By J.C. Ryle
THE WIDOW'S OFFERING
We learn, for one thing, from these verses, how keenly our Lord Jesus Christ observes the things that are done upon earth. We read that "He looked up and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw also a certain poor widow casting in two pennies." We might well suppose that our Lord's mind at this season would have been wholly occupied with the things immediately before Him. His betrayal, His unjust judgment, His cross, His passion, His death, were all close at hand; and He knew it. The approaching destruction of the temple, the scattering of the Jews, the long period of time before His second advent, were all things which were spread before His mind like a picture. It was but a few moments ago he spoke of them. And yet at a time like this we find Him taking note of all that is going on around Him! He thinks it not beneath Him to observe the conduct of a "certain poor widow."
Let us remember, that the Lord Jesus never changes. The thing that we read of in the passage before us is the thing that is going on all over the world. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place." (Prov. 15:3.) Nothing is too little to escape His observation. No act is too trifling to be noted down in the book of His remembrance. The same hand that formed the sun, moon, and stars, was the hand that formed the tongue of the gnat and the wing of the fly with perfect wisdom. The same eye that sees the council-chambers of kings and emperors, is the eye that notices all that goes on in the laborer's cottage. "All things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." (Heb. 4:13.) He measures littleness and greatness by a very different measure from the measure of man. Events in our own daily life, to which we attach no importance, are often very grave and serious matters in Christ's sight. Actions and deeds in the weekly history of a poor man, which the great of this world think trivial and contemptible, are often registered as weighty and important in Christ's books. He lives who marked the gift of one "poor widow" as attentively as the gifts of many "rich men."
Let the believer of low degree take comfort in this mighty truth. Let him remember daily that his Master in heaven takes account of everything that is done on earth, and that the lives of cottagers are noticed by Him as much as the lives of kings. The acts of a poor believer have as much dignity about them as the acts of a prince. The little contributions to religious objects which the laborer makes out of his scanty earnings, are as much valued in God's sight as a ten thousand dollar check from a noble. To know this thoroughly is one great secret of contentment. To feel that Christ looks at what a man is, and not at what a man has, will help to preserve us from envious and murmuring thoughts. Happy is he who has learned to say with David, "I am poor and needy; but the Lord thinks upon me." (Psalm 40:17.)
We learn, for another thing, from these verses, who they are whom Christ reckons most liberal in giving money to religious purposes. We read that He said of her who cast in two mites into the treasury, "She has cast in more than all the others. All these of their abundance have cast in unto the offerings of God--but she, out of her poverty has cast in all that she had to live on." These words teach us that Christ looks at something more than the mere amount of men's gifts in measuring their liberality. He looks at the proportion which their gifts bear to their property. He looks at the degree of self-denial which their giving entails upon them. He would have us know that some people appear to give much to religious purposes who in God's sight give very little, and that some appear to give very little who in God's sight give very much.
The subject before us is peculiarly heart-searching. On no point perhaps do professing Christians come short so much as in the matter of giving money to God's cause. Thousands, it may be feared, know nothing whatever of "giving" as a Christian duty. The little giving that there is, is confined entirely to a select few in the churches. Even among those who give, it may be boldly asserted, that the poor generally give far more in proportion to their means than the rich. These are plain facts which cannot be denied. The experience of all who collect for religious societies and Christian charities, will testify that they are correct and true.
Let us judge ourselves in this matter of giving, that we may not be judged and condemned at the great day. Let it be a settled principle with us to watch against stinginess, and whatever else we do with our money, to give regularly and habitually to the cause of God. Let us remember, that although Christ's work does not depend on our money, yet Christ is pleased to test the reality of our grace by allowing us to help Him. If we can not find it in our hearts to give anything to Christ's cause, we may well doubt the reality of our faith and charity. Let us recollect that our use of the money God has given us, will have to be accounted for at the last day. The "Judge of all" will be He who noticed the widow's mite. Our incomes and expenditures will be brought to light before an assembled world. If we prove in that day to have been rich toward ourselves, but poor toward God, it would be good if we had never been born. Not least, let us look round the world and ask where are the men that were ever ruined by liberal giving to godly purposes, and who ever found himself really poorer by lending to the Lord? We shall find that the words of Solomon are strictly true--"There is one that scatters and yet increases; and there is one that withholds more than is fit, and it tends to poverty." (Prov. 11:24.)
