By Andrew Bonar
There would be no conclusion to draw from all this were it true, as is so frequently insinuated, that prophecy is of no private interpretation as far as our own individual interests are concerned. There may undoubtedly be a risk not alone of neglecting, but also on the other hand of giving it an undue prominence. Nevertheless between these extremes let us bear in mind, that as "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God" and declared to be "profitable", so it must be to our risk and damage if we overlook the proper place and importance of each and every portion of it. Our wish has been to vindicate the study of what many a Christian, from one motive or another, seems to shun, for in the persuasion of coming disorder and "perplexity", the lamp in the dark place spoken of is, by mention, the "sure word of prophecy", to which it is added "ye do well that ye take heed" (2 Peter 1:19).
Now if Scripture declares this, who is to forbid us saying that throughout a distinct warning is given-a telling before (Matthew 24:25) -of events yet to come in which individually we are all concerned? "I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say", and whether there is not reason for asking why Scripture language, after all past lessons, is not to be taken literally in every instance where the context does not manifestly and unmistakably show it to be metaphorical. The rule laid down is not one of difficult application if we attempt to apply it honestly, and not with a mere wish to cavil and find fault where it becomes all to be humble as well as vigilant.
It is a sign of the times that the study of prophecy is talked of, at least more than it was, and if so, how deeply important that the theories regarding its interpretation should be examined with greater caution now, from the manifest failures of the past and the want of any real practical good having come out of it after we had expressly been encouraged to expect a different result.
Does not such a failure of itself suggest the thought that the prevailing system may have been a wrong one, and that greater regard to the plain literality of Scripture would lead, as in its other teaching, to the profit which of necessity, from Scripture declaration itself, must be there? Timothy when warned of the perilous times of the last days, nearer to us now than they were to him, was directed (2 Tim. 3:14-15) for protection against deceiving or being deceived to the Holy Scriptures which he had known from a child.
But how marked a departure must there be from the simplicity of that admonition, when we can sit quietly, year after year, listening to expositors who tell us of the allowance to be made for eastern phraseology and illustrative symbols, until in their hands, the plainest words which no "child" could mistake or stumble at, have become mystified if not wholly altered in their meaning.
Hence the whole way by which they have come, is strewed with abandoned assertions as one portion of the theory was shown to be inconsistent with the other, and as each succeeding writer still detected a new date or accomplishment which was found to fit more exactly even than previous ones had done.
It may look like presumption to say all this, but the presumption disappears when all that is contended for in these imperfect remarks is simply that a greater regard, than all of us have been showing, is due to the inspired literality of that Scripture, which infidels and philosophers of the day are seeking to overthrow altogether. If prepared to say that Scripture truth alone must be our refuge in the days of evil and error which are darkening around us, surely it becomes us to be "very jealous" for its literality, and to count all other lights as false which come not from that place where alone the true light shineth, however men may sneer at our simplicity in thinking so.
There are, and will be increasingly, meteor lights sent forth by Satan to lead man astray till his feet stumble on the dark mountains, if he himself does not perish there. Let any one think to what the German mysticism, to which allusion has been already made in these pages, is leading, and of what the world without a Bible would be, before he yields a hair-breadth to the system which is turning much of the plainest language into metaphor.
With our attention so plainly called to it, prophecy will be found no idle study to be dipped into or disregarded as suits our fancy, nor will it serve us to plead the confusion in which such widely different interpretations have involved it. This is only a good reason for more attention being given to the subject, and also for our asking why Scripture language should be differently construed from all other.
If it tells us of a revelation that is to be of "that man of sin ... the son of perdition" before the coming of our Lord Himself to destroy him, why should we be speaking of a succession of popes or principles any more than of a succession of Saviors and influences? Such discrepant interpretation is helping greatly the scoffers of these last days, who are already pointing to the inconsistencies of professed Bible Christians themselves, to show that their Book means anything or nothing, as they choose to make it, and is therefore unfit to guide man now that he is beginning to think for himself.
It is confessedly one of the characteristics of the last times that man's restless energy is searching into everything human and divine. Knowledge of whatever kind it may be, is increased by the many that "run to and fro" (Dan. 12:4), an expression which in the Hebrew means properly to run through or examine (a writing). As to Daniel's people, they make no attempt to understand his book, saying that he did not understand it himself and was even told that the words were "closed up and sealed" (verse 9). But they will not see, like many among ourselves, that this was only to be "till the time of the end", whilst we have what they had not, a book of Revelation shown to speak of the same events as Daniel had done, but which John, as distinctly, was commanded not to seal (Rev. 22:10) "for the time is at hand."
