Advent Testimony Address
Queen's Hall London, Thursday Morning,
December 13th, 1917
Address by Rev. G. Campbell Morgan, D.D.
My dear fellow Christians, - Those of us who signed the at Manifesto which is the basis of the addresses delivered here today, and those of us who are delivering those addresses, are conscious, first, of the responsibility which such action creates; and secondly, and none the less definitely, of the authority which arises from profound conviction.
That Manifesto, as you will have observed, is characterized by marked indefiniteness as to detail, and by clarity as to its statement of broad principles. This Manifesto was not hurriedly drawn up. It was the outcome of prayerful thought and of much happy consultation. It is the Manifesto of men who differ even yet on some matters of interpretation, but who, as my friend Pastor Fuller Gooch has said, are absolutely of one mind and one heart as to the broad principles to which I have already referred.
Our venerable and venerated chairman said at the beginning of this meeting that it was hoped that the speakers would adhere to the points indicated. That I propose to do most resolutely, and I am now about to speak to the second proposition:
“That the Revelation of our Lord may be expected at any moment, when He will be manifested as evidently as to His disciples on the evening of His resurrection.”
That proposition is characterized by simplicity, by clearness, and by the absence tity like detailed interpretation. As I approach it I desire to emphasize what has been already said both by the chairman and Pastor Fuller Gooch, namely, that our testimony assumes the full and final authority of the New Testament Scriptures. By that I do not exclude the Old, but lay my emphasis upon the New. It seems to me that it is necessary that we realize that those to whom that assumption is impossible will not be able to follow us in what we are teaching. If the Bible be indeed, as a friend of mine has recently said it is, an admixture of an “essential Gospel” with “a good deal of the rubble and silt of human thought,” then, of course, it is possible that we may be wrong in the things we affirm, because the Bible may be wrong. I am not now proposing to argue that, but it is important that we should remember that we do not accept that view of the Bible. We claim no finality for our own interpretation, but we do speak as those who believe in the absolute, full, and final authority of whatever these Scriptures of truth teach. Turning to the proposition, then, may I ask you to observe the limits of its statement? First, it postulates a coming Revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, it makes a statement as to the nature of that Revelation in the words, “He will be manifested as evidently as to His disciples on the evening of the resurrection.” Centrally, it indicates what must be the attitude of believing hearts to the truth, as it declares that “He may be expected at any moment.” These, then, are the three matters that I desire to deal with, taking them in the order I have now indicated.
The Coming Revelation of the Lord Jesus
The fact which we are here to affirm as constituting the hope of the Church and the world is that of the coming Revelation of the Lord. In passing, I should like to say that for me that hope burns no more brightly today than it has done for the past Abe years. It is the one blessed hope which maket not ashamed.
Now, in order that we may be perfectly simple, fundamental, and even elementary, would remind you of the real force of this word Revelation. It is a translation of the Greek word apokalupsis, which means literally and simply, unveiling. The idea is that of the making midnifest of something which has been hidden. Therefore, when we speak of the Revelation of the Lord we mean that He Who has been hidden is to be unveiled and made clearly manifest. Now that can only be accurately apprehended as we remember that the whole conception recognizes a past and a present, while it indicates a future.
To speak of the unveiling of the Lord is necessarily to recognize the first Advent. We think of One Who appeared in human history; Whose advent was dated not only by the Jewish, but by the Roman calendar. It would hardly seem necessary to emphasize this were it not that it is being said in certain quarters that there has never been such a Person as Jesus, but that spiritual ideas, generated within the minds of different men, in process of time have been presented in the form of an ideal personality. We speak of the Revelation of an actual Person, a Man of our own humanity, and yet One Who in His human life was a Person of unfathomable and infinite mystery. As we study our New Testament we find that it is impossible to place Jesus of Nazareth, even in the fact of His humanity exactly upon the level of our own. To do that we are driven to eliminate certain statements of the New Testament concerning Him, such, for instance, as the account of the Virgin Birth. Briefly, then, we say that when we speak of the Revelation of the Lord we are thinking of a Person, not of an idea; and yet we are thinking of One Who was, in the days of His human life, a mystery beyond the possibility of our complete explanation.
