have carefully arranged all things so as to make it possible for this false hope to be maintained throughout the centuries since Christ’s departure, and until He may return. To this end our Lord is to come twice again, once for His people and again with them. For this purpose He seals from His prophets all the history of the Church between Christ’s departure and His return for His people.[1]

In like manner the history of the nations is a blank to them, until after this coming for His people, although up to the time of Christ’s ascension and beyond this coming, there are crowded visions of what is to be. Thus, and in other ways, they would have us think God has planned, in the most skilful way, to keep up the illusion of the ever-continued possible imminence of the Lord’s coming, down through the centuries, and thus maintain what He knew was to prove an empty and false expectation as the great hope and motive power of His people. If a father who did not intend to return to his family for, say, ten years, should plan as skilfully to make his wife and children believe he might come back at any moment during this period, be the purpose what it might be, we should consider it deliberate deception —an attempt to make capital out of what was false. We have tried to find some way in which to attribute similar action to God and make it consistent with His righteousness, but have failed, and have given plainly the impression this view makes upon us. The alternative view, which draws motive power and inspiration to growth in grace and fidelity in service from the consideration that the coming of the Lord is certain, and that our lives on earth have as full bearing on that day as though it were to come before our death, is immeasurably superior, because more scriptural, we believe, and more rational, and because it casts no dark shadow upon the character of God’s moral government.

Turning from the moral complexion of the motive from our Lord’s personal coming to its strength, we more than doubt whether the view which makes this depend upon the belief of its possible nearness rather than its positive certainty, has any advantage over the alternative conception. Let it be possible for us to believe that God has so planned the form and substance of His inspired teaching as to give the impression to all, in all the ages, that the second advent of the Lord may come at any moment; and still, unless we were constituted differently, the power of the motive from the continuous imminence of His coming, in distinction from its certainty, could not maintain itself. So far as the nearness of His coming is to stimulate us, it must be in the hope He may come before our death, to save us from the necessity of dying. If He delay until after we die, it matters little to us whether His coming be in a year or in a thousand years from the day of our burial; for surely, when we are with Christ, even though disembodied, we shall be satisfied to wait God’s time for the redemption of our bodies. As soon as a thoughtful man begins to attempt to draw inspiration from the idea that the Lord may come before his death, he is faced by this fact. The very language of Scripture upon which he bases this hope, is the language which was intended to give the same hope to thousands and millions throughout eighteen slow-moving centuries. All these hosts had the same right to expect His coming which he has, and some of them did cherish this hope. And yet, for all these, days grew into weeks and the weeks into years, as middle age succeeded youth and old age drew on apace to those who lived to length of days. While the time grew short, if He were to come before the time for their death, the grand hope which they had made their chief support in trial, and their supreme incentive to fidelity, would either become a frenzy of disappointment, or would fade away, to be replaced by others which had been founded upon something more substantial than “a might be,” which was to prove without ground. He cannot but have the thought suggested: if God’s inspired message encouraged all the generations from our Lord’s ascension to hope for His immediate return, and to make this expectation their chief motive, although eighteen centuries have gone and He has not appeared, why should He not have used the same language, although as many more centuries are to elapse before His people shall greet Him from the skies? Especially will this be the thought of the intelligent Pre-millennialist who holds the most advanced views, that God has revealed nothing of what was to happen from the end of the apostolic age until the second coming of the Lord for His people; for, if there be nothing revealed which must happen before He comes, equally there can possibly be nothing to show us when this coming is near. It is only of the later coming with His people that there are signs in the coming to pass of events which are revealed as succeeding His coming for His people. The time from any point in history, according to this theory, to His coming for His people, being a perfect blank, may be two thousand, or it may be two hundred thousand years. There are no data upon which to form an estimate. At the outset, then, the man who believes the one great hope and inspiration of his life is to be in the coming of the Lord before the time for his own death, will find it hard to believe His coming is so probable as to make the hope sufficiently certain to serve so great a purpose. He cannot but feel that as millions have been disappointed who had as good a ground for their hope as he, the balance of probability is unspeakably against his hope being realized, and if he holds to the name of this hope as the great power of his life, he still has lost the reality.