Finally, let us pray for rich men, who as yet know nothing of the luxury of "giving," that their riches may not be their ruin. Hundreds of charitable and religious movements are standing still continually for lack of funds. Great and effectual doors are open to the church of Christ for doing good all over the world, but for lack of money few can be sent to enter in by them. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to come down on all our congregations, and to teach all our worshipers what to do with their money. Of all people on earth, none ought to be such liberal givers as Christians. All that they have, they owe to the free gift of God. Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Gospel, the Bible, the means of grace, the hope of glory, all are undeserved, incomparable gifts, which millions of heathen never heard of. The possessors of such gifts ought surely to be "ready to distribute" and "willing to give." A giving Savior ought to have giving disciples. Freely we have received--freely we ought to give. (1 Tim. 6:18; Matt. 10:8.)
SIGNS OF THE END OF THE AGE
Let us notice in this passage, our Lord Jesus Christ's words about the temple at Jerusalem. We read that some spoke of it, "how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts." They praised it for its outward beauty. They admired its size, its architectural grandeur, and its costly decorations. But they met with no response from our Lord. We read that he said, "As for these things which you behold, the days will come in the which there shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down."
These words were a striking prophecy. How strange and startling they must have sounded to Jewish ears, an English mind can hardly conceive. They were spoken of a building which every Israelite regarded with almost idolatrous veneration. They were spoken of a building which contained the ark, the holy of holies, and the symbolical furniture formed on a pattern given by God Himself. They were spoken of a building associated with most of the principal names in Jewish history; with David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah. They were spoken of a building toward which every devout Jew turned his face in every quarter of the world, when he offered up his daily prayers. (1 Kings 8:44; Jonah 2:4; Dan. 6:10.)
But they were words spoken advisedly. They were spoken in order to teach us the mighty truth that the true glory of a place of worship does not consist in outward ornaments. "The Lord sees not as man sees." (1 Sam. 16:7.) Man looks at the outward appearance of a building. The Lord looks for spiritual worship, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. In the temple at Jerusalem these things were utterly lacking, and therefore Jesus Christ could take no pleasure in it.
Professing Christians will do well to remember our Lord's words in the present day. It is fit and right beyond doubt that buildings set apart for Christian worship, should be worthy of the purpose for which they are used. Whatever is done for Christ ought to be well done. The house in which the Gospel is preached, and the Word of God read, and prayer offered up, ought to lack nothing that can make it lovely and substantial.
But let it never be forgotten that the material part of a Christian Church is by far the least important part of it. The fairest combinations of marble, and stone and wood, and painted glass, are worthless in God's sight, unless there is truth in the pulpit and grace in the congregation. The dens and caves in which the early Christians used to meet, were probably far more beautiful in the eyes of Christ than the noblest cathedral that was ever reared by man. The temple in which the Lord Jesus delights most, is a broken and contrite heart, renewed by the Holy Spirit.
Let us notice for another thing in this passage, our Lord Jesus Christ's solemn warning against deception. His striking words about the temple drew from His disciples an important question--"Master, when shall these things be? and what sign will there be, when these things shall come to pass?" Our Lord's reply to that question was long and full. And it began with a pointed caution, "Take heed that you be not deceived."
The position which this caution occupies is very remarkable. It stands in the forefront of a prophecy of vast extent and universal importance to all Christians--a prophecy reaching from the day in which it was delivered, to the day of the second advent--a prophecy revealing matters of the most tremendous interest both to Jews and Gentiles--and a prophecy of which a large portion remains to be fulfilled. And the very first sentence of this wondrous prophecy is a caution against deception, "Take heed that you be not deceived."
The necessity of this caution has been continually proved in the history of the Church of Christ. On no subject perhaps have divines made so many mistakes as in the interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy. On no subject have they shown so completely the weakness of man's intellect, and confirmed so thoroughly the words of Paul, "We see through a glass darkly--we know in part." (1 Cor. 13:12.) Dogmatism, positiveness, controversial bitterness, obstinacy in maintaining untenable positions, rash assertions and speculations, have too often brought discredit on the whole subject of the prophetical Scriptures, and caused the enemies of Christianity to blaspheme. There are only too many books on prophetical interpretation, on the title-pages of which might be justly written, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?"
