"And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." - Rev. 22:17.
Charles Robson: The first advent of Jesus Christ was an event of supreme significance, and we do well to recall with real gratitude the incarnation of the Eternal Word of God. Yet when we turn to the New Testament, we find that the look of the early Church was not backward to the first advent, but forward with eager expectancy to the great event that we designate the Second Advent. And was not the first with a view to the second? The Word of God came in the flesh to deal with sin, and whatever speculations we may indulge regarding the Incarnation as a necessary moment in revelation even apart from the fact of sin, we feel that the emphasis of the New Testament is not upon the Incarnation as a revelation of the ideal man in Christ, but rather upon this as a step towards the supreme moment of Calvary. The first advent pointed to the Cross. "Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21).
But another message is given when the New Testament speaks of the Second Advent. When Christ comes the second time it is apart from a dealing with the question of sin, and is with a view to the completion of the salvation brought in at the first coming. This was the radiant hope of the early Church. The memory of the first coming is then swallowed up in the expectancy of a greater day, the day when He who was born as a little child and was crucified in weakness will return in majesty and power that He may be crowned King of kings and Lord of lords.
And the Revelation of St. John is the book of the Second Advent. Not that here only or even chiefly is our hope grounded, for our hope rests on the promise of Christ, and no New Testament writer is ignorant of this hope. But the Apocalypse of St. John almost visualizes the hope for us.
It is said that while we hear much of the Second Advent in the earlier letters of St. Paul, the emphasis is less strong in the later letters. This may be true, and the hope yet have a real place in St. Paul's later days. In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul looks for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, from heaven, "who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil. 3:21); and in his second letter to Timothy, he looks forward to the day when "not to him only, but unto all them also that love His appearing," (2 Tim. 4:8) will the Lord, the righteous judge, give the crown of righteousness.
But we call the book of the Revelation of St. John the book of the Second Advent, because the great hope runs through the chapters like a golden thread, and because with wonderful sweep of mind and spirit this book sets before us the certain issue of those great spiritual principles for which our Christian faith stands, an issue of complete triumph which the Lord will give to His own when He comes the second time apart from sin unto salvation (Heb. 9:28).
And thus the great hope is no mere cry of selfish desire, but it is rather the energy of a living Evangel. "Maran Atha!" (Aramaic, 1 Cor. 16:22) said the early Church, "Lord, Come!" "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17).
Is not the Church of to-day missing something through lack of desire for the coming Christ? "I venture to think it a great weakness of our teaching," it was said by one at the centenary of Dr. Horatius Bonar, "that so little is said about the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Saviour." "And," said another on the same occasion, "as there is nothing between us and the Cross, so there must be nothing between us and the return, not even a thousand years."
Nor will the eager expectancy of the Return steal from us the sense of the real Presence of our Lord here and now. It will rather add to it a rare joy as we remember that at any moment the cloud which separates our Lord from His friends may part, and "Him whom having not seen we yet love" (1 Peter 1:8), we shall behold face to face (1 Cor. 13:12), as "with hand like to our hand, the Lord throws open the gates of new life to us, and we see the Christ stand."
A threefold witness confirms this hope, and gives to us the call of the great Evangel. Does the Church at any season faint for the flaming of the advent feet? It is the Spirit, according to my text, inspiring this love-cry.
There is the Witness of the Spirit. This must mean that the word of revelation breathed into the human spirit by the Divine Spirit completes itself in the hope of the advent. And, whether in psalm or prophecy, this is the cry heard both in the Old and in the New Testament Church. Quite probably the seers and the singers of the Old Testament were thinking specially of what we call the first coming when, in vision and in song, they uttered the longing of the heart for God.
But who that would rightly understand spiritual longing would ever dream of finding the final fruition of hope there? They builded better than they knew, and in their love-yearning for their Lord, were they not forecasting the day when the fulfiller of our hope would come, not as mortal man to suffer and to die, but as a King cometh whose throne has been prepared from of old? It was the very glory of the vision which poesy and prophecy laid upon the altar of the nation's service that caused the Jewish people to be filled with disappointment when He who claimed to be the Christ of God came not with battle shout of warrior but in weakness and in lowliness. So great had been the promise; so poor seemed the fulfillment!
