Chapter 6: Apostolic Testimony


of the Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ have left in their epistles instruction for the Church in all ages. Amongst other subjects of which they all treat, more or less, is that of the coming of the Lord, and the facts or moral features which precede that event. Thus the Apostle John (1 John:2:18) says, "Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many Antichrists; whereby we know it is the last time." This one passage shows us that the Church had then been taught concerning the coming of Antichrist; that the Apostle knew that they had received this teaching; and that it was right that Christians should understand that this is a thing that concerns the Church: in the beginning of the next chapter he speaks of the hope of our being like Christ when He shall be manifested: that is our hope; and because it is our hope, we may contemplate the rise and working of Antichrist, or of anything else that the Scripture says shall take place first. Opposers of simple Scripture teaching sometimes ask, "For which are you waiting, Christ or Antichrist?" The answer might be, "Which does the apostle teach us shall be first, the coming of Antichrist, or the revelation of Christ?" for if we take these things in their Scriptural order, we shall not go wrong. We wait for Christ, and therefore we can take heed to the warnings concerning the rise of Antichrist; "These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you;" and we can seek to be so instructed from Godís Word as not to be entangled with the snares of the many Antichrists, or those of Antichrist himself, the denier of the Father and the Son. Will any one, with the Scripture before him, say that he there learns that the rise of Antichrist shall not precede the coming of Christ? Will he say that the -earnings of the inspired Apostle have no application?

The Apostle James (Chapter 5) speaks of the evil characteristics of "the last days;" in contrast to which he says, "Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain. Be ye also patient, stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." (Jam. 5:7,8.) This, then, shows what the kind of waiting for the Lordís coming was which this Apostle taught: it was that in which "long patience" was needed. The expression, "the coming of the Lord draweth nigh," is not one to be measured by mere interval of time, but rather with the intelligence of its absolute certainty, even though the intervening period might seem great.[1]

It was not only revealed to the Apostle Paul that there would be evil days, both in the Church and in the world, before Christís second advent, but he was also inspired by the Holy Ghost to communicate this as being profitable and needful warning. Not only do we find the prophetic statements in the Thessalonians to this effect, but also in other places. For instance: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils," etc. (1 Tim. 4:1). Until these things had been accomplished, the coming of the Lord could not take place. So, too, in the Second Epistle to Timothy, containing, as it does, what may be called the dying testimony of the Apostle: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come" (2 Tim. 3:1). "Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim 3:13). "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:3,4). The servant of the Lord, in contrast to all this, had to look to the crown of life, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give in that day unto all that love His appearing. Thus the hope of the Lordís coming is in perfect harmony with the knowledge of intervening events. Indeed, if this had not been the case, not a single future occurrence, not a single direction which involves the knowledge of interval of time, could the Lord have given to His people. If a moral effect were thus to be wrought, it would be by the withholding of truth, and not by its communication. All the teaching of St Paulís Epistles for the continuous guidance of the Church, assumes, as an admitted truth, that there would be those living on the earth, prior to the Lordís coming, who should be so guided.

Jude, in his one short epistle, gives a solemn testimony as to the condition in which the coming of the Lord (as prophesied of old by Enoch) should find the world and the Church. He does not communicate these things in order to discourage Christians, but rather that they might see proof of the faithfulness of God, and of the mercy of His warnings: "But, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before of the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you that there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts." (vv. 17,18.)

The Lord Jesus had declared to Peter "by what death he should glorify God" (John 21:19): thus that Apostle himself knew, and other Christians also knew, that the coming of the Lord could not take place until after he had thus suffered martyrdom. If our hope of the second advent be the same as theirs, we may at once see that absolute certainty of previous events does not interfere with it. Now the Apostle Peter was desirous that the hope of those coming after him should be the same as that which he had himself cherished and taught. He not only thought it meet while in this tabernacle to stir up believers by putting them in remembrance, but he says, in relation to his approaching death, which the Lord had shown him, "Moreover, I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance" (2 Pet. 1:15). The scene on the Mount of Transfiguration had been a showing forth of the glory of Christ at His coming, and to this Peter directed the minds of Christians, teaching them that they ought to give heed to the prophetic word while waiting for the dawning of the day. What, then, were Christians to expect during the interval before the coming of Christ? "There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction: and many shall follow their pernicious ways, by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of;" and so on throughout the second chapter. These were to be the expectations of those whose hope was like that of the Church as then taught. In warning of the heed which should be paid to the words spoken before by the holy prophets, and to the commandments of apostles, he draws their attention to one special point: "Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming; for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation?" (2 Pet. 3:3,4). Thus the moral power of the hope of the coming of Christ was not marred in the apostlesí days from their possessing a certain knowledge of events that would intervene: the apostles authoritatively taught this doctrine as being of importance to the Church; and if any doctrine of the second advent is now taught which cannot be held with such knowledge of events, or which would deny that such knowledge could be held compatibly with the maintenance of the hope, then we may be sure that such doctrine is not in accordance with Holy Scripture, and that, in fact, it sets aside its solemn teaching. The promise of His coming must be held as the promise was made, and not in some manner wholly different. At the Pentecostal preaching of the Gospel, the apostles of the Lord well knew that they were not setting forth that which was to bring in universal blessing; they knew that although the promise of the return of the Lord Jesus to reign was a portion of their testimony, it would not be as yet; and thus part of the exhortation of Peter was founded on that knowledge: "Save yourselves from this untoward generation" (Acts 2:40). Thus a definite interval was part of the original doctrine.

FOOTNOTES

[1] We also learn in the Epistle of James how to act and to speak in relation to present plans. In reproving those who plan what they will do, he tells them that what they ought to say is, "If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that" (Jam. 4:15). He does not make instantaneous looking for the coming of the Lord the reason why such things should not be said or done. He does not say (as some now do), in speaking of things presently before them, "Unless the Lord come first."