How strikingly ought this to warn us with all becoming reverence while searching the Scriptures, to give heed also to the sure word of prophecy in our eventful days as to a light shining in a dark place, and reflecting itself with increasing power from other Scripture which, we have seen, was to be sealed up and closed till now.
But besides neglecting a duty, as we contend it is from Scripture declaration itself, how much are we also in the meanwhile losing of warning and comfort, if either we refuse altogether to look into the subject of prophecy, or cling still to the misleading system of interpretation unhappily prevailing, even although our judgment is unconvinced by it? There is no Scripture warrant for expecting a peaceful termination of present evil before the Lord comes, as literally and truly, as He was seen to go into heaven.
His people in the world have yet to expect a darker day than has appeared, and already are its presages unmistakably gathering in masses over them. The "light that shineth in a dark place" would increasingly vindicate to them, in such circumstances, the mercy that placed it there, were they not willfully perverting or obscuring it, as they are doing. It would be seen illumining the sable cloud of the future, making it to "turn out its silver lining on the night", with the light that is "behind it" reflected to God's people, who are on their way beneath it, until the darkness itself was dispelled by "the morning appearing." The light of prophecy is light from that heaven where there is no darkness at all, and is in contrast to another light spoken of by our Lord himself, if "the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:23).
Let us be warned that this is it which the philosophers, falsely so called, of the day would beguile us into choosing, and of which it becomes us to beware, for it is from beneath (from him who is the prince of darkness as well as the prince of this world), which has accordingly ever chosen the darkness rather than the light, its deeds, like his, being evil.
And to what is all this "word of prophecy" pointing? Surely not alone to the trouble which is yet to be, but far more extendedly to the gladness that is beyond it, but of which our notions are and continue so low and earthly from want of heed to the sure word of prophecy.
If Antichrist is spoken of and the outbreak of sin and terror which will attend him, how do all the prophets seem to rejoice to be done with such details, and to escape from them into the glad tidings they are also commissioned to tell of "the glory that should follow"! Yet they who are to share in it seem content that things should go on as now, provided only the day of their death take them out of the trouble into a state which, after all, is still one of waiting "for the manifestation of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:19).
The whole creation is represented as groaning' for this, nay, Christ Himself, although sat down on the right hand of God, as also "henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool" (Heb. 10:13). Yet Christians continue indifferent, or rather averse, to look beyond the present state of things, into what Scripture prophets tell them of the future with a distinct intimation that they would "do well to give heed." Nay, it almost seems as if they were deliberately overlooking the fact of this mortal which is to put on immortality being now in weakness, corruption, and dishonour (1 Cor. 15:42,43,53). How is it they will not understand their interest in what is to be?
It is written, "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which 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. Wherefore" it is added, "comfort one another with these words" (1 Thess. 4:16-18).
Are we doing so? Are we thinking of this change as well as of the reunion that is to be at that moment when this corruptible is to put on incorruption (surely this is not spoken of the day of our death) and this mortal, immortality? If so, how strange all this indifference to the "coming of the Lord", which is not only to destroy existing evil and accomplish this change in us, but to bring back to us "them also which sleep in Jesus", possessed like us then, and not till then, of glorified bodies in which we shall recognize and welcome each other as fitting companions to be for ever "with the Lord."
Him, eye to eye we then shall see,
Like His, our faces shine;
O, what a glorious company
When saints and angels join!
What a contrast does the language, used by both prophet and apostle in reference to such a time of blessing, present to the indifference with which men hear of it now. "Thy dead shall live, My dead body (not "together with" which is not in the original, for believers themselves are that body, His Own having seen no corruption, Acts 2:3) shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead! Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast. For, behold, the LORD cometh out of His place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain" (Isa. 26:19-21).
It was to the expectation of such an "awakening", (then how distant!) that David is heard responding, "As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness" (Ps. 17:15).
And Job too, in times still more remote, "in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another: my reins within me (see margin) are consumed with earnest desire for that day" (Job 19:26-27).
Is there no longing exhibited here for the day when they were to be so "satisfied"? Is death swallowed up in victory now, when its triumphs are intruded on us every hour by the mourners who go about the streets? And are we still indifferent to the time, when all this is to cease with us and with them whom we are committing to the dust? Or, as Christians, can we afford to treat, as a matter of indifference, that the inheritance which Christ purchased with His Blood is still under the dominion of another lord; and that, instead of an amelioration and turning to Him, there is to be "the apostasy" and Antichrist who is yet to exalt and oppose himself upon it above all that is called God or is worshipped?