And yet, through all the bright hopes of expectant lives and amid the large spaces of revelation, the Spirit was saying, "Come," (Rev. 22:17) and was teaching the Church to set her face towards the dawning of the day when the Lord Christ would come not to suffer but to reign.
But the crown could be reached only through the Cross. For He who would lift men to the heights must dwell with them in the depths. And if only the veil were taken away from the face of Israel in the reading of the Old Testament (2 Cor. 3:14), would not Israel turn to the Lord, and in the Christian hope of the Second Advent discern the fulfillment of all the promises made to their fathers? For the witness of Jesus is the spirit of all prophecy (Rev. 19:10).
And how impoverished would the Old Testament become if we were not permitted to see Christ in it, and in the hope of the Second Advent to find the answer to all the expectation of Israel! "The Old Testament," says the writer of The Shadow Christ [The shadow Christ; an introduction to Christ himself, by Gerald Stanley Lee. New York, Century Co., 1896.], "would be the most discouraging book in the world without knowing that a new one followed it." Have you ever tried to read the Old as if there were no New Testament?
To the Christian mind this is, of course, quite impossible. For from the day when we heard the cry Maran Atha, we have heard the music of the advent hope in all the messages of the Old Testament, and we have felt how true was the seer's interpretation of it when, with fine insight into the message of revelation, he thus speaks, "The Spirit says, Come."
The visions of the land of far distances had brought no comfort but for the sight of the King in His beauty. And we are surely permitted to believe that the Spirit did mean all the larger horizons that we are perceiving in our own day, and was making ready the Old Testament Church for the hour when Christ would come the second time. So the Church, the bride of Christ, has taken up the cry and in the language of the Spirit also says, "Come."
There is further the Witness of the Church. The Bride says, Come. The cry of the Spirit had been in vain if the heart of the Church had not echoed it back to heaven, just as Calvary had been in vain if none had there learned to follow in the train of Jesus.
But the voice that sounded upon the heights of vision was heard in the vale, and the voices of the people took up the cry of hope till in the heart of the nation was born a patient waiting for the consolation of Israel.
And can we doubt that in the renewed interest of the Church in the return of Israel's sons and daughters to the Holy Land [the Balfour Declaration], we are seeing the fulfillment of the nation's desire, the nearing of the hour when "The Lord will have mercy on Jacob yet, and again in his border see Israel set?" (Isa. 14:1)
Simeon, going up to the temple to meet the Christ and to hail the first appearance of the morning star, represents the countless hosts that during the ages have looked for the coming day, whose faith has not faltered, and whose children have caught up the cry, saying as they have looked for a consolation greater than even Simeon foresaw, "Come, Lord Jesus, Come quickly" (Rev. 22:20).
And why should the Church take up this cry of the Spirit? Because the Church as the incarnation of the Spirit must express the mind of the Spirit, and make vocal the longing that lies in the heart of every one who has experienced the grace of the first advent. And did not the Lord Himself say, "Watch" (Matt. 25:13)?
And why should the Church watch for the great day? Because it is the day when the risen and the exalted Lord will reign visibly among his people, and usher in the victory of the Divine Kingdom.
I grant you that much picture symbolism is used in Scripture to depict the day, symbolism that we must never seek to interpret as if it were cold prosaic speech. Yet if the symbolism of the advent hope may be taken by us as conveying a message for our own day, it is surely this, that not by the gradual evolution of civilization, or by the mere bettering of human society, but only by the emergence in time and through the processes of history, of the supernatural power of God as that works through the Spirit of Christ, will the divine purpose be fulfilled. And it will be fulfilled.
Here to my mind is the essential truth of all the Apocalyptic imagery of Scripture. It assures me that the battle of the Church is not of doubtful issue, but that Jesus Christ, who even at this hour controls and directs the destinies of the Church, will Himself, by the power of His own presence, give victory to His own Cause.
"There is a kind of unreasoning optimism," wrote that great saint and scholar, Dr. James Hope Moulton [1863-1917], "which is growing in our midst, and is in great need of correction by the essential spirit of the New Testament. An optimist the Christian must be, but it does not follow that he must be optimistic as to the true future of the present world.... We dare not acquiesce in the materialistic conviction that this present world only needs mending, not ending, to make the ideal home for righteousness to dwell in for evermore."
