Behold the Bridegroom
Who can deny that the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is one of the chief themes of the Bible? Certainly not those who study its pages. However much they may differ as to the manner and the meaning of it, they must all agree that it is kept continually in the forefront of God's communications to men. The first of all the prophets cried, "The Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints." And as prophets, priests and kings strayed from the right ways of God, and the world's problems became more involved, and its miseries increased, the coming of the Lord, as Deliverer and judge, became more and more the burden of the men who spoke for God, and the hope of those who believed.
If we had only the Old Testament and not the New, we should find it difficult to understand why in one place His coming is said to be for suffering and humiliation, and in another for glory and power and world-wide dominion; how and why His visage would be more marred than any man's, and yet He be exalted and lifted up and made very high and astonish nations by the splendour of His majesty. The New Testament is the key to the Old, and by it the whole subject of the coming of the Lord is opened up for us, and we learn that two comings were in view, at the first of which the sufferings of Christ would be fulfilled, and at the second, the glories that should follow. Our position lies between the two.
He came once
He came once, not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many.
Then He was wounded for our transgressions; then He died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures. After that He showed Himself by many infallible proofs to His disciples, and ascended to Heaven in their sight. With hearts aglow with devotion to Him they gazed with wonder after Him as the cloud of glory received Him, and immediately two heavenly messengers stood at their sides and announced to them the fact that He - THIS SAME JESUS, AND NOT ANOTHER - would so come, as they had seen Him go. It was the first message from the glory after His entrance into it, and it became an integral part of the apostles' preaching - the testimony of the Lord. He had been here, and He had returned to Heaven from whence He came, but He would come back again. He would come in glory to judge the world in righteousness, and rule the nations with a rod of iron, and banish sorrow and crying from the earth, and bring in lasting gladness and wonderful peace.
Those that hearkened to the preaching and believed, "turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven." The coming again of the Lord Jesus was a living hope and not a doctrine only to those early Christians; it affected them mightily and they went forth to meet the Bridegroom.
The world was well lost for them as they rejoiced in the hope of the coming glory of the Son of God, even Jesus, who had delivered them from the wrath to come.
A Slumbering Church
But while He tarried, the deep slumber, against which they were warned again and again in the epistles of Paul, overcame them, and the prophetic parable of our Lord was fulfilled, "they all slumbered and slept." The church became totally indifferent to the truth of the Lord's return, and all were alike in this, wise and foolish, true possessors and mere professors settled down in the world that He will judge at His coming, as though there were no difference between them and it. Their lamps burned but dimly, and the darkness steadily deepened, until was reached that period known as the Dark Ages. This was the midnight hour indeed, when the church that professed the Name of Christ, and which should have shone with a great light in the darkness to guide the feet of the people in the way of truth, robbed them of any light they might have had by its gross sensuality and apostasy from the truth.
The Dark Ages
The history of the church on earth was faithfully forecast in those solemn messages from the Lord to the seven churches in Asia (Revelation 2-3), and the period of this dense darkness is described in the central message of the seven, that to the church at Thyatira. In it the depths of Satan were known as nowhere else on earth. At that time popes, cardinals, priests and monks lived openly wicked lives, they turned the most sacred things into subjects for their obscene jests, they were profligate in conduct and profane in their conversation. It was a common saying: "If there is a hell, Rome is built over it: it is an abyss whence issues every kind of sin." But worse than all, the people were corrupted by these ministers of Satan, and to them were sold indulgences which granted them pardon and secured them from the punishment beforehand of any crime that they wished to commit. And as the great dignitaries of the church required money in order to pursue their rascalities, the people were urged and forced to buy these indulgences or lose their immortal souls. Standards of right and wrong were obliterated, for the people could do what they pleased as long as they paid, and this was called the "richly offered grace of God." "We Italians," said a historian of that period, "are principally indebted to the church for having become impious and immoral. "
The Midnight Cry
It is in the message to the church of Thyatira , which describes this midnight period, that the Lord brings out afresh the fact of His coming. There were those in the midst of all its corruptions and darkness who were faithful to Him. A small remnant they probably were, but they were precious to the Lord, as were those who feared Him and talked together about Him in the days when Malachi prophesied. To these the Lord said, "I will put upon you none other burden, but that which ye have already, hold fast till I come ." And wonderful words must those have been for those who had ears to hear during that dark period: "I will give him the morning star ." In the records that have come down to us from those days we find that there were some who "trimmed their lamps," many more no doubt than we could know of, for the Lord has always had His thousands who did not bow the knee to Baal.