What a narrowing of all the glorious expectations which His church has been encouraged in from the beginning, is it for us "upon whom the ends of the world are come", to be confining our hopes to a bare individual escape from present distress and weariness, with our bodies, which are Christ's, left behind us in weakness and shame! How like a dishonored retreat from the battlefield were Antichrist and Satan to remain on it triumphant, and the earth upon which the Son of God had lived and suffered abandoned to the evil which had ruined it.
Surely this is not to be if Scripture's plainest words mean anything at all. He, Who endured the cross, despising the shame, and is even now bringing many sons and daughters to glory, is under promise to "come again;" no longer as at the first, in suffering and humiliation, but in the clouds of heaven and His saints with Him. The places of the Redeemer's sorrow are yet to be the places of the Redeemer's triumph. His feet are yet to stand upon the Mount of Olives, the moon confounded and the sun ashamed, when He reigns in Jerusalem and in Mount Zion before His ancients gloriously (Isa. 24:23).
How strange to think that they who are to share in that triumph should be cold and indifferent about it, and more taken up with the thought of escape from their individual "light affliction, which is but for a moment" (2 Cor. 4:17), than with the hope of seeing realized the promise of "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:13).
When our Lord comes, His reign with His saints is to be a reign of righteousness in contrast to that of Antichrist, which had preceded and shall then have come to an end. And Satan, bound for a thousand years, will not be present to exert the power he now has to pervert and mislead. But the flesh which fell will still be that of the inhabiters of the earth, and still exposed to sin again as if to show that in it "dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18).
This is an undeniable fact, whatever our fancy of the millennium may be, for sin and death are both spoken of as in operation during its period (Isa. 65:20; Jer. 31:29-30); and an outbreak at the end, when Satan having been loosed out of his prison (Rev. 20:7-8) will gather a number "as the sand" ready to join him in one further effort for preeminence, even as the first Adam, whose flesh they inherit, sinned and fell amidst the happiness of Eden, and in face to face intercourse with his Maker.
The former attempt had been led on by Antichrist, but in this Satan appears for himself and his final overthrow, for the Great White Throne is set and he, along with "the rest of the dead" whose names are not found in the Lamb's Book of Life, are judged, to be cast into the lake of fire, where Antichrist and his false prophet will already be, to be tormented for ever. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:26), and his destruction is recorded as following immediately after that of Satan as if to mark the conclusion.
And here Scripture alone should speak, for these are solemn futurities: Christ "must reign, till He hath put all enemies under His feet ... And when all things shall be subdued unto Him, then shall the Son also Himself be subject unto Him that put all things under Him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:25,28). That which is perfect will then, at last, have come and that which is imperfect be done away (1 Cor. 13:10).
Every spot even where sin had rested or could rest "shall be burned up" (2 Pet. 3:10), and "behold, I make all things new" (Rev. 2 1:5). What the glories of eternity will be to all God's redeemed people we could not now conceive, for earthly things cannot measure heavenly. We read of one who was caught up into Paradise (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell), and "heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" yet "of such an one will I glory" (2 Cor. 12:3-5).
Another in speaking of them says, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hat prepared for them that love Him" (see Isa. 64:4). And as if to seal all by a last promise, a third is made to declare, "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son" (Rev. 21:7).
It will remain a mystery to us till we know as we are known, why a holy God could permit evil to enter where His will was supreme. But this we know, that He Who is "wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working" (Isa. 28:29) doeth all things well. In His wondrous condescension to His people, He calls on them to prove Him, and how could this have been done, had nothing been permitted to ruffle or interrupt the tranquillity and order of His perfect dominion?
A man's character (with deep reverence be it spoken) is proved by the difficulties and trials to which he is subjected, and so God may have been showing, where sin abounded, how His grace could much more abound. May not this earth prove to have been the theatre selected by His wisdom to show, not only to us, but to beings incomprehensible to us now, who themselves never knew either sin or disorder, the full character of God on which all happiness depends, by a display of it in permitted events involving even the death of His Son?
Is it not confusion which makes us understand the blessings of order, sickness of health, sorrow of gladness, and turmoil of rest? And may not the passage of their Great Head in union with His people through all these, have been appointed, not only to "make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery", but "to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3:9-1 1).
Yet how would that purpose have fallen short of its full display of power as well as of goodness, were the earth itself which God had created in the beginning and which He had pronounced to be very good, been abandoned to Satan as a polluted thing, after all the display of the wisdom and grace which had been witnessed upon it!
But this is not to be so. "God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). "The redemption of the purchased possession" will yet be fully manifested when, as we have seen, the last enemy upon it having been destroyed, the Son Himself becomes subject, that God may be all in all.