Let us learn from our Lord's warning words to pray for a humble, teachable spirit, whenever we open the pages of unfulfilled prophecy. Here, if anywhere, we need the heart of a little child, and the prayer" open my eyes." (Psalm 119:18.) Let us beware, on the one side, of that lazy indifference which turns away from all prophetical Scripture, on account of its difficulties. Let us beware, on the other side, of that dogmatical and arrogant spirit, which makes men forget that they are students, and talk as confidently as if they were prophets themselves. Above all, let us read prophetical Scripture with a thorough conviction that the study carries with it a blessing, and that more light may be expected on it every year. The promise remains in full force, "Blessed is he that reads." At the time of the end, the vision shall be unsealed. (Rev. 13; Dan. 12:9.)
We should notice, for one thing, in this passage, Christ's prediction concerning the nations of the world. He says, "Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom--and great earthquakes shall be in diverse places, and famines and pestilences--and fearful sights, and great signs shall there be from heaven."
These words no doubt received a partial fulfillment in the days when Jerusalem was taken by the Romans, and the Jews were led into captivity. It was a season of unparalleled desolation to Judea, and the countries round about Judea. The last days of the Jewish dispensation were wound up by a struggle which for bloodshed, misery, and tribulation, has never been equaled since the world began.
But the words before us have yet to receive a more complete accomplishment. They describe the time which shall immediately precede the second advent of Jesus Christ. The "time of the end" shall be a time of war, and not of universal peace. The Christian dispensation shall pass away like the Jewish one, amid wars, tumults, and desolation, amid a general crash of empires and kingdoms, such as the eyes of man have never yet seen.
A thorough understanding of these things is of great importance to our souls. Nothing is so calculated to chill the heart and dampen the faith of a Christian as indulgence in unscriptural expectations. Let us dismiss from our minds the vain idea that nations will ever give up wars entirely, before Jesus Christ comes again. So long as the devil is the prince of this world, and the hearts of the many are unconverted, so long there must be strife and fighting. There will be no universal peace before the second advent of the Prince of peace. Then, and then only, men shall "learn war no more." (Isaiah 2:4.)
Let us cease to expect that missionaries and ministers will ever convert the world, and teach all mankind to love one another. They will do nothing of the kind. They were never intended to do it. They will call out a witnessing people who shall serve Christ in every land, but they will do no more. The bulk of mankind will always refuse to obey the Gospel. The nations will always go on quarreling, wrangling, and fighting. The last days of the earth shall be its worst days. The last war shall be the most fearful and terrible war that ever desolated the earth.
The duty of the true Christian is clear and plain. Whatever others do, he must give all diligence to make his own calling and election sure. While other are occupied in national conflicts and political speculations, he must steadily seek first the kingdom of God. So doing he shall feel his feet upon a rock when the foundations of the earth are out of course, and the kingdoms of this earth are going to ruin. He shall be like Noah, safe within the ark. He shall be "hidden in the day of the Lord's anger." (Zeph. 2:3.)
We should notice, for another thing, in this passage, Christ's prediction concerning His own disciples. He does not prophesy smooth things, and promise them an uninterrupted course of temporal comfort. He says that they shall be "persecuted," put in "prison," "brought before kings and rulers," "betrayed," "put to death," and "hated of all men for His name's sake."
The words of this prophecy were doubtless intended to apply to every age of the Church of Christ. They began to be fulfilled in the days of the apostles. The book of Acts supplies us with many an instance of their fulfillment. They have been repeatedly fulfilled during the last eighteen hundred years. Wherever there have been disciples of Christ, there has always been more or less persecution. They will yet receive a more full accomplishment before the end comes. The last tribulation will probably be marked by special violence and bitterness. It will be a "great tribulation." (Rev. 7:14.)
Let it be a settled principle in our minds that the true Christian must always enter the kingdom of God "through much tribulation." (Acts 14:22.) His best things are yet to come. This world is not our home. If we are faithful and decided servants of Christ, the world will certainly hate us, as it hated our Master. In one way or another grace will always be persecuted. No consistency of conduct, however faultless, no kindness and amiability of character, however striking, will exempt a believer from the world's dislike, so long as he lives. It is foolish to be surprised at this. It is mere waste of time to murmur at it. It is a part of the cross, and we must bear it patiently. The children of Cain will hate the children of Abel, as long as the earth continues. "Marvel not, my brethren," says John, "if the world hates you." "If you were of the world," says our Lord, "the world would love his own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you." (1 John 3:13; John 15:18, 19.)
