HASTING THE DAY
‘Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat.’
What must we do to ‘hasten the day of God’?
I. Pray for it.—What is the promise, ought always to be, emphatically, the prayer of the dispensation. What, then (can any doubt?), what is the promise, and therefore what must be the prayer of the present day? When we pray for any promise, what the prayer means, is, that we pray it to ‘come quickly.’ Is the Second Advent an exception? Nay, has not our Lord encouraged us, when He has given us His words, that ourselves may have the echo—for all prayer, if rightly looked at, is the echo of God’s word—‘Surely I come quickly!’ And remember, whenever you use the Lord’s prayer, though this is not all, yet it is the climax of what you pray when you say, ‘Thy kingdom come.’ ‘Come’ into my heart by faith; ‘come’ into all hearts by grace; but, above all, ‘come’ over the whole world in glory. When we pray that means ‘May God’s kingdom come soon!’ We need not pray that it may come at all. The very last prayer that God ever taught us in the Bible was for this very thing—unquestionably it points to the Second Advent—‘The Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come.’ And then immediately after, as the basis and the answer, ‘Surely I come quickly.’ Well, therefore, does the Church, in the most solemn of her services, teach us, over every opening grave, to say, ‘Accomplish the number of Thine elect, and hasten Thy kingdom.’
II. Let the Church live in love and union, in order (I speak it reverently) that a united Church may attract her Lord to ‘come.’ We can never forget that, in His own last prayer, He linked together, inseparably, the unity and the glory of His people—our oneness—with His return.
III. Make great efforts for the evangelisation of the world.—There are three things which have to be done before our Lord (we speak it humanly) can come. The knowledge of Him must be co-extensive with the habitable globe—the appointed sheaves of the gospel harvest must be gathered in—and the Jews must be brought back to their own land, and to Him. The first is already well-nigh accomplished; the second is altogether in the bosom of God; the third we must promote. At this moment are not the Jews the great impediment in the way of the grand consummation? Only let the prophecies concerning the Jews be fulfilled, and how very little would stand in the way of the ‘immediate appearing’ of our Lord! What an enforcing here there is to that, ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!’
IV. Cultivate personal holiness.—As for every other reason, so for this—that every one, who really loves God, and serves God, and is like God, as far as in Him lies, is making that preparation, by which the Church is to be ready for her Lord—just as ‘a bride is adorned for her husband.’ Will He come until His Bride has put on her jewels? And when she is decked, and when she is meet indeed, can He stay away?
It seems to be the law of all that is great, that its movement at first is slow, and grows rapid at the last. We have seen it with the mercies and with the judgments of God—will it not be so with that grandest event, which goes to make the climax of our world’s history?
‘From the Bibles that have marginal readings, it will appear that these words admit of a different construction—“Looking for and hasting the coming of the day of God.” I do not consider that either rendering is more accurate than the other; but I believe that the safe and right mode, in all such cases, where the meaning on the side is not quite the same with the meaning given in the text, is to conclude that the original so contains both, that you would only arrive at the whole meaning of God, in the passage, by taking them together. When indeed, as here, the thing spoken of is the meeting of two persons, it is no matter whether I hasten to Him or whether I cause Him to hasten to me—in either case the meeting is, equally, expedited. So that, practically, it comes to the same—whether we hasten to Christ or cause Christ to hasten to us. But, as I understand the intention of God in the place, His will and command is this: that we should do both—“Hasting unto,” and ourselves “hastening,” “the coming of the day of God.” ’
CHRISTIANITY AND THE FUTURE
‘But, according to His promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.’
2 Peter 3:13 (R.V.)
The Apostles deal very much with the future life. They use the Christian revelation concerning it as an incentive to holy, watchful living. So much as this is clear. But the form in which they conceived the future was peculiar.
I. Christianity is the religion of the future.—It throws the light of what is to be on what is. The sphere of Judaism was exclusively the present, and in other religions we can seldom find any trace of the use of the future as incentive to goodness.
II. It reveals the future.—Yet a full and detailed description of the future cannot be given us. Why not? Because of the imperfectness and changeableness of human language, connotations, and associations. Such figures as ‘pearly gates,’ ‘golden streets’ suggest, they do not describe. They do, however, carry most true suggestions for us. All the figures of the ‘new heavens and new earth’ are intended to present this as the essential feature of the future—Righteousness.
III. And the future influences the present.
(a) ‘ We look for,’ implies a promise: therefore the future cultures faith.