Then, and not till then, will be known what that redemption so spoken of implied, as well as the wondrous ransom that was paid for it. It will be declared to men and to angels when the new heavens and the new earth are seen restored without spot or blemish, to God's sinless dominion, and what is more, along with them the "many sons and daughters" whom He, the Captain of their salvation Himself made perfect through suffering, had been bringing out of the world to share in glory with Him, Who in that day will be shown to be "the Heir of all things."
He Who was, for our sins and for our transgressions, reviled and spit upon and crucified between two thieves, will then be highly exalted. "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied; by His knowledge shall My righteous Servant justify (have justified) many; for He shall bear (bore) their iniquities" (Isa. 53:11). The mystery will at last have been ended for ever, and He Who took our nature upon Him "to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins and to bring in everlasting righteousness" (Dan. 9:24), will be shown to be the same that was in the beginning with God and by Whom all things were made, without Whom was not anything made that was made, Who was with God, and Who was God (John 1:1-3).
It needs that we understand something of the character of that tremendous wrath which descended on our great Sacrifice and which will yet devour every one who is not found washed in His Blood, before we are in any condition to judge aright of what is constituting the false glory of the natural man, and the real character of all that is within the gates of His city. Until brought to see this, we cannot have any true or proper desire "to go forth . . . without the camp, bearing His reproach;" and still less can we rejoice to have been, by free grace alone, thus called to come out and be separate from it. For where, alas, will he be found in that day who now lingers in these cities of the plain with the destruction that is impending over them, ashamed of the Saviour Who would have drawn him out of them, and up to Himself! Is it not written of such an one, "of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He shall come in His Own glory, and in His Father's, and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:26)?
And if the sure word of prophecy tells us, amidst present distress and weariness, of such a glory as this is to be, it is, whatever men may call it, a light shining in a dark place to which we do well to take heed. For it is not impossible to do so, without feeling within us the stirring of a hope that is full of immortality. Whilst we look at those things that are not seen, do not our hearts burn within us by the way, and seem lifted above the "heaviness" of the present, rejoicing in the thought that "the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18)?
Time, as it is now with us, is a human word, and the change associated with it an entirely human idea; so wrought into us however, that we dread monotony and the possibility of weariness where there is no change. But this is simply because time is connected in our minds here with invariable decay, and therefore with the thought that were there no change, our very hopes as well as occupations would slip from underneath us.
But when the eternal things spoken of are seen and there shall "be time no longer" (Rev. 10:6), neither shall there be any more decay, marking time's progress as now, with its dark and sorrowful shadow. The former things will have passed away and we shall have a new measurement scarcely to be appreciated by us at present constituted, but how transporting then, when we ourselves are "changed", and like all things around us, made pure and holy, without decay and enduring as the ages of eternity. It is when personally sinless ourselves, and not till then, that we shall be able to recognize the blessedness of owning and bowing to one perfect and sovereign Will.
Is not such a prospect fitted to animate Christ's people with new strength to press onwards, by showing them the real dignity of their present condition, set forth as they are, as a spectacle to men and to angels? For are they not chosen out of a world, which is pluming itself on its advancing liberty, its discoveries, its intellect, its science, its powers and its pleasures for ages to come, to be "God's witnesses" against all these, dedicated as they increasingly are, to the prince of this world, whose glory is and will be still more, in opposition to the Name of Jesus?
Like their Divine Master, they are despised and hated, not resisting evil nor trying to put right by force what they nevertheless protest to be wrong, and still contented in quiet submission to authorities and powers for the Lord's sake to suffer with Christ, knowing they shall also reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12). Their light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working out for them a far more exceeding, even an eternal weight of glory; and the crown that is laid up for them will be found worthy of God, the Righteous Judge, Who is to place it on their heads at that day.
Such a view, too, of Christ and Antichrist as we have been considering, helps to make us understand the width and breadth of that great gulf which is fixed between the service of the one and the service of the other. There is no half-way-no compromise. Like that between the rich man and Lazarus, in one sense already "they which would pass from hence to you cannot, neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence" (Luke 16:26). Yet, in another sense, there is still an escape if men will hear Moses and the prophets-"the sure word of prophecy" -but if not, neither would they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.
And such, with all the promises still attaching to them, would seem the present existing condition of God's ancient people, the Jews. The veil is upon their eyes, and they cannot see what their own prophets have declared unto them. Nevertheless, God's truth is pledged, and He will surely perform whatever He has promised them of earthly distinction and blessing. And yet, after all, they were but types of His true people, brought not alone out of Egypt, but out "of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues-a great multitude, which no man could number" (Revelation 7:9) bought with the precious Blood of His Son. The care which led and fed them in the wilderness is still shown to His own, whom He is bringing into a far nobler inheritance.
