We are nearing the end of time. Thinking men everywhere recognize it. Yet how few are getting ready for what is coming so rapidly upon the earth. --- It is vital that we daily surrender our lives into God's hands, so He may guide us. We dare not fall away into apostasy.
Those who received the great blessings of the Reformation did not go forward in the path so nobly entered upon by Luther. A few faithful men arose from time to time, to proclaim new truth, and expose long-cherished error; but the majority, like the Jews in Christ's day, or the papists in the time of Luther, were content to believe as their fathers believed, and to live as they lived. Therefore religion again degenerated into formalism; and errors and superstitions which would have been cast aside had the church continued to walk in the light of God's word, were retained and cherished. Thus the spirit inspired by the Reformation gradually died out, until there was almost as great need of reform in the Protestant churches as in the Roman Church in the time of Luther. There was the same spiritual stupor, the same respect for the opinions of men, the same spirit of worldliness, the same substitution of human theories for the teachings of God's word. Pride and extravagance were fostered under the guise of religion. The churches became corrupted by allying themselves with the world. Thus were degraded the great principles for which Luther and his fellow-laborers had done and suffered so much.
As Satan saw that he had failed to crush out the truth by persecution, he again resorted to the same plan of compromise which had led to the great apostasy and the formation of the church of Rome. He induced Christians to ally themselves, not now with pagans, but with those who, by their worship of the god of this world, as truly proved themselves idolaters. Satan could no longer keep the Bible from the people; it had been placed within the reach of all. But he led thousands to accept false interpretations and unsound theories, without searching the Scriptures to learn the truth for themselves. He had corrupted the doctrines of the Bible, and traditions which were to ruin millions were taking deep root. The church was upholding and defending these traditions, instead of contending for the faith once delivered to the saints.
And while wholly unconscious of their condition and their peril, the church and the world were rapidly approaching the most solemn and momentous period of earth's history, -- the period of the revelation of the Son of man. Already had the signs which Christ himself had promised, -- the sun clothed in darkness by day and the moon by night, -- declared his coming near. When Jesus pointed his followers to these signs, he foretold also the existing state of worldliness and backsliding, and gave warning of the result to those who refused to arouse from their careless security: "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee."
He who knows the end from the beginning, and who inspired prophets and apostles to write the future history of churches and of nations, was about to accomplish another reform similar to that of the days of Luther. The Lord raised up men to investigate his word, to examine the foundation upon which the Christian world were building, and to raise the solemn inquiry, What is truth? Are we building upon the rock, or upon shifting sand?
God saw that many of his professed people were not building for eternity; and in his care and love he was about to send a message of warning to arouse them from their stupor, and prepare them for the coming of their Lord. The warning was not to be intrusted to learned doctors of divinity or popular ministers of the gospel. Had these been faithful watchmen, diligently and prayerfully searching the Scriptures, they would have known the time of night; the prophecies of Daniel and John would have revealed to them the great events about to take place. If they had faithfully followed the light already given, some star of heavenly radiance would have been sent to guide them into all truth.
At the time of Christ's first advent, the priests and scribes of the holy city, to whom were intrusted the oracles of God, should have discerned the signs of the times, and proclaimed the coming of the Promised One. The prophecy of Micah designated his birthplace; [MICAH 5:2.]. Daniel specified the time of his advent. [DAN. 9:25.]. God had committed these prophecies to the Jewish leaders; therefore they were without excuse if they did not know and declare to the people that the Messiah's coming was at hand. Their ignorance was the result of sinful neglect.
God did not send his messengers to the palaces of kings, to the assemblies of philosophers, or to the schools of the rabbis, to make known the wonderful fact that the Redeemer of men was about to appear upon the earth. The Jews were building monuments for the slain prophets of God, while by their deference to the great men of the earth they were paying homage to the servants of Satan. Absorbed in their ambitious strife for place and power among men, they lost sight of the divine honors proffered them by the King of Heaven.
With what profound and reverent interest should the elders of Israel have been studying the place, the time, the circumstances, of the greatest event in the world's history, -- the coming of the Son of God to accomplish the redemption of man! Oh, why were not the people watching and waiting that they might be among the first to welcome the world's Redeemer! But lo, at Bethlehem two weary travelers from the hills of Nazareth traverse the whole length of the narrow street to the eastern extremity of the town, vainly seeking a place of rest and shelter for the night. No doors are open to receive them. In a wretched hovel prepared for cattle, they at last find refuge, and there the Saviour of the world is born.
