Chapter 2: The Significance Of Christ’s Exaltation (cont.)
He rules, not only within the domain of His Church, and by grace; but also in the realm of creation, and over all the forces of darkness in this world, by His power.
All power is given unto Him, in heaven and on earth. Angels and principalities and powers are subject unto Him.
And this power He employs, according to the Catechism, to defend and preserve us against all enemies.
The Church is in the world. And in that world she has many enemies. For the world is in darkness, and of the darkness. She loves the darkness rather than the light. But the Church is of the light, witnesses of the light, and walks in the light. Hence, the world hates the Church. This is inevitable. If believers are faithful they cannot be friends of the world. The friendship of the world is enmity with God; and whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God,. The world loves its own, but believers are not of the world, and therefore the world hates them. . The more faithful the Church becomes in her confession and walk, the more Christ becomes manifest in her, the more bitterly the world will hate her, and set herself to destroy her, and wipe out her very existence.
And these enemies of the, Church are powerful, and they are able to use many means to reach their purpose. Theirs are usually the wisdom and power, the riches and resources, the might and dominion of this world. It is by way of exception that God’s people are found in high places, occupy positions of authority and honor, belong to the rich and mighty of men. Hence, the world is in power. It is in a position to employ various means and methods to seek the destruction of the Church. Its wise men seek to entangle believers in their false doctrine, to lead them astray from the way of truth and righteousness. Its powerful men offer them a name and position, honor and riches, the treasures and pleasures of Egypt. Or they make the place of the faithful very narrow, take away their name and their job, their place and their very bread; and fill them with reproach, persecute them, leave them no standing room in the world, kill them all the day long.
All through the ages of this dispensation these attacks of the enemies have been launched against the Church in the world. And Scripture very dearly predicts that there will be more of such assaults in the future. We must not expect that the world will assume a friendly attitude toward the, Church, if the latter is faithful. On the contrary, the time is still coming when there will be a great tribulation, when the very elect would be deceived if the days were not shortened, when the love of many shall wax cold, and they that refuse to worship the beast will not be able to buy or to sell. The cruel sword of the world power shall literally be turned against the Church once more, and as never before, in those days.
Thus the world seeks to destroy the Church.
She shall never succeed, neither by her false philosophy, nor by her enticing offers, nor by her raving fury and bloody sword.
The Lord of the Church, who loved her and gave Himself for her, is Lord of the world also. He defends and preserves her against all her enemies.
O, He preserves them all by His grace. For He dwells in them by His Spirit, and abides with them forever. He never forsakes them. He ever lives to make intercession for them. In the midst of all these subtle dangers He is able to preserve His Church. No one can pluck the faithful out of His hand. He keeps them toy His grace.
But He also defends and preserves them by His power. The enemies cannot touch them by His will and direction. This preservation is not such that the enemy has no power to make them suffer, and to persecute them even to the death. On the contrary, it is the will of our Lord that believers shall suffer with Him, and that they fill the measure of His suffering. But this defensive and preserving power of Christ does so operate that, first of all, the elect shall never be deceived and finally fall away; secondly, the enemy can attack and realize his wicked devices of destruction against the Church only under the direction of Christ, and to the extent that He permits him; and, thirdly, affairs of men and history are so directed that the world remains a house divided against itself, and cannot unite all its forces against the Church until the very end of time. In wars and contentions, in economize strife and dissension, in strikes, boycotts, and revolutions, the world is fighting itself, and cannot direct all her attention to the Church of Christ in the world. But Scripture instructs us that, toward the very end, the world will, for a little while, unite under one head. The man of sin must come, and- under him the forces of darkness will unitedly attack the true believers. However, he may not come before his time. Always there is something that withholds. And it is the power of Christ by which the world is so ruled that Antichrist cam appear only in his own time.
