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David Brown: The Blessed Hope 8

November 11, 2011

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The following concludes David Brown’s series on the Blessed Hope.

THE BLESSED HOPE.—VIII.

BY REV. DAVID BROWN, D.D.

The Christian 5 Jan 1871.

But I must hasten to notice, in the briefest form, some other characteristics of the Latter Day.

1. The conversion of the whole world to Christ. On this, happily, my premillennial friends and I are agreed. “The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the [bed of the] sea” (Isa. xi. 9). “Ask of Me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Psa. ii. 8). “He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness (wild, roving, savage tribes) shall bow before him, and his enemies shall lick the dust (in abject, even though unwilling, subjection). The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him” (Psa. lxxii. 8—11). “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto the Lord, and all the kingdoms of the nations shall worship before thee: for the kingdom is the Lord’s, and He is the Governor (or Ruler) among the nations. All the fat ones of the earth shall eat (of the great sacrificial feast) and worship; all they that go down to the dust (every mortal) shall bow before him” (Psa. xxii. 27—29). “And the Lord shall be King over all the earth: in that day there shall be one Lord, and His name one” (Zech. xiv. 9). “And the seventh angel sounded, and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdom of the world is become our Lord’s and his Christ’s, [1] and He shall reign for ever and ever” (Rev. xi. 15). What prospects for the world are these! The darkness that covers large and densely peopled portions of the earth flying before the light of revealed truth, and not a spot of the inhabited globe that is not irradiated by the beams of the Sun of Righteousness; all the polytheisms of the Pagan nations, with their cruel, licentious, degrading rites and lying vanities utterly abolished, the Mohammedan imposture which has for ages held millions enslaved, obstinate Jewish unbelief, the sensuous pomposities and soul-destroying errors of Romanism, which have sat so long like an incubus on Christendom, with all that is deadly in heresy and infidelity—swept clean away, and “one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism” for the whole world!

(2.) Universal peace, the universal ascendency of truth and righteousness in human affairs, and unparalleled temporal prosperity. “He shall judge between [2] the nations, and decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. ii. 4). “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them…. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the serpent s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” [3] “There was given to the Son of man dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples and nations and languages should serve Him. And judgment (or redress) was given to the saints of the Most High, and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom…. and the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High” (Dan. vii. 14, 22, 27). “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the word of God; and (I saw) such as had not worshipped the beast nor his image, neither had received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev. xx. 4, 6). “We shall reign on the earth” (Rev. v. 10). “Instead of thy fathers shall be thy (the Church’s) children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth” (Ps. xlv. 16). I have neither time nor space to show that as all these predictions refer confessedly to the same time, so they refer to the same parties and the same kind of rule and reign—though I know well enough how differently this is viewed by my premillennial friends. The oppressed and at times almost extinguished Church, I understand, is to have persistency and triumph, and a glorious progeny of her own which shall yet so rule the earth, every country, every interest, every department of life—political and social as well as religious—”in the hands” and under the control of “the people of the saints of the Most High.” No wonder that if “godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is as well as of that which is to come,” “then shall the earth yield her increase, and God, even our own God, shall bless us.” When the millions upon millions squandered upon tear, upon intemperance, upon vice of every description, upon expensive superfluities in apparel and animal indulgences—are all saved and husbanded for nobler purposes; when science, enterprise, and wealth combined shall, with ever-growing success, develop the exhaustless resources of the earth; when the most remote parts of the earth shall be reached with such ease and rapidity as to seem but the suburban portions of one vast “city of God”; when the varied activities of a teeming population shall, under the benign influences of religion, be directed only to laudable ends; when peace, and love, and purity, and grace shall be the reigning characteristics, binding all mankind into one vast brotherhood, with “wisdom and knowledge for the stability of the times, and strength of salvation”—O what a contrast will that present to all that this world of ours has ever been before, from the fall downwards!

