The Ancient Faith
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST AND THE DESTRUCTION OF THE WORLD
TEXT.–“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth, and the works that are in it, shall be burned up.”–2 PET. iii: 10.
THE first thing to which the attention of the hearer is invited, is the description given by the apostle of the men who should come in the last days–false teachers. He says, “There will come in the last days scoffers.” “The last days,” here, can not be the last days of the Jewish dispensation, for these had passed away some thirty or thirty-five years before the apostle wrote. They are evidently the “last days” of the Christian dispensation. But what kind of a description does he give of these men? He deliberately writes them down as “scoffers,” and gives us a specimen of their logic. They shall insincerely, scoffingly, and in derision say, “Where is the promise of his coming?” They will argue that there can be no promise of his coming, “for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” These men walk after their own lusts or their own desires. They receive nothing, because the Lord has said it, but are led by their own carnal desires, believing simply what they desire to believe. But the apostle says “They are willingly ignorant of this, that by the word of God the heavens of old had their being, as also the earth, consisting of water and subsisting by water: by which things the world that then was, having been overflowed with water, perished.” These grand events in the world’s history willfully escape their attention, and they stupidly and blindly assert that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” This is not only blindness, but willful blindness. They have lost sight of the overthrow of the monarch of Egypt, the “vessel of wrath,” raised up that God’s power might be known in all the earth, the destruction of the antediluvian world, of Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, and the overthrow of the Jews, and their dispersion among all nations, till the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. All these wonderful events have escaped their attention, and they are the blind and willing slaves of passion and bigotry. They can see no promise of his coming. True, the threatenings of God had been fulfilled to the letter; his divine judgments executed, with the most stupendous displays of his wrath and vengeance on the nations and peoples who despised his authority; but the coming of the Lord, to raise the dead and judge the world; “to take vengeance on them who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ;” to “punish them with an everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power,” they maintain can never occur.
With the scoffers of the last days it avails nothing if the angels did say, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, shall come in the same manner in which you saw him go into heaven.” See Acts i: 11. Nor does it amount to any thing with them that Paul speaks of “the revelation of our Lord Jesus from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, to take vengeance on them who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ,” as we read, 2 Thess. i: 7; nor yet does it avail any thing with them that the Lord himself has said, as we read, Matt. xxv: 31, that “the Son of Man shall come in his own glory, and all the holy angels with him,” and that “he will sit on the throne of his own glory, and all nations shall be gathered before him; and he shall separate them, one from another, as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats.” All these scriptures, and numerous others, go for nothing with the hardened scoffer. How different the spirit of the holy John, when he penned the last words of the New Testament, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
But there is another class of scoffers that this discourse has to do with. They say the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ has long since occurred–that he came the second time at the destruction of Jerusalem; that he there judged the world; separated the righteous from the wicked, and, consequently, argue that the coming of Christ, the judgment, and punishment of the wicked are all long since gone by. This fallacy must now be refuted. It must be shown that the coming of the Lord is yet future.
- The first scripture to which reference is made for this purpose is found Acts iii: 19: “Repent, therefore, and turn, in order that your sins may be blotted out, so that season of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that he may send Jesus Christ, who was destined for you: whom heaven must retain till the times of restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets, since the beginning of time.”