When we speak of this Revelation we are thinking not merely of a past, but of a present. That is to say, we believe that the Person who walked the ways of men, and was known of men in His humanity, still exists. In the words of Peter, recorded in the third chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we think of “Jesus, Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things.” That view of Him is necessarily implicated in the idea of His Revelation. The ascension was not an event in which the actual personality of Jesus of Nazareth was vapourized or spiritualized so that it no longer exists. We believe that at this very moment the Man of Nazareth, Jesus, is in the heavens, as surely as positively a human Person, as when the disciples saw Him after His resurrection, and finally saw Him pass out of sight in the cloud.
If these, then, be the things which the declaration recognizes, that which it indicates is that this same Person is again to appear, to be unveiled, to be manifested. That means that His second advent will be as historic as was His first; that He will actually come into the midst of human history on some date in the human calendar, which, no man knows, and which, no man is intended to know; that in the actuality of this coming He will be at once as positively a Person as in His first advent, and as mysterious also.
We base that conviction, first, upon His own plain statements; secondly, upon the clear apostolic teachin of the New Testament; and finally, upon the naturalness of it, indeed, the necessity of it, in view of His first advent. Whereas grace had its epiphany, its outshining, in the lowliness of His first marvellous coming and life, so glory must have its epiphany, its outshining, in the majesty of that coming, which He described as being “in the glory of His Father with His angels.” We believe the age in which we live is bounded by these advents, because our Lord I declared that it would be consummated by His coming; because His apostles taught that it would be so; and because we see, in the process of the age, that there is no other hope for the world. More than ever today, hope, centred in earthly thrones or governments, in human diplomacies, in leagues of nations, is seen to be futile. The only hope which maketh not ashamed is that which believes that when God has overturned, overturned, overturned, He shall come, Whose right it is.
The Nature of the Coming Revelation
When we turn from the fact itself to consider its nature we realize how full of fascination the subject is. In our proposition it is stated, with studied simplicity and definiteness, in the words, “He will be manifested as evidently as to His disciples on the evening of His resurrection.” Here, I am sure, I shall be permitted by those associated with me in the drawing-up of this Manifesto if I slightly modify the wording, so that it shall be: He will be manifested as evidently as to His disciples after His resurrection. Thus I do not confine myself to the first evening merely. The question, then, which we have to consider is a very simple and a very familiar one, and yet of great importance. It is that, namely, of what the disciples did see of this Person after His resurrection. We have in our New Testament the account of fourteen manifestations — ten before His ascension, and four afterwards.
On the first day there were five appearings of the Lord. He was seen of Mary of Magdala, in the brightness of the morning in the garden; of other women as they were traveling from the tomb to tell His disciples that it was empty; of Peter in some quiet, lonely interview; of Cleopas and another as they travelled to Emmaus; and of His apostles, Thomas being absent, in the evening time, in the upper room.
On the eighth day He was seen again of the apostles, Thomas being present.
During the thirty-two days that followed before His ascension we are told of four appearances; to seven by the sea in the beauty of the early morning, when He prepared a breakfast for them, and held His conversation with Peter; to a great assembly of over five hundred brethren at once in Galilee, when He uttered the missionary commission recorded by Matthew; to James in another unrecorded interview; and finally to the group of disciples as He led them out as far as to Bethany, and lifting up His hands in blessing upon them, was parted from them.
After the ascension we have the account of four occasions upon which He manifested Himself — to Stephen in the awful hour of his martyrdom; to Saul of Tarsus as he journeyed to Damascus; to Paul in prison when circumstances were buffeting his spirit, and he was almost in despair; and finally to John in mystic glory and wonder in the Isle of Patmos: All these appearances were very definite to those who saw them.
We ask, therefore, what did these witnesses see? Necessarily such a question necessitates a careful consideration of all the stories, and it will be recognized that such consideration is not possible here and now. We may, however, summarize by saying that they saw the self-same Jesus with Whom they had walked and talked through those wonderful three years of His public ministry. They saw Him standing, they saw Him sitting, they saw Him walking, they saw Him eating, they heard Him talking, and it was always the same Jesus.