And even in the days of Antichrist, He will preserve and defend His own. All the forces of the universe He shall marshal to fight for His own, and -with the heat of the sun, the destructive elements of creation, hail, fire, locusts, wild beasts, earthquakes, pestilence, and the like, He shall oppose and harass the enemy, until He shall consume him by the sword that proceeds out of His mouth.
Christ is Lord over all, amid forever!
For “he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.” . It is true, to this it is added: “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all,” vs. 28. But this cannot mean that, in the end, Christ shall be deprived of His present power over all things, so that He shall not be king forever. On the contrary, He shall reign forever. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. It shall have no end. All things shall be united in and under Him in the new creation, and that unto unending ages of ages. Yet, even in that position, He is now, and shall forever be, subject to God. The power and dominion unto which He is exalted is vested in His human nature. In that nature the incarnated Son of God is subject to the Father, and He will be subject to Him also in the new creation.
Priest He is forever, after the order of Melchisedec.
Chapter 3: The Coming Of The Lord.
“From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”
In the Apostolic Confession, the Church inseparably connected the final judgment with the second coming of our Lord from heaven, and speaks in one breath of them.
The Heidelberg Catechism treats this article of the confession in question and answer fifty two: “What comfort is it to thee that Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead? That in all my sorrows and persecutions with uplifted head I look for the very same person, who before offered himself for my sake, to the tribunal of God, and has removed all curse from me, to come as judge from heaven: who shall cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me with all his chosen, ones unto himself, into heavenly joys and glory.”
However, even though also the Catechism devotes only one question and answer to these subjects, we shall have to speak of them separately.
But let us first pay attention to the spiritual note that is struck here by the catechism, and to the spiritual disposition and attitude that is assumed with relation to the coming again of the Lord, and the final judgment, We should not overlook these:, when we preach on these doctrines, especially not in the days in which we live. They, this spiritual note and attitude assumed, are all important. The Catechism does not inquire into the doctrinal implications of the future advent and judgment, but asks: “What comfort is it to thee that Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead?” The Catechism, therefore, proceeds from the assumption that, to the believer, to the Christian in this world, his faith that the Lord will come again to judge is a comfort to him.
In our own day, we might, perhaps, go a step farther back than the Heidelberger, and ask the question: “Is it a comfort to thee that Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead?” We are not living in a time when, as a whole, the Church is living in a proper attitude with respect to the coming again of her Lord. In that sense, the article of the Apostolicum concerning this coming of the Lord, is more or less obsolete. As the expression of the living comfort of faith, comparatively few take it upon their lips. It is true, there are many today that profess to look and long for a certain appearance or manifestation of the Lord, at which the faithful shall be taken out of this world, in order, for a time, the time of the great tribulation, to be with the Lord in the air. However, the Apostolic Confession does not refer to such a “rapture.” It speaks of the coming of our mighty Lord to judge the quick and the dead! It refers to the parousia; it has in mind the end of this world; it speaks of the final revelation of the righteous judgment of God. And the Catechism presents these truths, as do the Scriptures always, not as cold matters of fact, but as the objects of the believer’s joy and comfort, longing and hope. And the question may be raised: are we ready to follow the Catechism in this method of approach? It is not true that for many a Christian today, the advent and the judgment are matters that are either thought of very little, or, when they are thought about, they are objects of fear rather than of hope and, longing?
What is wrong?
If you will look closely at the answer the Heidelberg Catechism gives to this question, and compare it with the life of the Church in the world of our own day, it should not be difficult to discover what is wrong.
The spiritual disposition and attitude of the believer that is supposed to be able to answer the question ; “What comfort is it to thee that Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead?” is that of a conscious faith, and of the antithesis in relation to the world. It speaks of “all my sorrows and persecutions,” of looking “with uplifted head for the very same person, who before offered himself, for my sake, to the tribunal of God, and has removed all curse from me”; it makes mention of “his and my enemies” in one breath, and it rejoices in the hope that in that day these enemies of Christ and His Church shall be cast into everlasting condemnation, and in the hope of the justification and glorification of the saints with Christ: “he shall translate me with all his chosen ones unto himself, into heavenly joys and glory.”