But I must sum up all I have to say on this head with one other, and far the brightest, characteristic of the Latter Day:—

(3.) Unexampled spiritual power and glory. Under this general expression I include copious effusions of the Spirit, saving conversion on a scale hitherto unparalleled, ecclesiastical unity and peace and prosperity, shining ordinances, bright tokens of the Lord’s presence with His people, as well in their secular as in their sacred occupations. On this head it is needless to quote passages, because every description of the fruit of Christ’s sufferings, of the gift of the Spirit, of the conquests of grace, of such Divine manifestations as make places of worship, whether in the open air or under cover, “none other than the house of God and the very gale of heaven,” and of the light and life and purity and joy thence resulting, will then be realized to an extent before unknown, and as yet hard even to conceive. Let us only suppose that what President Edwards describes as the state of the little town of Northampton (New England) during the Revival which visited it under his ministry—and, blessed be God, not a little of the same thing has, during the last thirteen years, been witnessed not only in America, but in Ireland, Scotland, England, and even elsewhere—to spread from town to town, from country to country, from continent to continent; place after place catching the blessed gales of the Spirit, and the “spices” of a universal garden of the Lord “flowing out”: what a world would this of ours then be! My space, I regret, obliges me to throw into a footnote a long extract from the “Narrative” of that distinguished man, which I take to be more speaking than all else I have written or can write on this point. [4] The worthy author calls this, as he well might, “a very extraordinary dispensation of Providence.” But what if it should yet become “a very ordinary dispensation?” God (says he) went in many respects out of and much beyond His usual and ordinary way.” But should even this, in the Latter Day, become “His usual and ordinary way,” what will then be His “very extraordinary dispensations of Providence,” those exceedings of His ordinary Self, when He “goes out of and much beyond” this? Indeed, without some such procedure, how are those glorious results to come to pass which are foretold in such terms as these—”Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once? For as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Isa. lxii. 8). “A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation; I the Lord will hasten it in its time” (lx. 22).

That this will be an absolutely sinless state is not, however, to be for a moment supposed, and those who say so in their books—and do it in varied forms—confine themselves to such generalities as tend only to hide from themselves and their readers the immense and insuperable difficulties which it involves. That there should be sin at all in “the new heavens and new earth wherein (by emphatic contrast with the present) dwelleth righteousness”—who can endure to think of? What! Is human depravity utterly gone in that whole world of “men in the flesh” who are expected to people the earth after Christ comes, and to constitute the subjects of the millennial kingdom? Surely, that will not be alleged. But if not, who can say that that notwithstanding, there will still be no sin on the earth? In vain are such passages held up as proving it, “Thy people shall be all righteous” (Isa. lx. 21); nor can I imagine any intelligent student of the Bible building on such general announcements of the universal righteousness of the Latter Day as proof of its absolute sinlessness. No; but this we are led to expect, that such will be the prevalence and power of vital religion, that “all iniquity will hide its head,” and “feign submission.”

But the question of questions yet remains: Granted that all this and much more will characterize the Latter Day—is it to precede or is it to follow the Second Advent? Those who have read what I have written in the foregoing papers on the Scriptural character of the Second Advent will anticipate my answer at least to this question, that if those characteristics are scriptural, no such millennium—in fact, no millennium at all—is possible after the Second Advent; and as I most earnestly believe that there is to be such a period, and characterized as I have endeavoured to describe, my belief, of course, is, that it will precede the Second Advent, but that this belief does not in the least interfere with the duty and privilege of “loving His appearing,” and “waiting” for it in the patience of hope. At the close of this my last, and already long enough paper, I am not going to argue this point; but I may be permitted to indicate, in a sentence or two, some considerations which I think are worthy to be pondered by those who “tremble at the word of the Lord.”