We should notice, lastly, in this passage, Christ's gracious promise to His disciples. He says, "but not a hair of your head shall perish." Our blessed Lord knew well the hearts of His disciples. He saw that the prophecy He had just spoken might well make them faint. He supplies them with a cheering word of encouragement--"Not a hair of your head shall perish."
The promise before us is wide and comprehensive, and one which is the property of all believers in every age. A literal interpretation of it is clearly impossible. It cannot apply to the bodies of disciples. To say that would be contradictory to the notorious fact that James and other of the apostles died violent deaths. A figurative interpretation must evidently be placed upon the words. They form a great proverbial saying. They teach us that whatever sufferings a disciple of Christ may go through, his best things can never be injured. His life is hidden with Christ in God. His treasure in heaven can never be touched. His soul is beyond the reach of harm. Even his vile body shall be raised again, and made like his Savior's glorious body at the last day.
If we know anything of true religion let us lean back on the words of the glorious promises in every time of need. If we believe in Christ, let us rest in the comfortable thought that Christ has pledged His word that we shall not perish. We may lose much by serving Christ, but we shall never lose our souls. The world may deprive a believer of property, friends, country, home, liberty, health, and life. It has done so in innumerable cases from the days of Stephen to the present time. The roll of the noble army of martyrs is a very long one. But one thing the world cannot do to any believer. It cannot deprive him of his interest in Christ's love. It cannot break the union between Christ and his soul. Surely it is worth while to be a thorough-going believer! "I am persuaded," says Paul, "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:38-39.)
THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM
The subject of the verses before us is the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. It was fit and right that this great event, which wound up the Old Testament dispensation, should be specially described by our Lord's mouth. It was fitting that the last days of that holy city, which had been the seat of God's presence for so many centuries, should receive a special notice in the greatest prophecy which was ever delivered to the Church.
We should mark in this passage, our Lord Jesus Christ's perfect knowledge. He gives us a fearful picture of the miseries which were coming on Jerusalem. Forty years before the armies of Titus encompassed the city, the dreadful circumstances which would attend the siege are minutely described. The distress of weak and helpless women--the slaughter of myriads of Jews--the final scattering of Israel in captivity among all nations--the treading down of the holy city by the Gentiles for eighteen hundred years, are things which our Lord narrates with as much particularity as if He saw them with His own eyes.
Foreknowledge like this is a special attribute of God. Of ourselves we "know not what a day may bring forth." (Prov. 27:1.) To say what will happen to any city or kingdom in forty years from the present time, is far beyond the power of man. The words in Isaiah are very solemn--"I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done." (Isa. 46:10.) He who could speak with authority of things to come, as our Lord did in this place, must have been very God as well as very man.
The true Christian should continually keep in mind this perfect knowledge of Christ. Past things, present things, and things to come, are all naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. The recollection of the sins of youth may well make us humble. The sense of present weakness may make us anxious. The fear of trials yet to come may make our hearts faint. But it is a strong consolation to think that Christ knows all. For past, present, and future things we may safely trust Him. Nothing can ever happen to us that Christ has not known long ago.
We should mark, secondly, in this passage, our Lord's words about flight in time of danger. He says respecting the days preceding the siege of Jerusalem, "Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let those who are in the midst of it depart out; and let not those who are in the countries enter thereunto."
The lesson of these words is very instructive. They teach us plainly that there is nothing cowardly or unworthy of a Christian in endeavoring to escape from danger. There is nothing unbecoming our high vocation in a diligent use of means in order to secure our safety. To meet death patiently and courageously, if it comes on us in the path of God's providence, is a duty incumbent on every believer. But to court death and suffering, and rush needlessly into danger, is the part of the fanatic and enthusiast, not of the wise disciple of Christ. It is those who use all means which God has placed within their reach, who may confidently expect God's protection. There is a wide difference between presumption and faith.
We should mark, thirdly, in this passage, our Lord's words about vengeance. He says, with reference to the siege of Jerusalem, "These are the days of vengeance (punishment), that all things which are written may be fulfilled."
There is something peculiarly dreadful in this expression. It shows us that the sins of the Jewish nation had been long noted down in the book of God's remembrance. The Jews by their unbelief and impenitence, had been treasuring up wrath against themselves for many hundred years. The anger of God, like a pent-up river, had been silently accumulating for ages. The fearful tribulation which attended the siege of Jerusalem, would only be the outburst of a thunderstorm which had been gradually gathering since the days of the kings. It would only be the fall of a sword which had been long hanging over Israel's head.
