Advent Testimony Address
December 13th, 1917
Address by Rev. Preb. F.S. Webster, M.A.
This, beloved friends, is no ordinary service; is it is a very solemn testimony meeting. We are all here to declare our sincere and steadfast conviction that the present crisis points to the close of “the times of the Gentiles,” and that the unveiling and reappearance of the Lord Jesus Christ may be expected at any moment.
Now, the Gospel, as you know, is good news, and part of the good news — I think I should like to say the best part — for this stricken, sobbing world of ours is the fact that Jesus Christ is coming again. The chief fault of Christians today is that they do not make enough of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a good deal of preaching, alas! which is not the preaching of Christ, and there is a good deal of preaching of Christ which is good and true as far as it goes, but it does not go quite far enough, for it leaves out the good news of His coming again. It is good and right to preach Christ incarnate, Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ ascended, but if we would be true to the Scripture we must add one more note — Christ returning, Christ coming again. That is the testimony which God, we believe, has raised us up, all unworthy as we are, to make to this generation.
Now, my principal desire this evening is to show that this hope of our Lord’s return is of real practical value in determining the Christian character needed in these critical days. What are the elements of the Christian character most needed today? We shall all agree, I think, that the times are depressing; the outlook is dark. Never had the Lord’s people more need of everything that can sustain in them hopefulness and glad restfulness of heart, and there is nothing that will sustain our hope like the assurance that Christ is coming again. That is the hope of the Church. Many of us are praying at this time that by the patience and comfort of God’s word we may embrace and ever hold fast our blessed hope. We know that the Church’s blessed hope is bound up with the appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. In the passage read to us just now, from the first chapter of the 1st Epistle to the Thessalonians, there were three marks of the Christians of those days — their faith, their love, their hope. Their faith and love made them work and labour; their hope gave them patience, enabling them to endure. We specially need hope to-day.
We cannot be content to live ordinary lives in these extraordinary days. We all have to be at our very best for God and for His truth. But we cannot be keen if we are discouraged. The energy of life springs from encouragement and is largely made up of hope. Where shall we get our hope? The Christian's hope rests upon the assurance that Jesus Christ is coming again. That was the hope of these Thessalonians. They turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God and to wait for His Son from heaven.
Now the danger of the present day — it has been the danger of the Church at all times - is this, that just because the Lord delayeth His coming, because the Bridegroom has tarried now for nearly 1,900 years, people have let slip the blessed hope of His coming again. But we must be hopeful, or we are no good in the world. Nature abhors gloom and despondency. Nature is full of hope, and if men have lost the hope of the Lord’s return they have to look in other directions to get their hope sustained and strengthened. Before the war, where were men looking, those who wanted to be hopeful? They had their peace conferences for bringing about the brotherhood of the nations. They had great schemes of social improvement; endeavours to substitute co-operation for competition; grand dreams of allying capital and labour in a strong alliance full of mutual confidence and good will; great hopes they had. They thought that by education, by agitation, by legislation, they would make this world a better world; they would bring upon the earth the paradise for which men yearn. But these hopes have been rudely shattered, for all the forces of our civilisation - our education, our agitation, our legislation, our idealism — were not sufficient to stay the awful catastrophe, the sad tragedy of this cruel war. Now some are trying to pick up heart again, and they are saying, “This is the war which is going to end all war.” I do not think it is the function of war to end war. War generally begets war. War spreads. There is only one event which will put an end to war; it is the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Now don’t mistake me. It is quite right to aim at all these good things. I have spoken at peace meetings — before the war, I mean; not since. It is quite right to join in any movement that has good hope of improving the state of this world. But while there are many abuses and wrongs, the greatest of all the wrongs ever committed upon earth is the wrong that was done to our Lord Jesus Christ, and until that wrong is righted, i.e., until Jesus Christ comes back again, and, having received the kingdom, returns to reign, there will be no paradise upon earth, yes, until Jesus Christ thus comes to His own and receives the throne that is His right. All the golden schemes and visions of well-meaning idealists will fail of their fruition.
Nothing will be really right till Jesus comes again.
You will all agree that the true Christian can only be defined or described in one way, that is, by terms of personal relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. A real Christian is one who belongs to Christ; who believes in Him, who loves Him, who lives for Him. Now, one mark of loyalty to Jesus Christ is that we are looking for His return. If we really belong to Him, if we really believe in Him, we shall love His appearing, we shall long for His coming again. When I speak about the Church’s hope as that which makes us strong and glad, remember, please, hope always means the combination of desire and expectation, It cannot be a blessed hope in your heart that the Lord is coming again unless you desire His coming.