(b) ‘ We look for,’ implies a place wherein is righteousness: therefore the future helps to purify us.
(c) We have not, but we believe the promise. ‘Faith is the substance,’ or present enjoyment ‘of things hoped for’; so that we who believe have heaven now.
‘As the vision rises before us we cry again, bowed down by past failures, “Who is sufficient for these things?” There can be but one answer—he who wholly forgets himself in God Who called him; he who “lays down at the footstool of God his successes and his failures, his hopes and his fears, his knowledge and his ignorance, his weakness and his strength, his misgivings and his confidence—all that he is and all that he might be—content to take up thence just that which God shall give him.” ’
‘Ye therefore, beloved … beware lest ye … fall from your own stedfastness.’
That which the Apostles had to place before the readers of their letters, all Christian teachers have to present to their disciples.
False doctrine was abroad in St. Peter’s time, and there were those who gave to it a ready ear; and the melancholy result was a departure from the faith.
I. There are two forms of spiritual decline:—
(a) Error of doctrine.
(b) Wrongness of life.
If we do not think and judge aright, it is almost certain that we shall not walk and live aright.
II. The two evils are painfully apparent.—They are many who have ‘made shipwreck of faith’; their hold on Divine truth, on heavenly wisdom, has become relaxed, has been lost; and with the decay and departure of their faith have gone all the meaning and excellency of life, and all hope in death.
III. There is a holy grief in the hearts of the good and true as they witness a course which has been continually declining. Let no one say, ‘Though all men should … yet will not I.’ Rather, ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.’ What Christ said to some, He says to us all—‘Watch.’ To us all the Apostle says, ‘Beware.’
GROWTH IN GRACE AND KNOWLEDGE
‘But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’
The Christian life, like the Christian faith from which it springs, is a great mystery; indeed, it is part of that one great ‘mystery of godliness’ which that faith reveals, for it, too, is a manifestation of ‘God in the flesh.’ Every renewed man is a real revelation of God. ‘God dwelleth’ in him, and ‘he in God,’ and the indwelling Spirit reveals Himself in and by him to the world. ‘I in them and Thou in Me, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me.’
This mysterious life presents, though in an infinitely lower degree, that difficulty which the idea of the Incarnation presents, the difficulty of conceiving of any real union of the human and the Divine—any union, that is, in which God shall still be perfectly God and man perfectly man. We know how that as men insisted on the truth of our Lord’s Divinity, they were almost insensibly led into denying, or forgetting, the truth of His humanity; or, as they asserted the reality of His human nature, they were led into denial or forgetfulness of His Divine nature. And as with the idea of the incarnate Word, so with the written Word. Here, too, we have a union of the Divine and human; and, further, as with these two, so also with the idea of the Christian life. In each case the Divine and human element has been distorted by one-sided attempts to bring out either of these ideas to the exclusion of the other.
I. The Divine and supernatural aspect of the Christian life has been dwelt upon by one school of writers so exclusively as to cause its human aspect to disappear until it becomes an utterly unreal state; others have gone beyond all this (to the other extreme), and asserting the human side of Christianity, they have denied the Divine, and, while proclaiming that the Christian life is not unnatural, they have made it no longer supernatural.
Now against both these extreme views, each the exaggeration of a great truth, and each therefore a dangerous error, the Word of God gives its clear and repeated testimony—
(a) To the Divine and supernatural aspect of the Christian life—in every word which tells us of our state of spiritual death and absolute need of a new birth, which is described as the work of the quickening Spirit, Who is ‘Lord and Giver of Life’; in every word which describes that spiritual life in its irreconcilable opposition to the old nature; in every word which ascribes the awakening of every holy desire to an Almighty Spirit dwelling in our spirit; in every word which describes that new life as ‘not fed by bread alone’—a progressive life from victory to victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. A new life to which human nature, unaided and unchanged, could never reach.
(b) To the human and natural aspect of the Christian life—in every word which appeals to our human reason, pleads with our affections; which exhorts us to ‘work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,’ to ‘give all diligence to add to our faith’ every needed grace, to watch against all spiritual enemies; in every call to the use of ordinances, and in every warning against their neglect; above all, against ‘resisting,’ ‘grieving,’ ‘quenching,’ that very Spirit of God which works in us; in every such word which makes us in part authors of our own salvation, and altogether authors of our own destruction, does Scripture testify that, though God works in every renewed man, yet that every man works also with God.