Heavenly angels had seen the glory which the Son of God shared with the Father before the world was, and they had looked forward with intense interest to his appearance on earth as an event fraught with the greatest joy to all people. Angels were appointed to carry the glad tidings to those who were prepared to receive it, and who would joyfully make it known to the inhabitants of the earth. Christ has stooped to take upon himself man's nature; he is to bear an infinite weight of woe as he shall make his soul an offering for sin; yet angels desire that even in his humiliation, the Son of the Highest may appear before men with a dignity and glory befitting his character. Will the great men of earth assemble at Israel's capital to greet his coming? Will legions of angels present him to the expectant company?
An angel visits the earth to see who are prepared to welcome Jesus. But he can discern no tokens of expectancy. He hears no voice of praise and triumph that the period of the Messiah's coming is at hand. The angel hovers for a time over the chosen city and the temple where the divine presence was manifested for ages; but even here is the same indifference. The priests, in their pomp and pride, are offering polluted sacrifices in the temple. The Pharisees are with loud voices addressing the people, or making boastful prayers at the corners of the streets. There is no evidence that Christ is expected, and no preparation for the Prince of life.
In amazement the celestial messenger is about to return to Heaven with the shameful tidings, when he discovers a group of shepherds who are watching their flocks by night, and, as they gaze into the starry heavens, are contemplating the prophecy of a Messiah to come to earth, and longing for the advent of the world's Redeemer. Here is a company that can be trusted with the heavenly message. And suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared, declaring the good tidings of great joy. Celestial glory flooded all the plain, an innumerable company of angels were revealed, and as if the joy were too great for one messenger to bring from Heaven, a multitude of voices broke forth in the anthem which all the nations of the saved shall one day sing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."
Oh, what a lesson is this wonderful story of Bethlehem! How it rebukes our unbelief, our pride and self-sufficiency. How it warns us to beware, lest by our criminal indifference we also fail to discern the signs of the times, and therefore know not the day of our visitation. It is "unto them that look for him" that Christ is to "appear the second time without sin unto salvation." [HEB. 9:28.]
Jesus sends his people a message of warning to prepare them for his coming. To the prophet John was made known the closing work in the great plan of man's redemption. He beheld an angel flying "in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his Judgment is come; and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." [REV. 14:6, 7.]
The angel represented in prophecy as delivering this message, symbolizes a class of faithful men, who, obedient to the promptings of God's Spirit and the teachings of his word, proclaim this warning to the inhabitants of earth. This message was not to be committed to the religious leaders of the people. They had failed to preserve their connection with God, and had refused the light from Heaven; therefore they were not of the number described by the apostle Paul: "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day; we are not of the night nor of darkness." [1 THESS. 5:4, 5.]
The watchmen upon the walls of Zion should be the first to catch the tidings of the Saviour's advent, the first to lift their voices to proclaim him near, the first to warn the people to prepare for his coming. But they were at ease, dreaming of peace and safety, while the people were asleep in their sins. Jesus saw his church, like the barren fig-tree, covered with pretentious leaves, yet destitute of precious fruit. There was a boastful observance of the forms of religion, while the spirit of true humility, penitence and faith--which alone could render the service acceptable to God -- was lacking. Instead of the graces of the Spirit, there were manifested pride, formalism, vainglory, selfishness, oppression. A backsliding church closed their eyes to the signs of the times. God did not forsake them, or suffer his faithfulness to fail; but they departed from him, and separated themselves from his love. As they refused to comply with the conditions, his promises were not fulfilled to them.
Love for Christ and faith in his coming waxed cold. Such is the sure result of neglect to appreciate and improve the light and privileges which God bestows. Unless the church will follow on in his opening providence, accepting every ray of light, performing every duty which may be revealed, religion will inevitably degenerate into the observance of forms, and the spirit of vital godliness will disappear. This truth has been repeatedly illustrated in the history of the church. God requires of his people works of faith and obedience corresponding to the blessings and privileges bestowed. Obedience requires a sacrifice and involves a cross; and this is why so many of the professed followers of Christ refused to receive the light from Heaven, and, like the Jews of old, knew not the time of their visitation. [LUKE 19:44.]. Because of their pride and unbelief, the Lord passed them by, and revealed his truth to men in humble life, who had given heed to all the light they had received.
CHAPTER SUPPLEMENT: GOD, OUR REFUGE
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16
"The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." Proverbs 18:10
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