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Vol. 1, Sermon 10 - Realizing the Second Advent

By Frederick W. Robertson


      Preached December 2, 1849

      "For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me." - Job 19:25-27.

      The hardest, the severest, the last lesson which man has to learn upon this earth, is submission to the will of God. It is the hardest lesson, because to our blinded eye-sight it often seems a cruel will. It is a severe lesson, because it can be only taught by the blighting of much that had been most dear. It is the last lesson, because when a man has learned that, he is fit to be transplanted from a world of willfulness to a world in which one will alone is loved, and only one is done. All that saintly experience ever had to teach resolves itself into this, the lesson how to say affectionately, " Not as I will, but as Thou wilt." Slowly and stubbornly our hearts acquiesce in that. The holiest in this congregation, so far as he has mastered the lesson, will acknowledge that many a sore and angry feelingly against his God had to be subdued, many a dream of earthly brightness broken, and many a burning throb stilled in a proud, resentful heart, before he was willing to suffer God to be sovereign in His own world and do with him and his as seemed to Him best.

      The earliest record that we have of this struggle in the human bosom is found in the Book of Job. It is the most ancient statement we have of the perplexities and miseries of life, so graphic, so true to nature, that it proclaims at once that what we are reading is drawn not from romance but life. It has been said that religious experience is but the fictitious creation of a polished age, when fanciful feelings are called into existence by hearts bent back in reflex and morbid action on themselves. We have an answer to that in this book. Religion is no morbid fancy. In the rough, rude ages when Job lived, when men did not dwell on their feelings as in later centuries, the heart-work of religion was manifestly the same earnest, passionate thing that it is now. The heart's misgivings were the same beneath the tent of an Arabian Emir which they are beneath the roof of a modern Christian. Blow after blow fell on the Oriental chieftain. One day he was a father - a prince - the lord of many vassals and many flocks, and buoyant in one of the best of blessings, health; the next, he was a childless, blighted, ruined man. And then it was that there came from Job's lips those yearnings for the quiet of the grave which are so touching, so real; and, considering that some of the strongest of the elect of God have yielded to them for a moment, we might almost say, so pardonable: "I should have been at rest - where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest. There the prisoners rest together: they hear not the voice of the oppressor. Wherefore is light given unto him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter of soul - which long for death, but it cometh not, and dig for it more than for hid treasures - which rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they can find the grave?"

      What is the Book of Job but the record of an earnest soul's perplexities? The double difficulty of life solved there, the existence of moral evil - the question whether suffering is a mark of wrath or not. What falls from Job's lips is the musing of a man half-stunned, half-surprised, looking out upon the darkness of life, and asking sorrowfully why are these things so? And all that falls from his friends' lips is the common-place remarks of men upon what is inscrutable - maxims learned second-hand by rote and not by heart, fragments of deep truths, but truths misapplied, distorted, torn out of all connection of time and place, so as to become actual falsehoods: only blistering a raw wound.

      It was from these awkward admonitions that Job appealed in the text. He appealed from the tribunal of man's opinion to a tribunal where sincerity shall be cleared and vindicated. He appealed from a world of confusion, where all the foundations of the earth are out of course, to a world where all the foundations of the earth are out of course, to a world where all shall be set right. He appealed from the dark dealings of a God whose way it is to hide Himself, to a God who shall stand upon this earth in the clear radiance of a love on which suspicion's self can not rest a doubt. It was faith straining through the mist, and discerning the firm land that is beyond. "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." We take two points.

      I. The certainty of God's interference in the affairs of this world.

      II. The means of realizing that interference.

      God's interference, again, is contemplated in this passage in a twofold aspect:

      A present superintendence - "I know that my Redeemer liveth." A future, personal, visible interference - "He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth."