I find in the New Testament a work to be done and changes to be wrought on the face of the Church and of society between the two Advents which seem to me very conclusive on the point in question. “Go make disciples of [5] all nations, baptizing them, etc.; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” [6] However unable the primitive Christians might be to guess the duration of the interval between this commission and the Lord’s return, surely it is beyond all conception that any sensible Christian could imagine that “all nations” might be discipled, baptized, and brought under Christ’s laws, either in his own lifetime, or within the largest space of time which some would allow for possibly “expecting” His appearing? But that is not all, nor the principal thing for which I quoted the words. If it proclaims one truth more clearly than another, that truth surely is this, that the only universal evangelization which the world is ever to see is ordained to take place before the Second Advent. I have never seen a tolerable answer to this; and under my own feet I find it a rock that cannot be moved.

Take again the seven parables of the “kingdom” in Matt. xiii. In that of the Tares and Wheat, while the field is “the world,” the seeds of a kingdom are to be sown in it which, when they spring up, will be found to consist of genuine and false-hearted subjects of Christ, under one visible name; both are to grow together “until the harvest;” and “the harvest is the end of the world,” when “the righteous are to shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” The same truth precisely is taught in the parable of the Net cast into the sea. So in the parables of the Mustard-seed, and the Leaven—holding forth the progressive character of the kingdom, from the first sowing of the small seed and the insertion of the Leaven, till the Tree overshadows “the world” and the Leaven has wrought itself into the texture of all human life and society, leavening at length the whole mass. While this proclaims to mo most clearly that all the universal evangelization which the world is ever to see is to be completed ere “the end of the world” arrive—in other words, ere Christ comes again—it also bespeaks such a length of interval between the two events as the most sanguine of the early Christians, intelligently studying it, could never imagine would terminate in his own or in many lifetimes, nor within any such space of time as would make ” waiting” for Christ’s appearing possible, according to some now-a-days.

Again, let the following passages be weighed in this light: “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke xxi. 24). “Blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. xi. 25, 26). “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel ? … It is not for you to know the times and the seasons (for such events); bat ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and (instead of the kingdom taking up your thoughts ‘at this time) ye shall be witnesses unto me both at Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts i. 6—8)—all indicating what protracted work had to be done before the end.

Then, though we are constantly taught to “watch” for Christ, as faithful servants for the return of an absent Master, we are just clearly taught that “the kingdom of God was “not” immediately to appear (Luke xix. 11, etc.), that the Lord is to be away “a long time” (Matt. xxv. 19); and that the Bridegroom is to “tarry” so unexpectedly long, as to set the wise as well as the foolish virgins to sleep (Matt. xxv. 5). The parable of the Importunate Widow is intended expressly to inculcate perseverance in prayerful expectation of the “Judge,” to redress all the widowed Church’s wrongs, which perseverance will be all but worn out by his protracted absence, insomuch that “when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith (that He is coming at all) in the earth?” (Luke xviii. 1—8).

But I find I must here stop, not only short of much that I had to say, but even without that winding up which I had fondly hoped for time and space to give. Had this been practicable, I humbly think I could have made my readers see that some things which I fear have worn too controversial an air in these papers, were neither designed to bear down upon any of those from whom I differ on this subject, nor are fitted to produce one unpleasant feeling towards those brethren. In particular, I could have wished to show how, in many respects, I come nearer to them than may appear from the preceding papers. Their “Blessed Hope” is mine— the “glorious Appearing” of the Lord Himself. No millennium, however bright—no spiritual presence, however transporting—can make up for the want of this, or do other than quicken the desire for this. Risen with Christ, believers are taught to seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God; but It is only when Christ, who is their Life, shall appear, that they expect to appear also with Him in glory. And they so love His appearing, that at times they are ready to say, “Why tarry the wheels of His chariot?” But they remember that in destroying the works of the devil, He has much to do before that, which has a glory of its own. He has to “overturn, overturn, overturn, till He come, whose right it is” to reign without a rival here below, and His will has to be done on earth as it is in heaven. He has to show how universally and how gloriously the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation,” to every one that believeth, to the Jew first, but also to the Gentile. Yes, I expect the conversion of the world by no other agencies than those already in existence—the Word in the hands of the Spirit; but these, aided by innumerable concurring and converging providences; such as convulsive judgments in Church and State, shaking all things that are shakeable, “that those things which cannot be shaken may remain;” and along with these, vast and varied preparations for the blessed and gracious change among the nations wearied out by lying vanities, and ever-increasing openings of the world itself for the coming change. But even at its longest, brightest, best state, this Latter Day is to set in darkness and daring rebellion on the part of vast multitudes who had only “feigned subjection,” and who, when ” the glory” has waned, will come out in their true colours, and be finally and for ever overwhelmed only when ready to carry all before them. And then— “Behold He cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him “; and for that blessed time I wait, saying, “Even so, Come, Lord Jesus.” Long the interval may seem to hope; but there is such a thing as the “patience of hope,” which learns, in some small measure, to calculate according to the arithmetic of heaven, and feel that in prospect of this blessed event, “a thousand years are as one day”!