The lesson of the expression is one which we shall do well to lay to heart. We must never allow ourselves to suppose that the conduct of wicked men or nations is not observed by God. All is seen, and all is known; and a reckoning day will certainly arrive at last. It is a mighty truth of Scripture, that "God requires that which is past." (Eccles. 3:15.) In the days of Abraham "the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full," and four hundred years passed away before they were punished. Yet punishment came at last, when Joshua and the twelve tribes of Israel took possession of Canaan. God's "sentence against an evil work" is not always executed speedily, but it does not follow that it will not be executed at all. The wicked may flourish for many years "like a green bay-tree," but his latter end will be that his sin will find him out. (Gen. 15:16; Eccles. 8:11; Psalm 37:35.)
We should mark, lastly, in this passage, our Lord's words about the times of the Gentiles. We read that He said, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
A fixed period is here foretold, during which Jerusalem was to be given over into the hands of Gentile rulers, and the Jews were to have no dominion over their ancient city. A fixed period is likewise foretold which was to be the time of the Gentiles' visitation, the time during which they were to enjoy privileges, and occupy a position something like that of Israel in ancient days. Both periods are one day to end. Jerusalem is to be once more restored to its ancient inhabitants. The Gentiles, because of their hardness and unbelief, are to be stripped of their privileges and endure the just judgments of God. But the times of the Gentiles are not yet run out. We ourselves are living within them at the present day.
The subject before us is a very affecting one, and ought to raise within us great searchings of heart. While the nations of Europe are absorbed in political conflicts and worldly business, the sands in their hour-glass are ebbing away. While Governments are disputing about secular things, and Parliaments can hardly condescend to find a place for religion in their discussions, their days are numbered in the sight of God. Yet a few years, and "the times of the Gentiles will be fulfilled." Their day of visitation will be past and gone. Their misused privileges will be taken away. The judgments of God shall fall on them. They shall be cast aside as vessels in which God has no pleasure. Their dominion shall crumble away, and their vaunted institutions shall fall to pieces. The Jews shall be restored. The Lord Jesus shall come again in power and great glory. The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, and the "times of the Gentiles" shall come to an end.
Happy is he who knows these things and lives the life of faith in the Son of God! He is the man, and he only, who is ready for the great things coming on the earth, and the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. The kingdom to which he belongs, is the only kingdom which shall never be destroyed. The King whom he serves, is the only King whose dominion shall never be taken away. (Dan 2:44; 7:14.)
THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST
The subject of this portion of our Lord's great prophecy is His own second coming to judge the world. The strong expressions of the passage appear inapplicable to any event less important than this. To confine the words before us, to the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans, in an unnatural straining of Scripture language.
We see, firstly, in this passage, how terrible will be the circumstances accompanying the second advent of Christ. Our Lord tells us that "there will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."
This is a singularly dreadful picture. It may not be easy perhaps to attach a precise meaning to every part of it. One thing however, is abundantly plain. The second coming of Christ will be attended by everything which can make it alarming to the senses and heart of man. If the giving of the law at Sinai was so terrible that even Moses said, "I exceedingly fear and quake," the return of Christ when He comes to earth in power and great glory shall be much more terrible. If the hardy Roman soldiers "became as dead men," when an angel rolled the stone away and Christ rose again, how much greater will the terror be when Christ shall return to judge the world. No wonder that Paul said, "Knowing the terrors of the Lord we persuade men." (Heb. 12:21; Matt. 28:4; 2 Cor. 5:11.)
The thoughtless and impenitent man may well tremble when he hears of this second advent of Christ. What will he do when worldly business is suddenly stopped and the precious things of the world are made worthless? What will he do when the graves on every side are opening, and the trumpet is summoning men to judgment? What will he do when that same Jesus whose Gospel he has so shamefully neglected shall appear in the clouds of heaven, and put down every enemy under His feet? Surely he will call on the rocks to fall on him and on the hills to cover him. (Hosea 10:8.) But he will call in vain for help, if he has never called on Christ before. Happy will they be in that day who have fled beforehand from the wrath to come, and been washed in the blood of the Lamb!
We see, secondly, in this passage, how complete will be the security of true Christians at the second advent of Christ. We read that our Lord said to His disciples, "When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws near."