II. Such opposite statements are scattered for the most part throughout Scripture separately that we may use them each in turn as we may need them; but there are passages which bring together in one both these views of the Christian life, which express at once both its supernatural and its natural, its human and its Divine, elements—as, e.g., Php_2:12-13; and a twofold statement is given us in the text.
When the Apostle bids us ‘grow in grace,’ he tells us, on the one hand, that our life is from above—that to live it we need a grace, a free and gracious gift from God of ‘that thing which by nature we cannot have’; but then he bids us ‘grow in grace,’ intimating that this grace, though miraculous in origin, is yet subject to natural laws in its progress. The analogy here to the growth of the plant or the animal is perfect. The life, the vital principle of any living thing, we cannot give, it has God alone for its author; but once that life is begun, and manifests itself by growth, then we have power over it to shape, direct, and improve, or to distort, dwarf, and destroy. This scriptural analogy gives an answer to those who insist upon the irresistible character of Divine grace, that it is impossible to defeat the purposes of God, or prevent the work of the Holy Spirit once begun in the heart. Those who so speak forget that the same might be said (manifestly falsely) of many another work of God. It is not we who in either case are stronger than God. It is God, Who has in His original design left limits within which our power may be exerted, and with which His Will shall not over-power ours.
III. But if the progress of our spiritual life depends so largely upon ourselves, if we are responsible for our growth or decline in grace, then it is all-important for us to have some standard by which we may measure this growth or decline; where, then, is the perfect life by which to measure our growth or decline?
We know that one such perfect life, and one alone, stands out among all the records of our race, unstained by sin, undimmed by imperfection—the life of Him Who ‘did no sin,’ in Whose mouth was ‘no guile’; the ‘Beloved Son,’ in Whom the Father was ‘well pleased.’ We know that this life is the ideal of our own; it is to this image, faultless and glorious as it is, that we are ‘predestined to be conformed.’ It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that all the glory of the future life shall consist in its likeness to him. ‘We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.’ Our growth in grace, then, is nothing else than our increasing likeness to Christ.
IV. Of the character of this Divine life the Word of God leaves us in no doubt.—That character is sonship. ‘To as many as believed on Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.’ The essential principle of this new life, that which makes it altogether new, is that we regain our lost relations to the Father of our spirits, and become once more His children. ‘I will arise, and go to my Father,’ is the first word of the new life in him who was dead and had been made alive (see 1 John 3:1). From first to last the spirit of adoption is the characteristic of the new life. ‘Beloved, now are we the sons of God’—here is the beginning; ‘When He shall appear, we shall be like Him’—here is the completion; and all that lies between these two is ‘growth in grace.’
V. The tests of our growth in grace.
(a) These will not be only, or perhaps chiefly, any great increase of Christian graces, or manifestation of religious fervour, so much as the real consciousness of evil within us, of how far we fall short of our perfect Pattern; the discovery of the weakness of our will, the coldness of our hearts, the sinfulness of our lives; in the grief that we feel, and the earnest desires for more grace. Such are the best proofs that the things belonging to the Spirit are living and growing in us, and that all carnal affections are dying in us.
(b) But to grow in grace we must know the conditions of such growth. As in the natural so in the spiritual life; it has its proper element and food, and deprived of these it perishes. There is the Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ, by which the soul is ‘strengthened and refreshed’; the ‘sincere milk of the Word’ by which the new-born life in us should grow; secret prayer, that opens for us an entrance into the treasury of heaven; the worship of the sanctuary, that brings into the midst of the assembled saints the presence of their Lord; and all those means of grace, which are ours to use or to refuse; to neglect altogether, or, what perhaps is worse, to pick and choose, partly to use, or use amiss. In such cases there can be no growth in grace.
(c) To grow in grace means the due performance of all duties. For the soul’s health, as for the body’s, there is needed the vigorous use of all its powers. Our appointed duties are designed to exercise and strengthen some one or other spiritual faculty. We may omit none; the duty which we may prefer is often just the one that we least need to practise; the one we neglect is just the one we most need to observe.
An unspeakably solemn and awful thing, as well as a glorious and blessed thing, is this Christian life of ours—a life which, in its every circumstance, may, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be made to minister to our growth in grace, and work out for us an eternal and exceeding weight of glory. Especially awful does it appear when we remember that in ourselves lies the power of turning every one of its blessings into a curse.
May God preserve us from the sin of a wasted life! May He grant us all by His holy inspiration to ‘know what things we ought to do, and grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same.’