Those who say the coming of Christ is passed, say that “restitution” in this passage means salvation, and that “restitution of all things” is salvation of all men, for, they say, “all things” certainly includes all men. Take them first on their own ground, that “restitution of all things” means salvation of all men, or that it at least includes the salvation of all. How long, then, is the heaven to retain Jesus Christ? “Till the restitution of all things,” or the salvation of all men? Is their salvation of all men past or future? Did their salvation of all men occur before the destruction of Jerusalem? Peter said, some forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, of Christ: “Whom the heaven must retain till the times of restitution of all things.” If, then, the “restitution of all things “means or includes the salvation of all men, and if the heaven must retain Jesus Christ till the restitution of all things, Jesus Christ did not come at the destruction of Jerusalem, or at any other time between then and now, for it is incontrovertibly certain that the salvation of all men has not come. But the Universalist says that no man shall stand on his own ground and argue. Then look at the case from the true ground. What, then, is the meaning of “restitution of all things?” It is evident that “restitution” does not mean salvation by the following part of the connection. You readily inquire, “Restitution of what?” The Universalist replies, “Restitution of all things.” All what things? Does the apostle mean absolutely all things, or “all things” of a certain class which he describes? “All things” of a described class. You must not quote the passage in the popular style, as follows: “All things,” etc., but you must follow up, with inquiry, All what things? The apostle answers: “All things which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets since the beginning of time.” This shows that restitution does not mean salvation. It makes no sense to talk of the salvation of all things which God has spoken by the mouth of his holy prophets, for the “things which God has spoken” have never been lost, and there is no sense in speaking of the salvation of that which was never lost. There are but two ways in which the language can be taken with intelligence: 1. “Whom the heaven must retain till the times of accomplishment or fulfillment of all things which God has spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets.” 2. “Whom the heaven must receive till the times of restoration of all things which God has promised by the mouth of all his holy prophets since time began.” This latter is most probably the true meaning. The apostle then says of Jesus Christ, “Whom the heaven must receive till the times of restoration of all things promised by all the holy prophets.” This proves, beyond doubt, that he did not come at the destruction of Jerusalem, and that he has not come at any time between that time and the present; for the heaven must retain him till the restoration of all things promised by all his holy prophets, and certainly the restoration of all things promised by all his holy prophets has never yet come.
2. Please hear the great apostle to the Gentiles: “But we beseech you, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our coming together to him, that you be not hastily shaken from the persuasion of your mind, nor be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by report, nor by letter as written by us, as though the day of the Lord is at hand.” 2 Thess. ii: 1, 2. Now, at what period did the apostle stand when he wrote this? Certainly not more than sixteen years before the destruction of Jerusalem. If, then, the destruction of Jerusalem was only sixteen years off, and the coming of the Lord was to be at the same time, was it not proper to say “The day of the Lord is at hand?” Certainly when an event of that kind is within sixteen years of us, it is at hand. But it was false then to say “the day of the Lord is at hand;” and in view of some saying this, Paul said: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, unless the apostasy come first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposes and exalts himself above every one that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he sits as God in the temple of God, openly showing himself that he is God.” 2 Thess. ii: 3, 4. This puts an end to all idea of the Lord coming at the destruction of Jerusalem, for the apostle asserts roundly that “that day shall not come unless the apostasy comes first.” The apostasy, or “mystery of iniquity,” was only beginning to work when Paul wrote this letter. This “apostasy,” described in the same connection as the “man of sin,” the “son of perdition,” was to be fully revealed before the coming of the Lord, but the proper time for his full development had not come when Paul wrote. The restraining power was in the way, and would continue to restrain till he would be taken out of the way. This “man of sin,” “son of perdition,” “lawless one,” is unquestionably the great Romish apostasy, “whom the Lord Jesus will destroy by the spirit of his mouth, and will utterly overthrow by the brightness of his coming.” See 2 Thess. ii: 8. This shows that the Lord has not yet come, for he “will destroy by the spirit of his mouth, and utterly overthrow by the brightness of his coming” this great “apostasy,” or “man of sin.” So long, then, as Popery is not utterly overthrown, destroyed, the Lord has not come.
3. 1 Cor. xv: 22, Paul says: “As by Adam all die, so also by Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward those who are Christ’s at his coming.” This “making alive” will be in the resurrection from the dead. The language is very elliptical. Filling the ellipsis, it will read as follows: “As by Adam all die, so also by Christ shall all be made alive. But each shall be made alive in his own order: Christ the first-fruits shall be made alive; afterward those who are Christ’s shall be made alive at his coming.” When are those who are Christ’s to be made alive? In the resurrection from the dead, at his coming. This settles the question of his coming, showing that it is yet future, and will be at the resurrection of the dead.