However terrible the signs of Christ's second coming may be to the impenitent, they need not strike terror into the heart of the true believer. They ought rather to fill him with joy. They ought to remind him that his complete deliverance from sin, the world and the devil, is close at hand, and that he shall soon bid an eternal farewell to sickness, sorrow, death and temptation. The very day when the unconverted man shall lose everything, shall be the day when the believer shall enter on his eternal reward. The very hour when the worldly man's hopes shall perish, shall be the hour when the believer's hope shall be exchanged for joyful certainty and full possession.
The servant of God should often look forward to Christ's second advent. He will find the thought of that day a cordial to sustain him under all the trials and persecutions of this present life. "Yet a little while," let him remember, "and he that shall come will come and will not tarry." The words of Isaiah shall be fulfilled, "The Lord God shall wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall be taken away from off all the earth." One sure receipt for a patient spirit is to expect little from this world, and to be ever "waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Heb. 10:37. Isaiah. 25:8. 1 Cor. 1:7.)
We see, thirdly, in this passage, how needful it is to watch the signs of the times in the prospect of the second advent of Christ. Our Lord teaches this lesson by a parable--"Notice the fig tree, or any other tree. When the leaves come out, you know without being told that summer is near. Just so, when you see the events I've described taking place, you can be sure that the Kingdom of God is near." The disciples ignorantly supposed that Messiah's kingdom would be ushered in by universal peace. Our Lord, on the contrary, tells those who the signs which shall immediately precede it shall be wars, confusions, perplexity, and distress.
The general duty which these words should teach us is very plain. We are to observe carefully the public events of the times in which we live. We are not to be absorbed in politics, but we are to mark political events. We are not to turn prophets ourselves, but we are to study diligently the signs of our times. So doing, the day of Christ will not come upon us entirely unawares.
Are there any signs in our own day? Are there any circumstances in the world around us which specially demand the believer's attention? Beyond doubt there are very many. The drying up of the Turkish empire--the revival of the Romish church--the awakened desire of the Protestant churches to preach the Gospel to the heathen--the general interest in the state of the Jews--the universal shaking of governments and established institutions--the rise and progress of the subtlest forms of infidelity--all, all are signs peculiar to our day. All should make us remember our Lord's words about the fig-tree. All should make us think of the text, "Behold, I come quickly." (Rev. 22:7.)
We see, lastly, in this passage, how certain it is that all our Lord's predictions about the second advent will be fulfilled. Our Lord speaks as if He foresaw the unbelief and incredulity of man on this mighty subject. He knew how ready people would be to say "Improbable! impossible! The world will always go on as it has done." He arms His disciples against the infection of this skeptical spirit by a very solemn saying. "Heaven and earth shall pass away--but my words shall not pass away."
We shall do well to remember this saying, whenever we are thrown into the company of those who sneer at unfulfilled prophecy. The sneers of unbelievers must not be allowed to shake our faith. If God has said a thing He will certainly bring it to pass, and the probability or possibility of it are matters which need not trouble us for a moment. That Christ should come again in power to judge the world and reign, is not half so improbable as it was that Christ should come to suffer and die. If He came the first time, much more may we expect that He will come the second time. If he came to be nailed to the cross, much more may we expect that He will come in glory and wear the crown. He has said it, and He will do it. "His words shall not pass away."
Let us turn from the study of these verses with a deep conviction that the second advent of Christ is one of the leading truths of Christianity. Let the Christ in whom we believe be not only the Christ who suffered on Calvary, but the Christ who is coming again in person to judge the earth.
WATCH AND PRAY
These verses form the practical conclusion of our Lord Jesus Christ's great prophetical discourse. They supply a striking answer to those who condemn the study of unfulfilled prophecy as speculative and unprofitable. It would be difficult to find a passage more practical, direct, plain, and heart-searching than that which is now before our eyes.
Let us learn from these verses, the spiritual danger to which even the holiest believers are exposed in this world. Our Lord says to His disciples, "Watch out! Don't let me find you living in careless ease and drunkenness, and filled with the worries of this life. Don't let that day catch you unaware, as in a trap." These words are exceedingly startling. They were not addressed to carnal-minded Pharisees, or skeptical Sadducees, or worldly Herodians. They were addressed to Peter, James, and John, and the whole company of the Apostles. They were addressed to men who had given up everything for Christ's sake, and had proved the reality of their faith by loving obedience and steady adhesion to their Master. Yet even to them our Lord holds out the peril of surfeiting, and drunkenness, and worldliness! Even to them He says, "Watch out!"