      I. His present superintendence.

      1. The first truth contained in that is God's personal existence. It is not chance, nor fate, which sits at the wheel of this world's revolutions. It was no fortuitous concourse of atoms which massed themselves into a world of beauty. It was no accidental train of circumstances which has brought the human race to their present state. It was a living God. And it is just so far as this is the conviction of every day, and every hour, and every minute - "My Redeemer liveth" - that one man deserves to be called more religious than another. To be religious is to feel that God is the Ever Near. It is to go through life with this thought coming instinctively and unbidden, "Thou, God, seest me." A life of religion is a life of faith: and faith is that strange faculty by which man feels the presence of the invisible; exactly as some animals have the power of seeing in the dark. That is the difference between the Christian and the world.

      Most men know nothing beyond what they see. This lovely world is all in all to them: its outer beauty, not its hidden loveliness. Prosperity - struggle - sadness - it is all the same. They struggle through it all alone, and when old age comes, and the companions of early days are gone, they feel that they are solitary. In all this strange, deep world they never meet, or but for a moment, the Spirit of it all, who stands at their very side. And it is exactly the opposite of this that makes a Christian. Move where he will, there is a Thought and a Presence which he can not put aside. He is haunted forever by the Eternal Mind. God looks out upon him from the clear sky, and through the thick darkness - is present in the raindrop that trickles down the branches, and in the tempest that crashes down the forest. A living Redeemer stands beside him - goes with him - talks with him, as a man with his friend. The emphatic description of a life of spirituality is: "Enoch walked with God:" and it seems to be one reason why a manifestation of God was given us in the flesh, that this livingness of God might be more distinctly felt by us.

      We must not throw into these words of Job a meaning which Job had not. Reading these verses, some have discovered in them all the Christian doctrine of the Second Advent - of a resurrection - of the Humanity of Christ. This is simply an anachronism. Job was an Arabian Emir, not a Christian. All that Job meant by these words was, that he knew he had a vindicator in God above: that though his friends had the best of it then, and though worms were preying on his flesh, yet at last God Himself would interfere to prove his innocence. But God has given to us, for our faith to rest on, something more distinct and tangible than He gave to Job. There has been One on earth through whose lips God's voice spoke, and from whose character was reflected the character of God. A living Person manifesting Deity. It is all this added meaning gained from Christ with which we use these words: "I know that my Redeemer liveth." But we must remember that all that was not revealed to Job.

      2.The second truth implied in the personal existence of a Redeemer is sympathy. It was the keenest part of Job's trial that no heart beat pulse to pulse with his. His friends misunderstood him; and his wife, in a moment of atheistic bitterness, in the spirit of our own infidel poet, "Let no man say that God in mercy gave that stroke," addressed him thus: "Curse God and die." In the midst of this, it seems to have risen upon his heart with a strange power to soothe, that he was not alone: gall and bitterness were distilling from the lips of man, and molten lead was dropping from the hand of God. But there was a great difference between the two inflictions. Men were doing their work, unknowing of the pain they gave: God was meting out His in the scales of a most exquisite compassion, not one drop too much, and every drop that fell had a meaning of love in it. "Affliction," said the tried man, "cometh not out of the dust, neither doth trouble spring out of the ground" - superintending all this, "I know that my Redeemer liveth."

      And here there is one word full of meaning, from which we collect the truth of sympathy. It is that little word of appropriation, " my " Redeemer. Power is shown by God's attention to the vast; sympathy by His condescension to the small. It is not the thought of heaven's sympathy by which we are impressed, when we gaze through the telescope on the mighty world of space, and gain an idea of what is meant by infinity, Majesty and power are there, but the very vastness excludes the thought of sympathy. It is when we look into the world of insignificance which the microscope reveals, and find that God has gorgeously painted the atoms of creation, and exquisitely furnished forth all that belongs to minutest life, that we feel that God sympathizes and individualizes.