In eighteen hundred and forty-three, many had set the time for the coming of Christ to the very day, if not the very hour. On the set day they were sitting about, gazing up into heaven. Some poor deluded creatures had prepared themselves ascension robes–white robes, in which to ascend and meet the Lord in the air, so carnal and materialistic were their views. Many good and true men, however, maintained that the time could be determined when the Lord would come, and were so confident about it that they used to say, “If the Bible is true the Lord will come” on the set day. Some went so far, that they declared that they would not believe the Bible if the Lord did not come at the set time. Others, with much pertinency, would reply: “If the Lord does not come on your set day, I shall not conclude that the Bible is not true, but that your interpretation of the Bible is not true.” While there was no doubt about the Bible being true, there was much doubt about their understanding the Bible. Men of intelligence had so much confidence in the truth of the Bible, and so little confidence in their interpretation of it concerning the time of the coming of the Lord, that their failure by no means shook their faith. It was nothing but a mistake in men; a failure in understanding the Bible, and no failure in the Bible itself.
One grand plea, made by the Adventists then, and also made by the much less conscientious Adventists now, for determining the precise time of the coming of the Lord, was, and now is, that men will repent if convinced that the Lord will come at a certain set time. But there are several things to be considered about this matter:
- If you prove to be mistaken about the time, and the Lord should not come at your appointed time after you have declared so confidently that he will come at that time, if the Bible is true, who will then be led to repentance by your plea? Will you not rather lead men to disbelieve the Bible? The process of reasoning will then be short and easy. The preacher said, “If the Bible is true, the Lord will come at the set time.” The Lord did not come at the set time, therefore the Bible is not true. If you fail, so far as the people had confidence in you their faith will be shaken.
- But you miss the Lord’s argument. His argument is that we must be always ready, because we know not the time when the Lord will come. Your argument is, that we should know the time, and make known the time, that we and the people may repent and prepare for his coming, because we and they know the time. You remind one of children, who want to know the precise time when their parents will return home, that they may straighten up and set themselves in order against the time when the parents will get home. It is evident that the children would conduct themselves better if they knew that the parents would return, but knew not when. In that case they must be ready all the time, because they know not when their parents will return. So the Lord intends us to be always ready, because we know not the time.
- It was certainly no part of the Lord’s teaching, nor that of his apostles, to set the time, or show the time the Lord had set, and it is equally certain that the Lord declared that no man knows the time. The man of faith believes him who has assured us that no man knows the time, and not those who claim to know the time. The true exhortation of the Lord is, to be always ready, because you know not when you, Lord shall appear.
- It has been right to look for the coming of the Lord, and stand in readiness for it, from the apostolic day to the present time, because the time is not revealed–no man knows when he will appear. It would not have been right to have looked for the coming of the Lord in the apostles’ day, if they had known that he would not come till some time now future. It is unequivocally certain that they looked for the coming of the Lord, not because they knew when he would come, but because they did not know when he would come.
It is right to look for the coming of the Lord now, as it has been right all the time since he ascended to heaven, simply because he has not revealed the time, but exhorted us to be always ready. It was right to look for and hasten to the coming of the day of the Lord in the time of the apostles; but it was not right then, and is not right now, to say “the Lord delays his coming and makes the delay an excuse to do evil. The Lord will certainly come, and will not disappoint his true followers, not because they know when he will come, but because they are always ready and looking for him. If he should come immediately, they will not be disappointed, for they are always looking for him; if he should not come immediately, they will not be disappointed, for they know not when he will appear. They are prepared for his coming, or not coming, at any time. If he should defer his coming till the fortunes of the future of the Church would be vastly greater than all the fortunes of the past of the Church; or if he should defer his coming till the number of all who have been redeemed by his blood, in the whole history of the past, would not be as a drop to the bucket compared with the innumerable company which shall yet be redeemed and brought to God through our Lord Jesus Christ, they will not be disappointed. They will still look for him, and continue to look for him till he comes. Their faith and hope are not in the certain knowledge they have of the precise time when he will come, but the certainty that he will come and take his ransomed people home. This faith is in the certainty that he will come, and not in their certain knowledge when he will come. Their hope is in the full assurance that he will come, and the grand events that shall occur at his coming, and not in any certain knowledge about the precise time when he will come. Let his saints constantly live in the blessed hope that he will come; that they shall see him, and be like him, for they shall see him as he is, and live in the Spirit that John was in when he wrote the words “Come, Lord Jesus.”