But were they many or few that heard the cry, "Behold, the Bridegroom," in this midnight hour, it is certain that the Lord then commenced in a special way to prepare a people to meet Him at His coming. He formed and fitted Luther for this purpose, and the most blessed truth of justification by faith instead of works was proclaimed and believed by many.
The consequence of being justified by faith is the sealing by the Holy Spirit. We are taught in Romans 5 that when justified by faith the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that is given unto us; and this is confirmed by Ephesians 1:13: "In whom (Christ) ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." Only those in whom the Spirit of God dwells are ready to meet the Bridegroom when He shall come, for the oil that the wise virgins took in their vessels is unquestionably a symbol of the Holy Spirit. He only can keep the lamps of our testimony burning during the absence of the Lord.
The Truth Misunderstood
From that time the coming of the Lord began to have, more or less, a place in the preaching of the Word. But it was not understood by the preachers, nor clearly preached, for the distinction between the church and the world was not discerned, and this great truth, along with all prophetic truth, must be obscure to all who do not see and maintain this distinction. It was thought and preached that the world would first be converted by the preaching of the Gospel, and that then the Lord would come and establish His kingdom of righteousness; and this by pious men who no doubt read and studied their Bibles. It is still a popular notion, but as false as it is popular. How it could have gained currency is difficult to understand with such a solemn passage in the Bible as that in Revelation 1:7: "Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen." A converted world would surely receive Him with acclamation and not wailing. There are many other passages which are equally emphatic, such as 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 6:15-17; 19:11-16. But men believe what pleases them, and the thought of the intervention of the Lord in judgment is not pleasant to those who love the world or are involved in its many schemes for its own greatness. And those who were true to their Lord misread the Word of truth because they did not rightly divide it.
After the Reformation the church soon settled down again in the world. It has been said that the ambition of the Romish church is to dominate the world; it did in former days, and will do so again, but in Protestantism the world rules the church; it certainly does in the state churches where its very doctrines are secured and fixed by act of Parliament. Hence in the message to Sardis which describes this condition of things, the Lord says, "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead." And, " I will come on thee as a thief ," which is the character in which He will come to the world, which cares nothing about His coming, except to scoff at it, or hate the thought of it; thus will He come to the unwatchful and indifferent church.
The Renewed Cry
But the cry which went forth first at the midnight of the church's history is sounding louder now, for in the message to the church at Philadelphia the Lord says, "Behold, I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." And this word has awakened a response in many hearts, and these bear in some degree Philadelphian characteristics, which are, loyalty to the Word of the Lord, devotion to His name and love to all the brethren. May they greatly increase and grow for His Name's sake.
Numbers have been recovered to the truth of the Lord's coming. It has become again a real and living hope, but it is only real and living to those who have trimmed their lamps, for two things are infallibly united, devotion to Christ and witness to the world. Those who are really looking for Christ, who are truly saying, "Come, Lord Jesus," will by their very lives bear a witness to the world, they will shine as lights as they pass through it, for they will not settle down in it.
Their testimony will be that the Lord is coming, and that they are going forth to meet Him. The world's fashions and ways, and schemes and ambitions will not engage and entangle them, for they know that it lies under judgment, along with Satan, its god and prince, and that its time is short and its doom is sealed. Yet they will not be indifferent to the needs of men, they will mingle with their testimony the evangelistic cry: "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely."
This cry, "Behold, the Bridegroom," is a great test. It finds us out. It tested these awakened virgins in the prophetic parable, and we learn from it that the test is intensely individual. To what community you belong is not the test, nor what profession you make, everything depends upon whether you have the oil in your vessel - Have you received the Holy Spirit? And none can receive Him for another, or having received Him, impart Him to another. Each must receive Him for himself.
The time is short
The time is short. Fleeter than these foolish virgins imagined were the feet of the Bridegroom, for while they went to secure the oil for their vessels, He came, and they that were ready went in with Him to the marriage, and THE DOOR WAS SHUT. It was too late then for them to buy the oil or enter the door, and their knocking was in vain. The Bridegroom only knew those who possessed the oil, and only those whom He knew passed with Him in to the marriage feast.
Are any who read in doubt as to this vital and indispensable possession? and do they ask, Where can we buy the oil? To buy indicates a personal transaction. You must have personal dealings with God, first as to your own sinfulness and need of a Saviour, and then as to the Saviour that He has provided.
Paul preached, "repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ," and Peter declared, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye (Jews) slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel , and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses of these things; and so is also THE HOLY GHOST, WHOM GOD HATH GIVEN TO THEM THAT OBEY HIM" (Acts 5:30-32).
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