      When we are told that God is the Redeemer of the world, we know that love dwells in the bosom of the Most High; but if we want to know that God feels for us individually and separately, we must learn by heart this syllable of endearment, "My Redeemer." Child of God, if you would have your thought of God something beyond a cold feeling of His presence, let faith appropriate Christ. You are as much the object of God's solicitude as if none lived but yourself. He has counted the hairs of your head. In Old Testament language, "He has put your tears into His bottle." He has numbered your sighs and your smiles. He has interpreted the desires for which you have not found a name nor an utterance yourself. If you have not learned to say, "My Redeemer," then just so far as there is any thing tender or affectionate in your disposition, you will tread the path of your pilgrimage with a darkened and a lonely heart; and when the day of trouble comes, there will be none of that triumphant elasticity which enabled Job to look down, as from a rock, upon the surges which were curling their crests of fury at his feet, but could only reach his bosom with their spent spray.

      3.The third thing implied in the present superintendence is God's vindication of wrongs. The word translated here Redeemer is one of quite peculiar signification. In all the early stages of society the redress of wrongs is not a public, but a private act. It was then as now - blood for blood. But the executioner of the law was invested with something of a sacred character. Now he is the mere creature of a country's law, then he was the delegated hand of God; for the next of kin to the murdered man stood forward solemnly in God's name as the champion of the defenseless, the goel, or Avenger of Blood. Goel is the word here: so that, translated into the language of those far-back days, Job was professing his conviction that there was a champion or an Avenger, who would one day do battle for his wrongs.

      It is a fearful amount of this kind of work which is in arrear for the Avenger to execute, accumulating century by century, and year by year. From the days of Cain and Abel there have been ever two classes: the oppressor and the oppressed; the gentle humble ones who refuse to right themselves, and the unscrupulous who force them aside. The Church has ever had the world against it. The world struck its first deadly blow by the hand of Cain, and it has been striking ever since: from the battle-field, and the martyr's stake, and the dungeons of the Inquisition, and the prisons of the lordly tyrant, the blood of the innocent has cried for vengeance. By taunt and sneer, the world has had her triumph. And the servants of the Meekest have only had this to cheer them, "I know that my Redeemer liveth."

      There is a persecution sharper than that of the axe. There is an iron that goes into the heart deeper than the knife. Cruel sneers, and sarcasms, and pitiless judgments, and coldhearted calumnies - these are persecution. There is the tyrant of the nursery, and the play-ground, and the domestic circle, as well as of the judgment-hall. "Better were it," said the Redeemer, "for that man if a millstone had been hanged about his neck." Did you ever do that? Did you ever pour bitterness into a heart that God was bruising, by a cold laugh, or a sneer, or a galling suspicion - into a sister's heart, or a friend's, or even a stranger's? - Remember - when you sent them, as Job's friends sent him, to pour out their griefs alone before their Father, your name went up to the Avenger's ears, mingled with the cries of His own elect.

      There is a second mode in which God interferes in this world's affairs. There is a present superintendence perceived by faith? but there is a future redress which will be made manifest to sight. "He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." I shall see Him.

      First of all, there will be a visible, personal interference. All that Job meant was in the case of his own wrongs. But if we use those words, we must apply them in a higher sense. The Second Advent of Christ is supposed by some to mean an appearance of Jesus in the flesh to reign and triumph visibly. Others who feel that the visual perception of His form would be a small blessing, and that the highest and truest presence is always spiritual and realized by the Spirit, believe that His advent will be a coming in power. We will not dispute: controversy whets the intellect, and only starves, or worse, poisons the heart. We will take what is certain. Every signal manifestation of the right, and vindication of the truth in judgment, is called in Scripture a coming of the Son of Man. A personal advent of the Redeemer is one which can be perceived by foes as well as recognized by friends. The destruction of Jerusalem, recognized by the heathen themselves as judgment, is called in the Bible a coming of Christ. In the Deluge, in the destruction of the cities of the plain, in the confusion of tongues, God is said to have come down to visit the earth. There are two classes, then, who shall see that sight. Men like Job, who feel that their Redeemer liveth; and men like Balaam, from whose lips words of truth, terrible to him, came: "I shall see Him, but not now, I shall behold Him, but not nigh." "Every eye shall see Him." You will see the triumph of the right - the destruction of the wrong. The awful question is, As Balaam - or as Job?