The one might sing the song of Moses when delivered from Pharaoh, whilst the other will, ere long, join to it that of the Lamb, as they stand on a sea of glass, mingled with fire, having "gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name" (Rev. 15:2-3). The inheritance of the one is on earth. The inheritance of the other is in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.
The Jerusalem that is below will be the joy of the whole earth, but it will be so in the light of the New Jerusalem from above, "which is free and the mother of us all" (Gal. 4:26), described as the "city which hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God" (Hebrews 11:10). The glory of the one will lighten the other during the millennial reign, and its bright inhabitants be the realization of what Jacob only dreamed of, "angels of God ascending and descending" on the earth (Genesis 28:12).
Who that has an ear to hear, can after this be insensible to the true dignity of the sons of God, nor feel more than urged to walk worthy of his high calling, when in the "sure word of prophecy" he gathers something of what that calling is, and to what it is conducting him?
How perfect, too, is the consistency of all Scripture, proving it in the face of all the scoffers and all the critics of these evil days, to be indeed given by "inspiration of God"! He it is Who hides these things from the wise and prudent and has revealed them unto babes. "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight" (Matthew 11:26).
Gird up then, Christian, the loins of your mind; be sober and hope to the end. Even now, amidst the gathering darkness without, the "sure word of prophecy" which is indeed the light from the windows of your home, shines brighter and brighter as you approach unto it; and soon, as you touch its threshold, will come forth that gladdening reception, "Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!"
To close with a single inference from all that has been written in these imperfect pages. There are, and ever have been, but two principles in the world as will be seen plainly ere long-self and Christ. The one wholly evil and incapable of any amelioration or affinity with the other, as will be fully manifested in the approaching times of the Antichrist. It must, therefore, be utterly destroyed by that other, which is Christ; and when He comes to effect this, there will be peace in the world itself, and not until then.
Meanwhile, God's discipline is now employed to convince us of this, and to show us what self is, as well as what Christ is. If the lesson is savingly learnt we cease to have any confidence in the one, and learn to lean simply and entirely on the other. Forthwith, the struggle within us is felt be ended, and we do enter into rest (Heb. 4:3), expecting henceforth with Christ Himself till His foes and ours be made His footstool, when there will be outward tranquillity also.
Faith in this is "the victory that overcometh the world", even whilst we ourselves are still amidst its trials. No one ever thus knew himself and Christ without abhorring the one and cleaving to the other, for it is then he begins to learn that His yoke is indeed easy and His burden light (Matthew 11:30), even as that of the other was grievous to be borne.
And if by the full display which is to be, of what "self" really is, and tends to, in the revelation when the transgressors are come to the full of Antichrist, as its development then in open opposition to Christ Himself, prophecy serves to show (as it has been our attempt to prove it really does show), the direct antagonism which, under all forms and disguises has been in action from the very beginning, is not its study cleared from the charge of being a vain intrusion into things not seen and with which properly the future alone should have been left to deal; whilst itself is vindicated to be light shining in a dark place to which we do well to take heed?
But it will have been seen that it does far more even than this, for it declares the utter and terrible destruction of the one by the final and complete triumph of the other. Without the "sure word" how could such a termination have been assured to Christ's people, left as they are in a world where the foundations "are out of course" (Ps. 82:5), and self ever seeking to be uppermost in themselves, as in all around them, to an extent which might have made the struggle absolutely wearisome, if not seemingly hopeless altogether?
It was inspiration alone which could have told, as it has done, how all this is to end, and that in language and minuteness of detail, well fitted to meet all present perplexity, as well as all alarm regarding the issue. Greater is He that is for us than all that can be against us, may henceforth be the exulting thought of all who are Christ's, and who, as such, will share in that triumph which is approaching, as surely as is the Antichrist whom it is to destroy.
And ought not this assurance, and the disclosures with which it is accompanied, to teach and enable us to receive at present every inward and outward trouble, every disappointment, pain, temptation, or desolation with actual cheerfulness and joy as an occasion for the overthrow of self, that we may enter more closely into fellowship with Him, Who was Himself "made perfect through suffering"?
True, the world is seen more distinctly to be sitting in darkness, but God has called us out of that darkness into His marvelous light, and we understand, therefore, how it is He bids His people to walk as children of the light and of the day, having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. What gladness to all such must be the thought that "the time is short"(1 Cor. 7:29), till He Who cometh will come, and when all that opposes His kingdom within or without shall be gathered out of it for ever!
Let men forbid or scoff at the study of prophecy as they may, its real importance is becoming daily more plain and apparent, for already, thank God, are many increasingly led to understand why it is written, "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand" (Rev. 1:3).