And, in speaking of the social activities that are so plentiful to-day, he adds, "Must we not recognize that there is a subtle peril lest in all these activities we should unconsciously assimilate ourselves to the world around us?... It is surely open to question whether the progress that we have ourselves seen in this wonderful generation has advanced so very greatly the happiness of the greatest number.... I only want to insist that we have no sufficient grounds for believing that material progress will ever cleanse the Augean stable of this world, or even of this enlightened England, sufficiently to make it a site for the Heavenly City of our faith. Even material considerations prove to us that earth is not and cannot be an abiding city."
And he thus concludes, "But we have our hope set on the Son of Man, to whom all authority is given in heaven and on earth, and in that Beatific Vision we purify ourselves as He is pure."
And is not this the great hope of the Church, a hope grounded on the words of our Lord who declared that He would come again (John 14:3), and on the witness of His Spirit in the New Testament Church, when taking the things of Christ and showing them unto us, there breathed into the Church the great hope of the Lord's appearing? And "the vision is yet for an appointed time; it shall surely come, it will not tarry" (Hab. 2:3) Therefore with the Spirit, the Church, the Bride of the Lamb, says, "Come."
"The days are evil, looking back
The coming days are dim:
Yet count we not His promise slack,
But watch and wait for Him."
The Witness of the Church is the second Witness.
There is yet a third witness, the witness of the individual believer in Christ.
"Let him that heareth say, Come" (Rev. 22:17). This is not the call of the Evangel [Gospel message], but it is the call to the individual believer to add his prayer to the desire of the Church and to say, "Even so come, Lord Jesus" (Rev. 22:20). For, if our hope of the advent must not rob us of the joy of the living presence of our Lord here and now, neither must that joy hide from us the coming of the coronation day of our King.
The cry of the Church must meet its response in my own heart if I would be a sharer in the snatching-away of my Lord's advent (1 Thess. 4:17). And here let me ask: Why should any particular doctrine as to the form of the great advent shut anyone out from the spiritual fruitage that is dependent upon the radiant hope of the Church?
St. Peter speaks of looking for and hastening unto the coming of our Lord (2 Peter 3:12). Does this mean that by my lack of expectation, by my personal failure to fulfil my own share in the preparation for the great day, I may retard the hour of the advent? The words of the Apostle would seem to indicate this. Then the first great preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ is to believe in the reality of that coming, to send hope forward to greet the dawn, and, like Abraham, to salute the promise afar off.
And St John would tell us that we are missing something for ourselves if we do not say, "Come." We are keeping back the divinely intended fruition of the Church's life and service if Maran Atha has no place in our vocabulary of prayer and ardent desire.
For, first of all, our personal life thus becomes disjoined from the hope of the Church. Our own life is bound up with the life of the whole Church, and we cannot be effective members of the body of Christ if we separate either consciously or heedlessly from the Spirit's promptings which are surely the call of the directing Head. If the Spirit and the Bride say, "Come," we must join in the call.
To contract ourselves in any way out of the fellowship of the Spirit is to impoverish our deepest life. We have heard and we must speak, else we lose the radiant and the abundant life God means for each of us. Therefore "let him that heareth say, Come."
Further, by standing outside the call we lose a powerful secret of Christian character. "Seeing ye look for such things," said Peter, "be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless" (2 Peter 3:14). Here is an impulse to character that we cannot afford to pass by.
And St. John would here agree with his brother apostle, for he assures us that if we forget the hope we lose the "moment by moment" desire to be like Him. "Every man that hath this hope set on Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3). And without this hope do we not miss the right sense of the relative worth of life's gains?
If we believe that our Lord may at any moment appear, shall we spend our days placing an undue emphasis on what will then pass away? The ambitions of a day will not count for much if we are careful to have our treasure laid up in Christ. And as this hope becomes more vital, personal character will the more be transformed by it.
Dr. John R. Mott [1865-1955] has told of certain students who kept back from Bible study because of their fear that the study would bring an imperative call for a changed character. Our relation to the hope of the coming Christ will make a difference in the tests of life and in the secret pursuits of the soul. In the light of the great appearing, how will certain matters look which to-day we are stressing so greatly? Will the first become last and the last first?