But even allowing that he can shut his eyes to all this, and that he begins life in the power of this hope, each morning he thinks, “My Lord may come before night,” and the hope thrills him. But He does not come. He is inspired by the hope, but to the extent he is thus animated, will he be disappointed when He does not appear. Months grow into years, and every day he hopes, and every day his hope is not realized. In the meantime, day by day, he sees funeral processions, and knows men who should be relying upon the hope of Christ’s coming before their death as much as he, to be feeling its icy touch, and that this cherished desire has only, in the end, made it harder for them to die. Can a man possibly, under all these circumstances and conditions, maintain this hope of the coming of Christ before his death in full strength as an inspiration and motive power? It is simply impossible so to force what is an improbability at the beginning, and which grows more improbable and disappointing as the years pass, into an expectation of sufficient confidence to serve this purpose. The hope, like all that is constrained and unnatural, can at best but be spasmodic. The history of the denomination which has made this hope of our Lord’s immediate appearance their great central peculiarity and tenet, proves this. It is a record of convulsive spasms, rather than an ever-growing life of permanent spiritual power. It is hard to believe that God would have His people depend for their greatest hope and motive power upon what can only be held through their being kept in ignorance, which a knowledge of the facts would make absolutely impossible, from which, even when kept in ignorance, they can only get inspiration as they close their eyes to the most overwhelming balance of improbability, which, as actually tested, has proved insufficient to maintain a sustained and high level of impelling force upon Christian life and character, and which, in the end, in all the hosts of believers who shall die in all generations except the last, is to prove as vain as disappointing. Is it not more probable that He intended the motive power of the Lord’s coming to depend upon what is certain, upon what requires no condition of ignorance and concealment, which leads to no disappointment, and which is equally fitted to move all generations and the whole term of all lives with a steady, even impulse—the fact that our Lord is certainly to come again, the fact that we shall all have our part in what He comes to bring to the class to which we belong, the fact that it is our life before death which determines what that coming is to be for us, the fact that we can therefore wait for His coming as a grand object of expectation, whether it is near or far, and watch, in order to be ready for it, whether before death or ten thousand years hence?

It is also to be noticed that in proportion as the imminence of the second advent of our Lord is made the great hope and motive, other hopes and motives drop out of view and lose something of their power. Especially is this true of going to be with Christ at . death, which is ever imminent, and must soon come. While our pre-millennial friends rightly protest against confusing this with the second and personal coming of the Lord, they also manifest a certain kind of impatience at the thought of any help of inspiration coming to the Christian life from this consideration. Now, we need not put the death of the Christian and his going to be with Christ in place of the personal coming which is to follow, in order to gain from it motives to earnest work and fidelity. It is evident that each is fitted to give its own distinct and abiding impulse. New Testament writers recognize this. Leaving out of the question the passages referred to in the preceding treatment as describing a coming of the Lord at death, we have our Lord himself saying to His disciples: “We must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh when no man can work” (John 9:4). Our Lord brings to bear upon His disciples the motive which continually quickened His own energies. The time before the end of life was so short, they must be ever alert to do the work of God. Peter also was moved from the same consideration: “And I think it right, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance: knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly, even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified unto me. Yea, I will give diligence, that at every time ye may be able after my decease to call these things to remembrance” (2 Pet. 1:13-15). In 2 Cor. 5:9, 10, “Wherefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing unto him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” etc., Paul gathers his motive, not from the possible nearness of the Lord’s coming, but the certainty of the judgment which His coming will bring. The man who lives under the consciousness that he must soon depart and be with Christ, and also under the power of the thought that this short and uncertain time will determine what Christ’s coming with all its grand attendant events will be for him, as he shall as certainly have a part in them as though they were to be introduced to-morrow, will not lack the fullest motive power from the consideration of the presence of Christ, and the terrors and splendors of His second coming. There will also be no risk of saddening disappointment because that which has been made the greatest expectation is not realized, and all other motives are also left in full force. Comparing the general life of those who depend for motive upon what, up to the present, in all the ages has not been realized, and of those who depend only upon what is certain, we do not think the balance is in favor of the former. While there have been seasons of unnatural stimulation, as they have held up before themselves the illusion that the Lord was just at hand, the seasons of reaction have been as marked, and the whole life has been of an unhealthy type. In the case of those who hold the doctrine in its more moderate form, it is doubtful whether the motive power from the possible nearness of our Lord’s coming is really so much as is supposed. Is it not better to become so absorbed in just doing the will of our Lord that the thought of the time of His coming as it affects us personally may have less weight? We know we can please our Lord equally well whether His advent be near or far.



[1] “Papers on the Lord’s Coming,” by C. H. M., pp. 22, 28.