But more special attention must now be given to the destiny of this world. It has undergone innumerable changes during the six thousand years since the Mosaic creation. Among these changes there is the one grand change produced by the flood, the most wonderful connected with the entire history of the human race. Concerning this event, blind unbelief has blundered and stumbled. Some of the things that infidels have said about the flood would be as miraculous as the Mosaic account of the flood. A few infidel speculations must receive a brief notice here.
1. One infidel theory advocated about one hundred years ago, was to the effect that, by accurate scientific experiment, it had been determined how much water was in the air, the earth, lakes, seas, and oceans, and that there was not enough belonging to the globe, all combined, to make such a flood as that of which Moses gives us an account. Hence the account given by Moses must be discarded. Many infidels laughed over this, and maintained that the light of science would soon sweep away the traditions and superstitions of the Bible. To this, however, reply was made by men of science, sweeping away the infidel theory by the developments of true science. But that you may see how much confidence may be reposed in the infidel theories arrayed against the Bible, turn to a modern theory, advocated and received by infidels of the present time. They, as geologists and philosophers, undertake to solve the following difficulty: In Western Pennsylvania, across Central Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Southern Missouri, and, perhaps, as far west as Kansas, round, hard, flinty rocks are found, varying in size from a pebble to many tons’ weight. They commence theorizing about these rocks. As geologists and philosophers, it would not do to admit that they do not know all about them. They, therefore, decide, in the first place, that these rocks are not natives of the countries referred to where they are found. The next thing is to determine where they are from. They decide that they are natives of the Arctic region. Then the tough question comes up, how they were transferred to this country. Recollect, these are men who have no credulity; who can not believe the Mosaic account of a flood, nor the Bible in general! They tell us that in the Arctic regions there are immense ranges of mountains, extending many thousands of miles east and west, of enormous height, almost perpendicular on the side facing the south; that during their six months’ night the freezing is immense on these mountain sides, and during their six months’ day it thaws, and thus, thawing and freezing for ages, these rocks are thrown out and roll down the mountain sides and into the immense ocean of ice below. Thus, they argue, they had been loading into this ocean of ice for ages, and that there was then a vast inundation of water that hove up this vast ocean of ice, with all those rocks on it, and that the shape of the glacier is such that it floated across this valley, and, as the ice melted away, deposited these rocks where they are found in this great valley.
Thus it is seen that the infidels, one hundred years ago, determined that there was not water enough belonging to the globe to make a flood. Now they find water enough to float an ocean of ice across a continent, freighted with rocks, depositing them over an expanse of country extending a thousand miles in length! Which infidel Bible shall we believe–the one a hundred years ago, that found no water sufficient for a flood, or the one now finding water enough to float an ocean of ice across a continent, freighted with rock?
Some one is ready to say that the land has been raised in the country where these rocks are deposited, and that it did not take the same amount of water before it was raised to float an ocean of ice over it that it would now since it has been raised. Then may it not be that other parts of the earth have also been raised since the flood, and that it did not require the same amount of water to extend over the earth before it was raised than it would now? One thing is certain, and that is, that whether the greatest elevations of the earth have raised or not, the waters of the ocean have, at some period, been over them. As Hugh Miller would say, “The testimony is in the rocks.” The inhabitants of the ocean are found petrified in the rocks, bearing testimony, to be read and known of all men, corroborating the Mosaic history of the flood.
The same men who could not believe the history of the flood one hundred years ago, maintained, also, that the prophetic Scriptures, that speak of the world being destroyed by fire, could not be fulfilled. They argued that the world could not be “burned up,” as Peter says, for three-fourths of its surface are covered with water, and the earth itself is not inflammable or combustible matter, and could not burn–that such a thing is impossible. This is the way their Bible–the book of nature–read to them a hundred years ago. How does it read to them now? They are now telling us that, after passing a comparatively thin crust over the surface of the earth, of some sixty miles in thickness, there is nothing but one vast lake of fire in the interior of the earth, equal, in the intensity of its heat, to the hottest metal that ever flowed from a smelter’s furnace! The testimony they give of this is chiefly in the fearful material that issues from volcanoes, the earthquakes, and the diameter of the earth being greater at the equator than at the poles, which they suppose to be occasioned by its centrifugal force. It is not necessary now to stop to inquire whether this is all so. It is enough to know that this is the way they are now reading the book of nature, or, at least, a large class of the men who say they can not believe the Bible. Taking it, then, that they are correct, what shall be said of their brethren who lived one hundred years ago? With their view of it, the wonder was how the world could be burned up; but, with the view of the modern men to whom reference has been here made, the wonder is how it is preserved and kept from burning up! If the entire mass of the globe, saving what geologists call “the crust,” is nothing but a vast ocean of melted lava–a “lake of fire”–whirling over once in twenty-four hours, or carrying us one thousand miles an hour on its surface as it revolves on its axis, traveling at the same time with inconceivable velocity as it courses its vast circuit of near six hundred millions of miles in its annual journey around the sun, is not the wonder how the Almighty can preserve it and keep it from destruction? The wonder with men of intelligence is, how it has been preserved, in its mighty movements among the innumerable bodies, in vast, incomprehensible, and illimitable space, for six thousand years. Yet it has been thus preserved, managed, and kept in its regular motions for six thousand years without a single collision or accident! Is this all chance?
