The early Christians not only accepted the doctrine of the Lord's coming as truth, but it was to them such a reality, that they "went forth to meet the Bridegroom." The Lord's coming again was their hope. It produced desires after the Lord Himself. They looked for the Saviour. It was to them the "blessed hope." They felt it to be an eminently practical doctrine. They waited for God's Son from heaven. This was manifesting the truth to every man's conscience in the sight of God: and will not this always be the case when the truth is held in the love of it?
But one of the most flagrant sins in Christendom which scripture has marked out, is the "evil servant," saying "in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming." It is not openly denying the doctrine, and joining the infidel in scoffing, and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? But, while professedly holding the doctrine, to so let slip the hope as to indulge in fleshly lusts and worldly associations, because in heart such believe He is not coming for some time yet. It must then be a deeply important matter, that we make no mistake as to the true state of our hearts, that we are day by day so taken up by faith with Christ Himself in heaven, as to desire to see His face; that His coming again is such a hope to our souls that we are practically acting like those, who, having heard the midnight cry, are going out to meet Him.
There are at least three points which appear to us to be involved in going forth to meet the Bridegroom; a desire, purpose, and activity.
1. Desire - The heart must be going up to Him whom having not seen we love. There must be the longing to see His face. This is something more than being in a sinless and happy place, more than having a crown of life and a harp of gold; it is even more than bridal attire, or the consciousness of being where there is no more sorrow nor death; yes it is seeing Him as He is - being for ever with the Lord, like the Lord, and near the Lord. Being now taken up with the Lord Himself as the commanding and satisfying object of our souls, and hope of our hearts, it becomes easy to abstract our minds from other objects, and to detach ourselves from other associations in order to go forth to meet the Bridegroom. This desire after Him, it seems to us, is more or less in every one who is born of God; though in some persons stifled, or hindered, by worldliness, carnality, and bad teaching. But there the desire is; for "we love him, because he first loved us." Until we see His face, how can we be satisfied? How can the heart be perfectly at rest, until we are before the object of its love? Then the climax of our souls' longing will be reached. The consummation of our desire will be realized. We shall wish for nothing more. Then we shall fully know the truth of our Saviour's words which we now in part enjoy, "He that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst." (John 6:35) Unutterable blessedness! When we see his face it will be perfect satisfaction and fullness of joy. This will be when He comes. We shall be caught up to meet Him in the air. What a meeting! What glory we shall then enjoy! What love encircling us we shall then know! What perfect delight to the longing, waiting soul!
2. Purpose - Nothing is more to be dreaded among Christians then a pointless, purposeless kind of life. We may be sure it is not an occasional desire, a spasmodic impulse, or a desultory activity, but the steady pursuit of purpose, that will mark those who go forth to meet the Bridegroom. It will stamp the springs and motives of our ways. It will give a heavenly complexion to all we do. When a man goes to meet a bosom friend, he steadily pursues his journey till they meet. He looks out on the way for his friend, but nothing stops his course; through rough and smooth, hill and dale, he perseveringly pursues his way. The fixed purpose of his heart is, that nothing shall stop him, till he meets the one he has gone forth to meet. And so with us; when the Lord is before us, as the bright and blesssed Object, which, by grace, has made everything else seem poor, how can we but pursue our heavenward course, seek to please Him, to honor Him, to suffer for His sake, and go forth to meet Him? In pursuing such a course there will be the denying of ungodliness and worldly lusts; there may be the loss of friends, and things of this life; the tongue of slander may be used against us, or the finger of scorn pointed at us; but when there is true purpose of heart cleaving to the Lord, we shall be unmoved by these things, we shall lay aside every impediment, and overcome every obstacle which may stand in the way of our going forth to meet Him. When the Lord Himself has His rightful place in our hearts, we cannot but willingly pursue our purpose at all costs.
3. Activity - The hope of our Lord's return is eminently practical. "He that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." It cannot be otherwise. The moment it ceases to be practical, we have let slip the hope. It is the awakening, comforting, purifying, and separating hope which Scripture sets before us. The announcement, "Behold the Bridegroom!" is God's power for awakening slumbering souls. "Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps." Those who have heard the cry have been aroused. Few, comparatively, perhaps, as yet have heard it, and even most of those are scarcely more than half awake. But those who are deaf to the midnight cry, are slumbering still. How simple, and yet how very solemn! Who then are truly awake? Those who have been roused by the hope of the Bridegroom's coming, and have gone forth with trimmed lamps to meet Him, Be assured, dear Christian reader, we cannot sleep as do others when going forth to meet the Bridegroom. The gladdening cry draws forth the energies and springs of divine life in us into real earnestness and activity. We then so stretch out in the ways of faith and hope, and loving attachment to our precious Lord Jesus, that those who are not really the Lord's cannot keep pace with us. This is strikingly solemn. The eyes of truly awakened souls are on the Lord Himself, for it is Him such are going forth to meet. The feet run toward Him. The hands are stretched out to Him. The heart cries "Come," for it is the Lord from heaven whom such expect. They feel the ruggedness of the path, and sometimes taste the bitterness of outward circumstances, but they still go forward and onward to meet the Bridegroom. On the other hand, those who merely hold the letter of scripture, who have never bowed to the Son of God, whose hearts have not been touched with divine grace, have not known remission of sins, and therefore have not received the Holy Spirit - foolish virgins who have" no oil" - cannot walk in the path of faith and hope; and, alas! not only find that the faithful are detached from them, but discover when too late the fatal mistake of their lamps having gone out. Thus when the Lord's coming has real effect on souls, it must practically separate them from heartless and powerless professors, and must also throw them into close and happy fellowship with others, who are truly going forth to meet the Bridegroom. Thus this "blessed hope" will necessarily even now be connected with rendings and separations, as well as close and spiritual fellowship with those who are really hoping for His coming.