But where is this faith manifest today?
Where are all our “sorrows and persecutions”? Are we not rather good friends with the world? Are we not seeking the things that are below rather than those that are above? Is it not a fact that we amalgamate and fraternize with the ungodly, and that we are not even willing to give up our job for Christ’s sake? And being so earthly- and worldly-minded, how could we possibly, except as a matter of dead tradition, speak of Christ’s enemies as ours, and long f or the day when He shall come to execute judgment and vengeance upon those enemies, whom we here joined, whose friendship we sought, and with whom we enjoyed the things of the world?
Let us remember that the Catechism proceeds from the presupposition of the antithesis: the believer stands for the cause of the Son of God in confession and walk in the midst of a world that lieth in darkness; hence, the enemies of Christ are his enemies, and he must suffer persecutions for his Lord’s sake.
And it is only in as far as we assume that position, keep our garments clean, put on no unequal yoke with the infidel, and are willing to suffer for Christ’s sake, that the coming again of our Lord can really be a comfort to us.
The hope of Christ’s coming and a sanctified walk in the world are inseparably connected.
And by the same token, love of the world and the comfort of Christ’s coming are mutually exclusive. If we walk as the enemies of the cross of Christ, “whose end is destruction,” whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things,” we cannot be interested in the parousia, we hate to think of the coming again of our Lord, and of the final revelation of the righteous judgment of God.
But if we are followers together of the apostles of the Lord Jesus, and keep our eye on them that walk after their example, our conversation is in heaven, and then we look from thence for the Savior, “who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself”.
This spiritual note of our Heidelberger in its fifty second question and answer must not fail to draw our attention, and to receive due emphasis.
Approaching now the subject of the second coming of our Lord, we may note that Scripture everywhere fixes the eyes of our hope upon that coming event, that final wonder of grace.
It is true that the Word of God also comforts believers in this world with the hope of glory that shall be their portion immediately after death, before the resurrection. It is also true that Scripture speaks of the coming of Christ in more than one sense of the word. He promised His disciples that He would not leave them orphans in the world, that He would come to them after His death and resurrection. For He would pray the Father, and He would give them another Comforter, that he might abide with them forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him; but they know him, for he dwelleth with them, and shall be in them.. This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. In the Spirit the glorified Christ returned to His own to dwell with and in them. It may even be said that Scripture speaks of a coming of the Lord throughout the ages. To the high priest’s question, whether he were the Christ, the Son of God, he replied: “Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and (coming in the clouds of heaven.” . And the phrase that is translated “hereafter” is better rendered by “from now on”, or “henceforth”. Christ is coming!
At the right hand of God, He is not idle, but constantly active with His great power. And all His activity is directed toward the final goal of His parousia. In that sense it may be said that He is constantly coming. He is coming in and through the preaching of the gospel, by which He gathers His Church until the last one of the elect shall have been called. He is coming also through all the events of this world, in wars and rumors of war, in unrest and revolutions, in earthquakes and famines, in all the tumult of the nations. For these events are so directed by His power that they lead up to the “day of the Lord.”
Yet, in last analysis, Scripture always directs the eye of our hope to the final coming of Christ, the last wonder of grace, whereby the history of this world will be closed, and the “age of ages,” the kingdom of heaven in all its glory and perfection will be ushered in.
Of this coming, His Parousia, the Lord Himself spoke elaborately when He was still with us in the likeness of sinful flesh. He forewarned us that many things must still be accomplished before the end can come. For “ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars,” and all these things must come to pass, yet, the end lies beyond them all. “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these things are the beginning of sorrows.”. Then, too, he warned us to expect great tribulation and distress before the redemption of the end will come. “For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elects’ sakes those days shall be shortened.” . And “immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” .