But the matter in hand is to look at the possibility and probability of the world being burned up.
Scientific men have long since demonstrated that even water, which we use to extinguish fire, may be placed under such conditions as to cause it to burn with a fury and intensity surpassing all human imagination. The same is true, also, of the atmosphere itself. As easy, then, as you move the regulator of your watch, he who created the heavens and the earth, the sea and land, and all things, and upholds them by the word of his power, can place the water under such conditions, as well as the air, as would convert it into the most inflammable material, and thus wrap this globe in flame–immerse it in fire. It is not argued here that the world will certainly be destroyed in this way, but surely this is a very possible way.
But stop and look from another angle. See the smith bring a heated iron in contact with one drop of water, sufficient to evaporate it instantly, and the result is equal to the firing of a pistol. Suppose you could bring a heated mass of any sort in contact with one pint of water, sufficient to evaporate it instantly, what would be the result? A concussion more terrible than the explosion of the greatest shell ever fired from a mortar! Suppose, then, that power, such as lifts continents from the bed of the ocean, and rears mountains five miles above the level of the ocean, should instantly make an opening some three or four thousand miles in length under the depths of the ocean, through the crust of the earth, thus instantly letting the great waters into the boiling lava, what kind of a result might be expected? Certainly not a mere earthquake, jarring the earth for thousands of miles, as is occasioned by volcanic eruptions, but an explosion that would hurl atoms of the earth thousands of miles out from the globe, when, by attraction or gravitation, they would be drawn back to the center, forming a universal chaos.
Please take one more look. Man has not been able to penetrate but a short distance into the earth, probably not three thousand feet. What has been found in the little space so far penetrated? Most fearful material. Gas has been found, which has rushed out of the small hole made in boring sufficient to charge the air for hundreds of yards round, which has caught on fire, and, in a few instances, burned men to death before they could escape. This is a mere index to what may be treasured up deeper down. Who knows what engines of destruction the Lord may have still below the limited space penetrated by man? There may be vast reservoirs of this wonderful gas, sufficient to charge the entire atmosphere belonging to the globe and supply the fuel, after one universal flame shall spread and extend as far as the atmosphere itself, as long as the flood prevailed on the earth, thus devouring every living creature on the face of the earth. Who knows what the Almighty has locked up deep down, far below where man has never penetrated? There may he vast oceans of this fearful gas lying far below even the bed of the sea, and nothing but the fiat of the Infinite One is required to bring it to the surface and spread universal flame all over the great waters and the dry lands.
Shall ignorant men, then, in the hardness of their hearts and their determined perversity, dare to question the possibility of the destruction of the world by fire? Even looking at it in view of what little man knows of its structure, and the wonderful resources and engines the Lord has in it and on it, and contemplating the natural causes and effects, the wonder, as has been before stated, is not how it can be destroyed by fire, but how the Lord has kept it from destruction and made it a safe habitation for man for six thousand years!