Every Christian is obliged not only to secure his standing in goodness and virtue, but to go forward and improve in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and in all the graces which may adorn and exalt our holy profession.
I. Consider the dangerous condition of the Christian who does not go forward.—Mark the corruption of human nature, the temptations of the world, the assaults of the devil, and the viciousness of the age we live in; it is morally impossible without a vigorous resistance, and a constant endeavour to do good, to keep our ground. In the natural world, standing water will stagnate and pollute—so in the moral world.
II. We are obliged to grow in grace and improve in goodness, for it is he that endureth to the end who will be saved. Hence the Apostle urges us to go forward (Galatians 6:9). The direct intention of his command must suppose that if we do faint and stop in our Christian course, we shall most certainly lose our reward. So also Php_2:12.
III. The necessity of growing in grace is shown by the excellency and usefulness of such high attainment.—These attainments in virtue are not only excellent in themselves, but very much admired by the world. A religious heat, a holy zeal, a heart enflamed with love and fear of God, is seen and received with a surprising joy and wonder upon earth.
‘Like our Lord, we should seek that our Christian character should be harmonious and symmetrical. As a rule, we men can only appropriate one part of goodness at the cost of the rest. In our Lord there is no predominating virtue which throws others into the shade. Every excellence is adjusted, balanced, illustrated by other excellences. He is tender without false sentiment, benevolent without a trace of weakness, resolute without passion, without obstinacy. His condescension never degenerates into mere familiarity. His incomparable dignity never touches—it were blasphemy to think it—the confines of pride. He is in His character, as by the terms of His mediatorial office, at once the lamb led forth to sacrifice, and withal the lion of the tribe of Judah.’
MEANS OF GROWTH
Our means of growth are manifold.
I. Study the will of Christ, seeking to gather from all that He said, and from all that He instructed His Apostles to write, what He would have us be and do, so that we may be ‘filled with the knowledge of His will’ (Colossians 1:9): the study of the character and the life of Christ.
II. Intercourse.—If we have fellowship with Christ, such as He invites us and desires us to have; if we seek Him in the chamber, in the sanctuary, at His Holy Table, we shall, by the assimilating influence of close and loving friendship, become imbued with His Spirit, and we shall live His life.
III. Prayer. We can never be like our Lord and attain to the ‘grace’ which He came to confer, until we receive a large measure of the direct influence, until we are the subjects of the renewing power of His Holy Spirit. And this we shall have if we ask in earnestness and faith.
These conditions of growth we can fulfil; these sources are open to us all.
‘A young lady once asked me what she could do for Jesus, as she much wanted to do something. I suggested visiting, Sunday-school teaching, etc. “Oh, I could not do that; my father and mother are very much against that sort of thing, and all my brothers and sisters look upon your sort of life as nonsense.” I said, “I am glad to know this. Your work is very plain. Just go home, and live such a holy life that every one of them shall be brought to Jesus.” She said she could not do it. Turning to Hosea 14, I pointed out to her the lesson of the olive tree; we prayed and she went away. Some months had passed, and, holding another mission in the same place, all her brothers and sisters, the servants, and father, were brought to Christ, and their testimony was—it was her life at home.’
THE GRACE OF CHRIST
As the knowledge in which we are exhorted to grow is the knowledge of Christ, so the grace in which we are exhorted to grow is the grace of Christ.
I. Think of the grace which Christ reveals.—The word ‘grace’ is generally used in the New Testament to denote the free, undeserved mercy which God shows towards sinners. This grace of God has been revealed in the gift of His Son. Are you, then, growing in the realisation and apprehension of this Divine love?
II. Think of the grace which Christ imparts.—The love of God, when ‘shed abroad within our hearts,’ exercises its natural influence in subduing the evil of our nature. And again, this love of God, just because it seeks to cleanse and save, sends forth those spiritual influences which are designed to purify us, and subjects us to the discipline which is designed to train us. Thus what we call the graces of character are doubly the fruits of grace. The grace of God is at once the element in which they grow and the source from which they spring. They are the product in us of Christ’s gospel and Christ’s Spirit. We are exhorted to grow in the grace which Christ imparts. Has there, then, been anything of this growth in you?
III. Think of the grace which Christ exemplifies.—‘Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor.’ Christ was Himself the Exemplar of that mercy which cares for the wretched, the erring, and the fallen. And surely of all graces this is the Divinest. Yet, alas! how often is it the case that as men grow in years they become less generous and gracious! Surely if the passing years can teach us anything at all, they might teach us to be more merciful and tender.