When I was in Germany, before the war, I had a conversation with a Lutheran sister who has been to Keswick. She told me how on one occasion she was talking to the Kaiser and telling him all about Keswick, and that he listened with great interest. Then she went on to speak about the great hope of the Lord’s return, but at once he broke in in his quick, impulsive way, and said: “That would not do at all; it would upset all my plans!” I think that was an honest utterance. I want to ask you to forget the Kaiser for a moment. Is that what your heart is really saying? I have every sympathy with young people, full of hope and energy, who want to live out their life and carry through all their plans and schemes. When I was in the Church Army, many years ago now, I did not think much about the coming of the Lord. I thought the Church Army was going to regenerate England. I have sympathy with those who want to live their life, but I want to say to you with all my heart, you will live your life to truer purpose and on a higher plane altogether if the Lord comes within the next few years. We ought to long for Christ’s return, first, for Christ's sake, that He may come to His own.
“Oh! the joy to see Thee reigning,
Thee, my own belovéd Lord!
Every tongue Thy name confessing,
Worship, honour, glory, blessing,
Brought to Thee with one accord.
Thee, my Master and my Friend,
Vindicated and enthroned,
Unto earth’s remotest bound,
Glorified, adored, and owned.” Don’t you long for it for Christ’s sake? Think what a sorrow it must be in the heart of the Lord Jesus that His own people, the Jewish nation, are still in blindness and un-belief, and will not have Him to reign over them. Oh! the joy when Israel is brought back! Those who still cherish unfounded optimistic views, who still believe that the forces of civilisation are going to bring about a paradise, generally forget the Jews. I never came across anybody who believed that the Jewish nation was going to be converted as a nation in any other way than by the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. So for His sake, and for this sorrowing world’s sake, we ought with all our hearts to long for the return of the King.
One thing more. However much we long for our Lord’s return, we cannot be full of hope about it unless we have good reason for believing that it is going to take place soon. The real living hope of the Church is the return of our Lord in this generation. Many of you remember what an impulse it gave to missionary activity when the Student Movement took as its motto the words, “The evangelisation of the world in this generation.” It made the enterprise come home to us and made us feel the responsibility of it. So nothing would do more to stimulate hope and holiness of life and to call forth earnest, selfsacrificing service than that we should be able to clasp to our hearts the blessed hope that Christ is coming back again in this generation. It is this that has made us give our testimony. We may be wrong, but I think we are right. Though in other ages there have been signs which seemed to signify the speedy return of the Lord, we believe the signs have never been so abundant and so clear as they are in the present day. A few weeks ago I opened the “Times” newspaper, and I saw in the very centre of the paper a paragraph headed “Palestine and the Jews.” It was a letter from Mr. Balfour to Lord Rothschild in reply to a petition sent by a large number of Zionist bodies and other Jewish societies, requesting the Government to help forward the fulfilment of their Zionist aspirations. Mr. Balfour his letter declared that the Cabinet had decided to use all their endeavours to make Palestine the home of the Jewish nation. We have learnt - it is keeping our hearts singing with praise and glad with expectation — we know the British flag is flying over Jerusalem today. What does it mean? In all soberness, in the presence of God, desiring to weigh every syllable I utter, I say I have never seen anything to give me more warrant to believe that the advent of Jesus Christ is coming very soon. That is the burden of our testimony. “Let your loins be girt and your lamps burning, and be ye yourselves like unto men that wait - for what? For the end of the war? May God send it. For better social legislation? May God give us grace to devise it. For the reunion of Christendom — at any rate, Evangelical Christendom? God help us to bring it about. But this is not what we wait for. We may work for these things, we may give what strength and energy we have in pushing forward everything that is for the betterment of the Church and of the nation, but “be ye yourselves like unto men waiting for their Lord when He shall return from the wedding.” That will make you steadfast. There is an old hymn I used to sing when a boy — I loved it because it had such a rollicking tune but I never realised until perhaps twenty or thirty years ago — and I was not a boy then - what it really meant. It is full of the Advent Hope, and when you get a grip of it, or when it gets a grip of you, it will put backbone and hope and gladness into you. This is the chorus:-
“'Hold the fort, for I am coming!’
Jesus signals still
‘Wave the answer back to heaven,’
‘By Thy grace we will.'”
Let men say what they like about the Bible. Let men doubt it if they please, and scoff at us who believe it for being fanatics. Christ said He is coming again, and we will hold the fort till He comes. Nothing helps us more to be true and steadfast than the glad expectation of our Lord’s return in this generation.