Notes & References

1. ***. Such is unquestionably the true and sublime reading of this verse. The received reading, with the plural “kingdoms,” has hardly any good support.

2. ***.

3. I print “for” in this last clause in italics to show that since the conversion of all the wild boasts into tame animals, and the most venomous into harmless creatures, is made to arise from the universal prevalence of “the knowledge of the Lord,” these foregoing expressions must needs be (as Prebendary Lowth says, in his “Commentary on the Prophets”), “metaphorical.” I might add to this, that to interpret “in all my holy mountain” literally—as meaning ‘all that insignificant elevation called Mount Zion,’ and make the quiet of that petty rising ground to arise from, “the earth being filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea,” is so exceedingly puerile, that one cannot but stand amazed at the tenacious consistency in rigid literalism which would go through with it even here.

4. Presently upon this, a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world became universal in all parts of the town, and among persons of all degrees and ages; the noise among the dry bones waxed louder and louder; all other talk but about spiritual and eternal things was soon thrown by; all the conversation in all companies, and upon all occasions, was about these things only, unless what was necessary for carrying on their ordinary secular business. They seemed to follow their worldly business more as a part of their duty, than from any disposition they had to it. The only thing in their view was to get to the kingdom of heaven, and every one appeared pressing into it: the engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid; it appeared in their very countenances. The work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more; souls did, as it were, come by flocks to Jesus Christ. From day to day, for many months together, might be seen evident instances of sinners brought out of darkness into marvellous light, and delivered out of a horrible pit and from the miry clay, and set upon a rock, with a new song of praise to God in their mouths. This work of God, as it was carried on, and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious attraction in the town, so that in the spring and summer following, in the year 1745, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God; it was never so full of love and joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then. There were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families, on account of salvation being brought to them; parents rejoicing over their children as being new-born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands. The goings of God were then seen in His sanctuary; God’s day was a delight, and His Tabernacles were amiable. Our public assemblies were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service. In all companies, on other days, on whatever occasions persons met, Christ was to be heard and seen in the midst of them. Our young people, when they met, were wont to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of Jesus Christ. The gloriousness of the way of salvation, the wonderful, free, and sovereign grace of God, His glorious work in the conversion of a soul, the truth and certainty of the great things of the Word of God, etc. Those amongst us that had been formerly converted were greatly enlivened and renewed with fresh and extraordinary visitations of the spirit of God. Strangers were generally surprised to find things so much beyond what they had heard, and were wont to tell others that the state of the town could not be conceived of by those that had not seen it. This seems to have been a very extraordinary dispensation of Providence God has in many respects gone out of, and much beyond, His usual and ordinary way. The work in this town, and some others about us, has been extraordinary on account of the universality of it, affecting all sorts of persons, sober and vicious, high and low, rich and poor, wise and unwise. A loose, careless person could scarcely find another in the whole neighbourhood; and if there was anyone that seemed to remain senseless or unconcerned, it would be spoken of as a strange thing.”— (“Narrative of the Revival of Religion In New England” pp. 65—69, 74. Collins, 1829.)

5. ***.

6. See a former note on this phrase …, showing that, however rendered, all are agreed as to the time meant by it, namely, the period of Christ’s Second Coming.

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