It is not maintained here that the Lord will destroy the world by means of this gas, or by means of the vast lake of fire supposed to be within the bowels of the earth; nor is it claimed that any man can tell, or even knows, what means the Lord will employ, what engines or resources he will use in fulfilling the word of prophecy; nor is such a reference, as has been here made, necessary for any man that believes his Bible. It is only made for the sake of men who do not believe the Bible, to show them that, aside from all revelation on the subject, such an event as the Bible predicts is as probable as any thing. Instead of its being unreasonable or impossible for the world to be destroyed by fire, it is as probable and reasonable as any thing. But for the man who believes the Bible, or that believes that God is the self-existent and unoriginated cause of all things, or that he created all things, no such reasoning is necessary, for certainly he who created all things, actually brought them into existence, can immerse the world in water or flame at his pleasure. It will require a miracle, and no man need inquire how a miracle is done, or can be done. How the Almighty created man–brought into existence the human race–how he created heaven, and earth, and all things–how he put in motion the immense bodies in the heavens and governs them in their vast orbits, no man of intelligence will attempt to explain. So no man of intelligence ought to think of explaining how the Almighty produced the flood, or how he will produce the fire that shall destroy the world. The man of faith doubts not because he sees not how it will be performed. He has no doubt that God will raise the dead, though he sees not how it will be done. If a man can be born, grow up, and become a full-grown man in twenty-one years, under the power of God vested in the laws of nature, it will be no more wonderful for the same power of God, put forth in another way, to instantly raise a man from the dead.
It is, then, good for us occasionally to think of the vast resources in the hands of the Almighty Father of heaven and earth for overflowing the world with water, immersing it in fire, or doing whatever he may please to do with the world or man, to bring us to a realization of our nothingness, our insignificance, and the feebleness of our reasonings, that we may stand off and admire the stupendous proportions and immeasurable dimensions of the “wonderful works of God.” In view of all this, how men should sink in the depths of humility before God and exclaim, with David, “Lord, what then is man, that thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that thou visitest him?” Come, then, you men of faith, men of the Bible, men of God, and hear the destiny of the world. What does the Bible say? Hear a few words from the Old Testament: “Behold the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Mal. iv: 1. “To you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power, when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired by all them that believe.” 2 Thess. i: 7-10. “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing, then, that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons you ought to be in all holy behavior and godliness; looking for and hasting to the day of God, wherein the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?” 2 Pet. iii: 10-12. Let no unbelief come nigh thy dwelling, nor stagger at the wonderful prophetic statements of these Scriptures, but tremble before the Majesty of heaven and earth.
Do you inquire for the power to accomplish all this? Peter says, of our Lord Jesus the Christ, that he “has gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels, authorities, and powers being made subject to him.” See 1 Pet. iii: 22. The angels, authorities, and powers are subject to our Lord. Paul says, 2 Thess. i: 7, that “he shall be revealed with his mighty angels.” We read, Matt. xxv: 31, that “the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him.” He will literally have at his command the “armies in heaven.” Look, then, for one moment, at the august messages executed these wonderful beings, “greater in power and might” than man. One of them in a single hour–the hour of midnight–struck down in death the first-born in every house in all Egypt where the blood was not sprinkled on the door-posts. An angel descended on the morning of the resurrection of Jesus, rolled back the stone from the door of the sepulcher, and sat on it, while the Roman guard “fell on the ground as dead men.” Two angels visited Sodom, warned Lot to leave the place, and spread down one vast sheet of fire, and swept away the cities of the plains to rise no more forever. These samples are sufficient to indicate the wonderful power of these swift messengers of Jehovah, when dispatched to execute the terrible judgments of God. What, then, may we expect when the Lord shall “come, with all the holy angels,” to execute judgment on all them who obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?
But if this world is to be immersed in fire–to “be burned up,” where will the saints be during the general conflagration? The Lord has not left them in the dark on this subject, but has revealed a way of escape. “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we, who are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” 1 Thess. iv: 14-16. The expression “the dead in Christ shall rise first” has, doubtless, in many instances, been taken wrong. It has generally been taken to mean that “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” or before the wicked. But this is not the meaning of it. The two classes of which he is speaking are not the righteous and wicked, but “the dead in Christ,” or, figuratively, “those who sleep in Jesus,” and those who “are alive and remain at the coming of the Lord.” This latter class shall not anticipate or go before those who have died in Christ, but those who sleep in Jesus shall rise first, before the living saints shall be changed, and ascend to meet him in the air; and, together, the two classes shall go up to meet the Lord, and forever be with him. This, then, obviates all difficulty as to the safety of the saints when the general destruction shall come. The Lord will take care of them–take them up to be forever with him.