But let us look again. There was a difference. There were new conditions; there were elements of mystery which did not deny the fact, but which inevitably kept them in an attitude of wonder. He was with them more than once, and they did not know Him. He was able so to veil Himself that while they realized they were talking to a real Person they did not know who He was. Then suddenly of His own will He broke through the veil, and they discovered Him, and knew absolutely that it was Jesus to Whom they had been talking and Who had been talking to them. He appeared to them over and over again unexpectedly, suddenly. His presence was discovered to them actually. With equal and mysterious suddenness He disappeared, so that He was not manifestly present. They saw Him quite definitely - and now I am going to use a word which in some senses may seem to be an awkward one, and yet it is necessary - they saw Him materially. Said He to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and see My hands, and reach hither thy hand, and put it into My side.” They saw Him, moreover, actually eat. He asked them, “Have ye ate anything to eat? And they gave Him a piece of a broiled fish. ‘And He took it, and did eat before them.” Thus it will be seen that whereas He was very really the same Person, He was living under new conditions, manifesting Himself to them and eating in their midst, although He entered the room without the shooting of a bolt, or the opening of a door.
Our affirmation is, then, that He, the selfsame Jesus, is to be again manifested as evidently as to those disciples after His resurrection. That is the supreme and glorious hope of the Church, and of the Church for the world. We are not now dealing with the order or sequence of His appearings, but with the central fact, that this selfsame Jesus is actually to come again into the affairs of the world, to lay His hand upon the reins of government, and establish order; that He is coming to take this smitten, sin-stricken earth under His immediate and personal government, in order that wrong may be righted, and the Kingdom of God established.
I am constrained to halt for a moment here still to emphasize things already dealt with, namely, that this truth involves the first advent, and the present and continued existence of Jesus of Nazareth as a Man hidden in the heavens until this time of restoration. We sometimes use the phrase, “In the days of His flesh,” as though such days ended with the ascension. As a matter of fact, these also are the days of His flesh in some senses. It is perfectly true that Paul said, “Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know Him so no more.” But in that statement the phrase “after the flesh” qualifies the knowledge, and not the Person. It will be remembered that the words immediately preceding it are, “Wherefore we henceforth know no man after the flesh.” They do not mean that no man is living a physical life, but that our knowledge of them is conditioned by spiritual truth, and this is clearly so with regard to the statement concerning our Lord. He still exists in His actual and perfect humanity and if once we lose that certainty, then, of course, the whole idea of His Revelation will be lost.
The teaching of the New Testament is that this hidden One is to appear. When? At the right moment in the economy of God. Where? We shall say undoubtedly, certainly upon the mount of Olives, but, we may also add, wherever else is necessary; just as He appeared on the way to Emmaus, or in the upper room, or in any locality where His presence served His high purpose. Under the new conditions of His new life following upon resurrection, no longer hindered by the processes of locomotion which we associate with human personality as we know it, He will appear suddenly anywhere, in order to the carrying out of His purposes. If we ask another question, How will He appear? Our answer will be that He will certainly first appear in a cloud, as the two men declared to the disciples when, after the cloud had received Him out of their sight, they said, “This Jesus which was received up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye beheld Him going into heaven.” We shall also declare that He will come as He said, in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. That phrase, “in the glory of His Father,” to my own mind refers rather to the absolute and final splendour of His human nature than to any accessories which are merely spectacular, and which we are apt to associate with the word glory. All these things are matter, perhaps, of speculation. The supreme fact is that Jesus if yet to be manifested anew, and in such wise that the whole world will see Him. He Himself is coming to complete the work He began, and in order that all the processes of this age may be gathered up and carried out to the larger issues of the ages that lie beyond.