      Besides this, it will be unexpected: every judgment coming of Christ is as the springing of a mine. There is a moment of deep suspense after the match has been applied to the fuse which is to fire the train. Men stand at a distance, and hold their breath. There is nothing seen but a thin, small column of white smoke, rising fainter and fainter, till it seems to die away. Then men breathe again; and the inexperienced soldier would approach the place thinking that the thing has been a failure. It is only faith in the experience of the commander, or the veterans, which keeps men from hurrying to the spot again - till just when expectation has begun to die away, the low, deep thunder sends up the column of earth majestically to heaven, and all that was on it comes crushing down again in its far circle, shattered and blackened with the blast.

      It is so with the world. By God's word the world is doomed. The moment of suspense is past: the first centuries, in which men expected the convulsion to take place at once; for even apostles were looking for it in their lifetime. We have fallen upon days of skepticism. There are no signs of ruin yet. We tread upon it like a solid thing fortified by its adamantine hills forever. There is nothing, against that but a few words in a printed book. But the world is mined: and the spark has fallen; and just at the moment when serenity is at its height, "the heaven shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat," and the feet of the Avenger shall stand on the earth.

      II. The means of realizing this interference.

      There is a difference between knowing a thing and realizing it. When a poor man becomes suddenly the possessor of a fortune or of dignity, it is some time before the thing becomes so natural to him that be can act in his new sphere like his proper self: it is all strangeness at first. When the criminal hears the death-sentence in the dock, his cheeks are tearless. He hears the words, but scarcely understands that they have any thing to do with him. He has not realized that it is he himself that has to die. When bereavement comes, it is not at the moment when the breath leaves the body that we feel what has been lost: we know, but yet we must have it in detail: see the empty chair, and the clothes that will never be worn again, and perceive day after day pass, and he comes not: then we realize.

      Job knew that God was the vindicator of wrongs - that he said. But why did he go on repeating in every possible form the same thing: "I shall see God - see him for myself - mine eyes shall behold Him - yes, mine and not another's?" It would seem as if he were doing what a man does when he repeats over and over to himself a thing which he can not picture out in its reality. It was true: but it was strange, and shadowy, and familiar.

      It is no matter of uncertainty to any one of us whether he himself shall die. He knows it. Every time the funeral bell tolls, the thought in some shape suggests itself, I am a mortal, dying man. That is knowing it. Which of us has realized it? Who can shut his eyes, and bring it before him as a reality, that the day will come when the hearse will stand at the door for him, and that all this bright world will be going on without him; and that the very flesh which now walks about so complacently, will have the coffin-lid shut down upon it, and be left to darkness, and loneliness, and silence, and the worm? Or take a case still more closely suggested by the text - out of the grave we must arise again - long after all that is young, and strong, and beautiful before me shall have mouldered into forgetfulness. Earth shall hear her Master's voice breaking the long silence of the centuries, and our dust shall hear it, and stand up among the myriads that are moving on to judgment. Each man in his own proper identity, his very self, must see God, and be seen by Him - looking out on the strange new scene, and doomed to be an actor in it for all eternity. We all know that - on which of our hearts is it stamped, not as a doctrine to be proved by texts, but as one of those things which must be hereafter, and in sight of which we are to live now?