"When earth breaks up and heaven expands,
How will the change strike you and me
In the House not made with hands?"
If Jesus were to-day seen walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, how would our pursuits look? If Christ were seen standing among us in this day's worship, how would our sacrifices look? And any moment He may come in upon us. Surely in the blessed hope of the advent we have a wooing and an urgent call to holiness.
Then without the radiant hope of the advent our life misses as certain inspiration to service. Whether Christ come soon or late, is it not true to say that the time is short? We must therefore buy up every opportunity for service. And will not the inspiration of Christ's appearing speed us forward to realize the urgency of the Evangel?
The impulse of the words, "The evangelization of the world in this generation," would be greatly intensified if we believed that in this generation Christ might come [or World War II!]. How mighty would the impulse prove if we believed that Christ might come to-day! For, if with longing heart we say, "Lord, come," we shall surely go to the thirsty multitudes with the Gospel and call all who thirst for living springs to stoop down and drink of Him. We shall take up the word, "Let him that is athirst come" (Rev. 22:17).
If earnestly looking up we learn to say, "Even so come, Lord Jesus," we shall then quickly learn to add, with face and voice toward the world, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17).
These, then, are three witnesses and they agree in one great hope, a harmony that impresses us with the urgency of the Evangel. So last of all we come to speak of the threefold witness and the Evangel.
When St. John in the Revelation sends out his message to the Church, it is no call to a dreamy ease that is concerned only with personal salvation. And the voice is not only the corporate call of the Church, it is the love-yearning of the individual, "Let him that heareth say, Come." He who knows the joy of the redemption that our Lord brought in His first coming, will not be slow to join with his Lord in bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10). Those who have already drunk from the living waters will find their chiefest joy in leading thirsty ones to the same fount of satisfaction.
The great evangelistic passion will burn in the heart of him who looks for the coming of Christ. Would you wish to be alone on that day, without any sheaves to offer to the Lord of the harvest? (Luke 10:2)
The very hope of the advent will give you the message for life's thirsty ones. We have ourselves come to the well bringing no coin stamped at the world's mint, but only a thirst that nothing will quench but the waters of the fountain, and is not this our witness?
"I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him."
But there are many. whose chief pain is that they do not have a conscious thirst for Christ, nor any emotional longing that sends them to the fountain. Does the advent hope have any Gospel for the life that knows and would will the right but yet has no thirst for it? "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." "But, Lord, I forsook Thee and hewed out for myself broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13).
"I have not sought Thee, I have not found Thee,
I have not thirsted for Thee
And now cold billows of death surround me,
Buffeting billows of death astound me -
Wilt Thou look upon, wilt Thou see
Thy perishing me?"
What answer can the Evangel give to a life such as this? Long ago, in the heart of a prophet, the chord of love's music, of love strong as death, was struck, and the strains have sounded through all the days -
"I was ready to offer an answer to those that consulted Me not; and to suffer Myself to be found of those that had sought Me not. `Here am I, here am I,' I said to a people that call not upon Me" (Isa. 65:1).
Surely here is the Gospel for me if I thirst not and if my want of thirst is my pain. Christ is here to be found of me, He is here for the purpose of being found, God in Christ is thirsting for me who have not yet thirsted for Him!
"Yea, I have sought thee, yea, I have found thee;
Yea, I have thirsted for thee;
Yea, long ago with love's bands I bound thee,
Now everlasting arms surround thee:-
Through death's darkness I look and see,
And clasp thee to me."
Is this not a Gospel worth preaching? And is not the hope that gives strength to such a Gospel a hope worth cherishing? Thirsting or bemoaning our want of thirst, let us to-day drink of the well of Christ's love. And having heard the Spirit and the Bride say, "Come," we shall surely join in the ardent prayer, "Maran Atha!" "Lord, Come." And having heard the Lord's own response, "Behold, I come quickly," let us take up the cry of the Spirit and the Bride and say continually, "Even so come, Lord Jesus."
Sermon preached by Charles Robson, Alloa, Scotland, 1920
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