The exhortation before us should teach us the immense importance of humility. There is no sin so great but a great saint may fall into it. There is no saint so great but he may fall into a great sin. Noah escaped the pollutions of the world before the flood; and yet he was afterwards overtaken by drunkenness. Abraham was the father of the faithful; and yet through unbelief he said falsely that Sarah was his sister. Lot did not take part in the horrible wickedness of Sodom; and yet he afterwards fell into foul sin in the cave. Moses was the meekest man on earth; and yet he so lost self-control that he spoke angrily and unadvisedly. David was a man after God's own heart; and yet he plunged into most heinous adultery. These examples are all deeply instructive. They all show the wisdom of our Lord's warning in the passage before us. They teach us to be "clothed with humility." "Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." (1 Pet. 5:5; 1 Cor. 10:12.)
The exhortation before us should teach us furthermore the great importance of an unworldly spirit. The "cares of this life" are placed side by side with surfeiting and drunkenness. Excess in eating and drinking is not the only excess which injures the soul. There is an excessive anxiety about the innocent things of this life, which is just as ruinous to our spiritual prosperity, and just as poisonous to the inner man. Never, never let us forget that we may make spiritual shipwreck on lawful things, as really and truly as on open vices. Happy is he who has learned to hold the things of this world with a loose hand, and to believe that seeking first the kingdom of God, "all other things shall be added to him!" (Matt. 6:33.)
Let us learn secondly from these verses, the exceeding suddenness of our Lord's second coming. We read that "as a trap shall it come on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth." As a trap falling suddenly on an animal, and catching it in a moment--as the lightning flash shining suddenly in heaven, before the thunder is heard--as a thief coming suddenly in the night, and not giving notice that he will come--so sudden, so instantaneous will the second advent of the Son of man be.
The precise date of our Lord Jesus Christ's return to this world has been purposely withheld from us by God. "Of that day and hour knows no man." On one point however all the teaching of Scripture about it is clear and unmistakable. Whenever it shall take place, it shall be a most sudden and unexpected event. The business of the world shall be going on as usual. As in the days of Sodom, and the days before the flood, men shall be "eating and drinking, marrying and given in marriage." Few, even among true believers, shall be found completely alive to the great fact, and living in a state of thorough expectation. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, the whole course of the world shall be stopped. The King of kings shall appear. The dead shall be raised. The living shall be changed. Unbelief shall wither away. Truth shall be known by myriads too late. The world with all its trifles and shadows shall be thrust aside. Eternity with all its dreadful realities shall begin. All this shall begin at once, without notice, without warning, without note of preparation. "As a trap shall it come on the face of the whole earth."
The servant of God must surely see that there is only one state of mind which becomes the man who believes these things. That state is one of perpetual preparedness to meet Christ. The Gospel does not call on us to retire from earthly callings, or neglect the duties of our stations. It does not bid us retire into hermitages, or live the life of a monk or a nun. But it does bid us to live like men who expect their Lord to return. Repentance toward God, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and holiness of conversation, are the only true habitual preparedness required. The Christian who knows these things by experience, is the man who is always ready to meet his Lord.
Let us learn, lastly, from these verses, the special duties of believers in the prospect of the second advent of Christ. Our Lord sums up these duties under two great heads. One of these two is watchfulness. The other is prayer. "Watch therefore," He says, "and pray always." We are to "watch." We are to live on our guard like men in an enemy's country. We are to remember that evil is about us, and near us, and in us--that we have to contend daily with a treacherous heart, an ensnaring world, and a busy devil. Remembering this, we must put on the whole armor of God, and beware of spiritual drowsiness. "Let us not sleep as do others," says Paul, "but let us watch and be sober." (1 Thess. 5:6.)
We are to "pray always." We are to keep up a constant habit of real, business-like prayer. We are to speak with God daily, and hold daily communion with Him about our souls. We are to pray specially for grace to lay aside every weight, and to cast away everything which may interfere with readiness to meet our Lord. Above all, we are to watch our habits of devotion with a godly jealousy, and to beware of hurrying over or shortening our prayers.
Let us leave the whole passage with a hearty determination, by God's help, to action what we have been reading. If we believe that Christ is coming again, let us get ready to meet Him. "If we know there things, happy are we if we do them." (John 13:17.)