      There are two ways suggested to us by this passage for realizing these things. The first of these is meditation. No man forgets what the mind has dwelt long on. It is not by a passing glance that things become riveted in the memory. It is by forcing the memory to call them up again and again in leisure hours. It is in the power of meditation to bring danger in its reality so vividly before the imagination that the whole frame can start instinctively as if the blow were falling, or as if the precipice were near. It is in the power of meditation so to engrave scenes of loveliness on a painter's eye that he transfers to the canvas a vivid picture that was real to him before it was real to others. It is in the power of meditation so to abstract the soul from all that is passing before the bodily eye, that the tongue shall absently speak out the words with which the heart was full, not know that others are standing by. It seems to have been this that Job was doing - he was realizing by meditation. You can scarcely read over these words without fancying them the syllables of a man who was thinking aloud.

      It is like a soliloquy rather than a conversation. "I shall see him." Myself. Not another. My own eyes.

      This is what we want. It is good for a man to get alone, and then in silence think upon his own death, and feel how time is hurrying him along: that a little while ago and he was not - a little while still, and he will be no more. It is good to take the Bible in his hands, and read those passages at this season of the year which speak of the Coming and the End of all, till from the printed syllables there seems to come out something that has life, and form, and substance in it, and all things that are passing in the world group themselves in preparation for that, and melt into its outline. Let us try to live with these things in view. God our Friend - Christ our living Redeemer; our sympathizing Brother; our conquering Champion: the triumph of truth, the end of wrong.

      We shall live upon realities then: and this world will fade away into that which we know it is, but yet can not realize - an appearance, and a shadow.

      Lastly, God insures that His children shall realize all this by affliction. Job had admitted these things before, but this time he spoke from the ashes on which he was writhing. And if ever a man is sincere, it is when he is in pain. If ever that superficial covering of conventionalities falls from the soul, which gathers round it as the cuticle does upon the body, and the rust upon the metal, it is when men are suffering. There are many things which nothing but sorrow can teach us. Sorrow is the great teacher. Sorrow is the realizer. It is a strange and touching thing to hear the young, speak truths which are not yet within the limits of their experience: to listen while they say that life is sorrowful, that friends are treacherous, that there is quiet in the grave. When we are boys we adopt the phrases that we hear. In a kind of prodigal excess of happiness, we say that the world is a dream, and life a nothing - that eternity last forever, and that all here is disappointment. But there comes a day of sharpness, when we find to our surprise that we said had a meaning in it, and we are startled. That is the sentimentalism of youth passing into reality. In the lips of the young such phrases are only sentimentalities. What we mean by sentimentalism is that state in which a man speaks things deep and true, not because he feels them strongly, but because he perceives that they are beautiful, and that it is touching and fine to say them - things which he fain would feel, and fancies that he does feel. Therefore, when all is well, when friends abound, and health is strong, and the comforts of life are around us, religion becomes faint and shadowy. Religious phraseology passes into cant - the gay, and light, and trifling use the same words as the holiest; till the earnest man, who, feels what the world is sentimentalizing about, shuts up his heart, and either coins other phrases or else keeps silence.

      And then it is that if God would rescue a man from that unreal world of names and mere knowledge, He does what he did with Job - He strips him of his flocks, and his herds, and his wealth; or else, what is the equivalent, of the power of enjoying them - the desire of his eyes falls from him at a stroke. Things become real then. Trial brings man face to face with God - God and he touch; and the flimsy veil of bright cloud that hung between him and the sky is blown away: he feels that he is standing outside the earth with nothing between him and the Eternal Infinite. Oh, there is something in the sick-bed, and the aching heart, and the restlessness and the languor of shattered health, and the sorrow of affections withered, and the stream of life poisoned at its fountain, and the cold, lonely feeling of utter rawness of heart which is felt when God strikes home in earnest, that forces a man to feel what is real and what is not.

      This is the blessing of affliction to those who will lie still and not struggle in a cowardly or a resentful way. It is God speaking to Job out of the whirlwind, and saying, In the sunshine and the warmth you can not meet Me: but in the hurricane and the darkness, when wave after wave has swept down and across the soul, you shall see My form, and hear My voice, and know that your Redeemer liveth.

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