What a scene must have been witnessed when the flood came, and “the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished;” when “the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth, and all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered,” “and the mountains were covered,” “and all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man: all in whose nostrils was the breath of life, of all that was on the dry land, died. And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and the cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth; and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark!” When “all the fountains of the great deep were broken up” and “the windows of heaven were opened,” and the waters prevailed and commenced overspreading the dry land; when dwellings and all kinds of property, with man and beast, were being swept away, what awful terror was sent forth into the hearts of wicked and rebellious men! The long-suffering of God had been waiting. For one hundred and twenty years the solemn warnings of the preacher of righteousness had been despised, his honest pleadings and exhortations contemned, and he had been rejected. The wickedness of man was very great on the earth. Unbelief, blindness, and hardness of heart prevailed to such an extent that reformation was impossible. The goodness of God was despised, his forbearance and long-suffering had been construed into evidence that his judgments lingered. Some were seeking fame and renown; others were in the general scramble for riches; some seeking revenge, and gratifying their hate on their enemies; others in general debauchery and the depths of corruption. They had long been filling up the cup of iniquity. It was now full. They had been treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. The day of vengeance had been long coming, but no less sure. It had now come, and the threatened destruction came. A race that had been multiplying for sixteen long centuries was swept away in fury and wrath, excepting eight souls, on account of their rebellion against God, and the account of it is entered on the sacred records as a warning to the generations to come.
The apostle says: “By the same word, the heavens and the earth which are now kept in store, reserved to fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” For eighteen long centuries has the wrath of God been kindling and treasuring up against the day of wrath, and the righteous judgment of God against them who know not God and obey not the Gospel. His transcendent forbearance, compassion, and mercy are now, by hardened men, being construed to mean that he will never come; that judgment will never overtake the disobedient, and the world will never be destroyed. Be not deceived, blinded, nor deluded. The Lord is not slack concerning his promises or threatenings. The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, and retribution will be awarded.
How utterly wonderful, when the waywardness of the human race in all the past generations is considered, that the forbearance and long-suffering of God should have extended six thousand years; that the love of God to man, as displayed through our Lord Jesus the Christ, should have been extended for eighteen long centuries, while our God has been all the time extending his hands in mercy and in infinite compassion, in gracious invitations to return and live. Though the love of God has been despised, the agonies of the Savior in the garden of Gethsemane have been contemned, the sufferings of Jesus on the cross have been unheeded by millions on millions of our ungrateful and wayward race, his streaming blood to cleanse us from sin has been set at naught for many long centuries, the wonderful forbearance of God is still extended, and the nations are still invited to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! In infinite compassion, he still stands all the day long, in most lovely strains, inviting the children of men to return. Who can appreciate, much less express his appreciation of the mercy, the grace, and compassion of the Almighty Father, in bearing with the waywardness, the transgressions, and the corruptions of the children of men down through all the generations of the past, or the everlasting debt of gratitude that we owe? But we are not to infer, from the long forbearance of God, that the day of wrath will never come, or that the judgment of God will never overtake the ungodly. The day of wrath overtook the ungodly in the time of Noah. The flood came and swept them all away. The Egyptians, with their hardened and blinded monarch, were hurled down, in terrible wrath and fury, in the Red Sea. The Sodomites were destroyed from the face of the earth by the devouring flames. One million and a half of Jews fell in the siege in Jerusalem, and their blood ran ankle-deep in the streets of the devoted city. Shall all these displays in the judgments of God go unheeded by the people of our time, and shall they join in the stupid delusion that “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation?” Shall their eyes be closed against the calamities that have been brought on the ungodly in past ages, not knowing that the most terrible judgment of all is approaching? Be warned and entreated, then, to turn to the Lord before the day of vengeance shall come–before the terrible announcement shall be made that “time shall be no longer,” but eternity, with all its solemnities and realities, shall be ushered in. May we find mercy of the Lord in that day!
“To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood,” be honor and power everlasting!
[This sermon is from Benjamin Franklin’s book entitled The Gospel Preacher (1869)]