The True Attitude of the Believer
Thus we come, in conclusion, to the central matter of our proposition, which declares that He “may be expected at any moment.” The first thing that I want to stress with all the power I have is that that very statement means that we are entirely ignorant as to when He will come. From the hour of ascension until now it has been true that He might have come at an moment. I am quite sure that I speak what is in the hearts of all God's waiting children when I say that we should rejoice indeed if by His coming He ended the very testimony we are bearing to Him today. But it may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be for many years. In all this there must be an element of uncertainty, and that element of uncertainty is created partly and necessarily by the fluctuation of human attitudes toward the things of God. The Divine determinations have nothing to do with human dates. They have to do with times and seasons, but the duration of these very times and seasons which are in the Father's authority may be changed by God as the result of human action. The principle is illustrated in the book of Jonah. The Divine word definitely was that within forty days Nineveh should be destroyed. But Nineveh was not destroyed for over a hundred years, because of the change of a human attitude and the repentance of a city. The date was changed, but the determination was not changed. Therefore, in our consideration of this matter I submit that it is of the utmost importance that we remember that, when considering the things of God, we must eliminate all almanacs and time-tables human dates. God is long-suffering, and He waits not for a fixed date, but for a fulfilled purpose.
That phrase — a fulfilled purpose - leads me to the next thing I desire to say. If there are elements of necessary uncertainty, what are the elements of certainty involved in this truth? The are that our Lord will certainly come for His people, and a His people; that He will be manifested in the fulness of the times; that is, when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Now, it has been objected that the testimony to the actuality of the appearing of our Lord is invalidated by the fact that again and again in the history of the Christian Church men have been pointing to what they have considered to be the nearness of the Revelation, because of the apparent fulfilment of the times of the Gentiles. This, however, does not invalidate the testimony. It is perfectly true that this kind of testimony has been borne again and yet again. And is it not true that the times of the Gentiles have often approached fulfilment, but they have never been fulfilled? It may be - and let us say it with profound awe and reverence — that over and over again the forty days have been lengthened to the hundred years, because of the change of human attitude toward God, and of His long-suffering patience. Nevertheless we all feel today that never in the history of the Church have the signs seemed so definitely to point to the fulfilling of Gentile times as they do today. Amos, the prophet herdman from Tekoa, when delivering his messages in the northern Kingdom concerning surrounding nations, employed a formula of poetic imagery, which it is well that we remember. Said he, “For three transgressions, yea for four.” In each case this formula revealed the principle that the judgment of God, in its activity of punishment, never falls upon a people until they have filled to the full the cup of their iniquity. That principle is certainly operating in the circumstances in the midst of which we live today. All the fearful and fiery judgments that are abroad in the earth are the result of “three transgressions, yea four.” That is to say, the world is seeing today the working out in a ghastly and terrible manifestation of all its own philosophies. ie times of the Gentiles are being fulfilled.
If I am asked for a personal opinion I do not hesitate to say that I do not consider that this is Armageddon. It does not seem to me that the “man of sin” has been revealed. I say, however, quite resolutely, that I am careless as to the accuracy of my own view in this regard. I admit and am moved by the conviction that men have never before seen the working out of the principle of godlessness so completely as today, and therefore I feel that the Lord may be revealed at any moment. No words can better describe the true attitude and responsibility of the children of God than those which our Lord Himself employed. Our loins should be girt about, and our lamps should be burning. We should be occupying until He come. This does not for a moment mean that we told be gazing into the heavens and hoping to escape from the earth; but that we should be dedicating ourselves with all our powers to the King’s business, proclaiming His evangel, seeking for the salvation of the lost, declaring the principles of His Kingdom, and so far as in us lies insisting upon their application to all the affairs of life. All the while, while this hope burns before us, we shall catch and reflect upon the darkness of the age, the light and the glory of His appearing.
“Broken lies creation,
Shaken earth’s foundation,
Anchorless each nation,”
and the Church, as it understands His will, is praying today as never before,
“Lord, come away.”
Let us also pray that we may be led into the patient waiting for Christ, and delivered from all impatience. In proportion as this is so, if He comes today, we shall meet Him with glad hearts; and if in the morning we wake and find that He has not come, we shall greatly rejoice, knowing that this further delay is also in the long-suffering of God, and that He can make no mistake. So will we watch and wait with patience and with song, knowing that He shall surely “come in the glory of His Father, with His angels; and then shall He render unto every man according to his deeds.”