Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?The Future of the Christian Church
What is to be the future of the Church of Christ on earth? Is the kingdom of God advancing and still to advance? Often it seems to the faithful that they are in presence of a standstill, or even of a retrogression. They are tried, strained, surprised at the slow victories of faith. It seems as if the Gospel were slighted, put aside, failing of its full effect Sometimes they have days of glorious triumph, but often the heart sinks before the continued and present power of evil. It is no wonder that this should be so, for the demands and expectations are greater than before, and the difficulties are not less. The work grows heavier, and it does not always seem to grow clearer and more hopeful. So we perplex ourselves. We say, Is the power of Christians at home as great as it used to be? Is that power increasing or diminishing in the vast realms of heathendom? Are we bringing in converts in numbers proportionate to the growth in population? It is not easy for us to judge the truth of things around us, and if we can read the future it can only be by the light of revelation. 'What are your prospects?' was the question put to an intrepid missionary. He answered, and he could never have bettered the reply, 'They are as bright as the promises of God'.
I. There are three theories of the future of Christianity which have been held by Christians.
1. There are those who say that we are never to look for a glorious future to the Church on earth. There is to be no such thing as a universal spread of the Gospel. The Church is not to wax, but wane. The kingdom of heaven has nothing to do with the world but to condemn it.
2. There is another view of which one hears very little in these days, though it was the doctrine of the early Church, and though it may ground itself much more securely on the words of the New Testament—both in the Gospels and in the Epistles. It is that the power of good and the power of evil will alike increase. 'Let both grow together until the harvest,' is the word of our Lord. St. Augustine taught that, however the leaven of the Gospel may spread, the power of evil and the malignity of evil will advance. It is all contained in one dread word seldom spoken now—the word antichrist. In that dark time the daily sacrifice would be taken away, words which were interpreted to mean the forcible cessation of all religious worship. St. Augustine doubted whether baptism would be administered during that period. Further, taking the words of our Lord, that the abomination that maketh desolate should be set up in the holy place, it was foretold that some terrible form of blasphemy with rites of devil-worship would be substituted for the service of Christ in the churches. The power seemingly victorious would work miracles, overwhelming the imagination with signs that might deceive the very elect. The spirit of antichrist has never been quite dormant in the world. The Emperor Julian was taken as in a degree typical of the antichrist who was to come. In the French Revolution there were many of the works of antichrist, and we may freely admit that there are powers existing, and not so very far away, which might yet find the work of antichrist congenial. So then, in the view of the early Church, the kingdom of Christ would grow steadily; the kingdom of Satan would also grow steadily. The two hostile powers would come into conflict in a battle in which the Church would seem to tremble and waver. Then Christ Himself would appear and consume the antichrist by the breath of His mouth, and destroy him by the brightness of His coming.
3. There is, thirdly, the theory of hope, the theory that in manifold ways, some apparent and some hidden, the kingdom of God keeps coming, and will come. There is the faith that the armies of the aliens, in spite of all we see, are being beaten back, and that in the end evil will gradually die out of the living world and be merged in the good. Not that the solemn warnings of Scripture and the stern facts of life are ignored. The words of our Lord, so plain, so unmistakable, are not to be forgotten. 'The enemy that soweth them is the devil.' Our fight is not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, with Satanic hosts on which no impression is made by what is called civilization, or social reform, or intellectual enlightenment. But the promises look to the extension of the Redeemer's kingdom, to the flowing of all nations to the mountain of the Lord's House, to the day when they shall not hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain, when the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
II. The promise is notable for its use of the word 'Remember'. 'All the ends of the world shall remember, and turn unto the Lord.' I wish you to linger upon that. One great subject of philosophers in these days is the subliminal consciousness, the vast store of ideas and impressions in the mind which are sleeping but not dead, which may spring to life at a touch or a call, which may even energize for themselves when we are ignorant of their action. What is lying dormant in the heart of heathendom? The ends of the world shall remember. It is in memory that all conversion begins. 'How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare!' said the prodigal, as he remembered his father's house. Will the nations one day remember the house of their Father? They tell us that there lingers in the races, however sunken and degraded, the memory of a golden time when God and man were friends. Max Müller tells us that the theory of a primitive revelation is found both among the lowest and among the most highly civilized races. It is a constant saying among African tribes that formerly heaven was nearer to earth than it is now, that the highest God, the Creator Himself, formerly gave lessons of wisdom to human beings, but that afterwards He withdrew Himself from them, and dwells now far from them in heaven. The Hindus say the same. They look back, as in the hymn of the sage Vasishtha: 'Where are those friendships of us two? Let us seek the harmony which we enjoyed of old. I have gone, O self-sustaining Varuna, to thy vast and spacious house with a thousand gates. He who was thy friend, intimate, thine own and beloved, has committed offences against thee.'
What they remember is the existence of one God.
Monotheism is the natural religion, and remains in the quiet background, however obscure or overlaid. This is the authentic saying of a Kaffir when the Gospel was first preached: 'We had this word, the name of God, long before the missionaries came; we had God long ago, for a man when dying would utter his last words saying, "I am going home, I am going up on high." For there is a word in a song which says:—
Guide me, O Hawk!
That I go heavenward,
To seek the one-hearted man,
Away from the double-hearted men
Who deal with blessing and cursing.'
Then there is the endless sense of sin, of ignorance, of the need of sacrifice. I have no time to adduce examples, but who can be blind to the unbroken witness of the human race, to the immeasurable and mysterious power of sacrifice, and to the truth that the gulf that has opened between God and His erring creatures can only be closed by sacrifice? How wonderful are the stories of Codrus offering himself to die for his people, of Decius volunteering for his army, of the Chinese Emperor Thang devoting himself as a victim for his famine-stricken subjects! 'Let this be my substitute, this my expiation,' is the word spoken over the sin-offering. Nay, the secret of the Cross was almost divined before it was uttered.
III. 'All the ends of the world shall remember, and turn to the Lord.' Mark that where Jesus is not preached as Lord, there are no Christian missions. We believe in the Church outside the Churches, in the spreading of the Christian spirit in many places where the name of Christ is denied. But it has been well said that in what may be called extramural Christianity, the Christianity of men like Carlyle and Huxley, there is no zeal even for the application of Christian principles to the heathen races. There are noble exceptions, but the record of Carlyle is among the blackest in this respect. Nor has there been a sustained and energetic propaganda of Christianity among those who take away God manifest in the flesh, and leave us a human example; those who take away a living Saviour and leave us an entombed body; who take away the power of God in human life, and leave us a law, a hero, and a Cross. This Christianity which leaves us a human Christ is a Christianity which is local and temporal. The true Christianity is as universal as the love of God. Christianity is not the climbing of men to heaven by a tower of Babel, but the descent of the new Jerusalem out of heaven from God.
—W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, p. 279.
References.—XXII. 27.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1047. XXII. 28.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, A Year's Plain Sermons, p. 151. XXII. 29.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1500. XXII.—International Critical Commentary, vol. i. p. 188.
O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts.
I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly.
Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
Save me from the lion's mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
For the kingdom is the LORD'S: and he is the governor among the nations.
All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.