How comforting too is this blessed hope! When the Thessalonian believers were sorrowful because they saw their brethren in Christ die [fall asleep], instead of the Lord coming for them as they thought would be the case, the apostle was inspired to instruct them, that those who had died in Christ, would come out of heaven with Christ when He comes to reign. He also tells them how they, as well as those who are alive when He comes, will get to heaven, in order to all come out together in the reign with Christ. He says, "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16, 17). How this must have comforted the bereaved! What solid consolation it must have given them to know that, when the Lord comes, the departed saints and living ones will be all together, and everlastingly happy, without another cloud or sorrow, in the Lord's most blessed presence. How many a mother has had her sorrow turned into joy by this blessed truth, when called to follow to the grave the remains of her precious offspring; and what multitudes of widows have wiped the tear of bitter anguish from off their sorrowing faces, at the thought of how soon, how very soon it may be, before they and their departed will meet the Lord in the air, and be forever with the Lord. Is it any marvel then that the apostle is instructed to enjoin those bereaved ones at Thessalonica not to sorrow as those who have no hope, but to be comforted; yea, to "comfort one another with these words?" We cannot conceive anything that could more sweetly and powerfully comfort the bereaved heart, than this special revelation of the Lord through Paul, to assure such of His intense desire that they should have this comfort in their sorrow and bereavement, during His absence. Can we find anywhere in the entire range of Holy Scripture, that which more touchingly brings home the Lord's warm desire for our consolation and sustainment during this time of tribulation and death? If the hope be bright in our souls, shall we not according to His loving desire be able to "comfort one another?" We gravely doubt whether any who have not the comfort of the Lord's coming themselves, will be able to "comfort one another with these words." We need to look plainly and unflinchingly into this very solemn matter, lest we be found trafficking in mere knowledge of doctrine, instead of comforting others "by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God." Clearly then it is a comforting hope.
The hope, too, is purifying. "Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3). As the Son from heaven is our bright and blessed hope, so is He the example for our walk. He is the standard of the daily purifying of those who go forth to meet Him. It needs but a moment's reflection to see what separation, what entire consecration, this involves; nay more, it shows what the practical walk will be of those who really have this hope. It does not say, he ought to purify himself, but he does it, "he purifieth Himself, even as He is pure. " How intensely solemn this is! How decisive, how searching, how sweeping! How it admonishes us to quicken our steps in going forth to meet Him; to be alive, awake, in earnest, to run with patience looking off unto Jesus; and while looking for Him, find out the narrow path on earth of going forth unto Him without the camp, bearing His reproach. It is clear enough that those who step out in the divinely ordered ways of faith, and love, and hope, at all costs, must, however unwillingly, leave those far behind who linger in the world's excitement and advantages, instead of openly warning souls against its impending and appalling doom. Loss in the worldling's account there must be, as well as suffering with a rejected Saviour if not for Him, if we really go forth to meet Him; but
The sufferings of this little while."
The weighty and searching question, dear christian reader, is, How far has the coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ produced practical results in us? May the Lord enable us to deal honestly with ourselves as in His presence, about this weighty matter! Has its purifying effect been so real in our consciences that we are separated from worldly companionships, and desire for worldly advancement, worldly possessions, worldly honors? Have the interests of Christ, and the hope of seeing Him, detached us from other interests, other objects, and other hopes? Are we caring for our Lord's household? How vast the contrast between the worldling's doom of darkness and judgment, and the Christian's hope of unfading light and glory! Oh, that these thoughts may prod,uce deep and solemn exercise in souls, lest any be found in the dreadful wile of Satan of talking about the Lord's coming, when, like Judas, the "pieces of silver" have really more charm than the "Lord Himself;" and Pilate's place of worldly honor and power, is esteemed more highly than the rejected Son of God. Oh, how can any be going forth to meet the Bridegroom, if, like Lot's wife, they are looking behind?
The Blessed Hope is a Practical Doctrine By C. H. Mackintosh