The coming of Christ to this earth was not some sudden, isolated, unexpected event. The advent of our blessed Lord, and with it the dawn of Christianity, marked a climax and a consummation. The world was prepared through long processes for the coming of the one and the preaching of the other. From Paradise to Bethlehem the centuries were preparing for the appearing of Emmanuel. As the processes of creation prepared the earth for man, so all history prepared the way for the birth of the Saviour. The Holy Scriptures focus the preparation in one race, but all peoples shared in the process. Outside of the elect, God was at work, and all streams converged to one center.
If we look closely at the character of the age when Christ was born, we may, in some measure at least, understand the "fullness" of which Gal.4:4 makes mention. It consisted chiefly in two things - preparation and need. There was a wonderful combination of circumstances tending to prepare the world for the Gospel, and a terrible climax in the world's need of redemption. The break up of old heathen faiths and the passing away of the prejudices of antiquity disposed men for a new revelation which was spiritual, humane and universal. The utter failure of Pagan religion from its immorality, and of pagan philosophy from its impotency to cure that immorality and the misery which accompanied it, called loudly for some fresh faith which should be both pure and powerful.
The century immediately preceding our Lord's advent was probably the most remarkable in all history. Everything was in a state of transition. Old things were passing away and there seemed little prospect that they would give birth to a better and brighter future. The fruit of the ancient order was rotting upon the tree without yielding the seeds of a new order. And yet there were strange rumors of coming relief afloat, and singular hopes stirred the hearts of men that some Great One was to appear and renovate the world. But to particularize --
The world had reached its climacteric of sin.
History has given a faithful record of the terrible moral conditions which obtained among men in the century which immediately preceded our Lord's appearing. At Rome, which was then the metropolis of the world, the Court of Caesar was steeped in luxury and licentiousness. To provide amusement for his senators, six hundred gladiators fought a hand to hand conflict in the public theater. Not to be outdone, Pompey turned five hundred lions into the arena to engage an equal number of his braves, and delicate ladies (?) sat applauding and gloating over the flow of blood that followed. At this period children were the property of the State, to be disposed of as was deemed best for the public interests. Weak and sickly infants were looked upon as a useless encumbrance and generally suffered an early and cruel death. The aged and infirm were often banished to an island of the Tiber, there to starve out their few remaining days. Marriage, if such this holy institution could then be called, was wholly a matter of sensual caprice. Divorces were so common and frequent that it became the custom for women to count them by the number of rings worn on their fingers. Almost two-thirds of the population of the entire civilized (?) world were computed to have been slaves. Those who were in this unhappy situation were treated with the utmost cruelty. Their masters had absolute power over them and were permitted to scourge or put them to death at pleasure. This right was exercised in the most merciless manner. When punished capitally slaves were generally crucified. So wretched was the lot of mankind that the sanest of the philosophers of that time calmly advocated suicide as the best way of escape from the miseries of life.
Conditions in Greece were even worse. Sensual indulgence and every species of cruelty were carried to the highest pitch. Eating, or we should say, gluttony, became the chief occupation, everything being ransacked to gratify the appetite. Fornication was indulged without restraint. Parents were at liberty to expose their children to perish with cold and hunger or to be eaten up by wild beasts. Such exposure was frequently practiced and passed without punishment or censure. Wars were carried on with the utmost ferocity. If any of the vanquished escaped death slavery of the most abject kind was the only prospect before them and in consequence death was considered preferable to capture. The nature of their conflicts then can well be imagined. The Greeks commonly sacrificed their captives at the tombs of their heroes. With what truth then did the Scriptures declare that, "the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty"!
We say then, the world had reached its climacteric of sin. Often-times a disease cannot be treated until it comes to a head.' In view of the above conditions surely the world was ready for the appearing of the Great Physician, and surely we can now discover a deeper meaning in the words, "When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son."
The world had reached its consummation of Want.
It had been predicted of old that the Messiah should be "the Desire of all nations," and to this end there must be a complete exposure of the failure of all human plans of deliverance. This time had fully come when Christ was born. Never before had the abject misery and need of men been so apparent and so extensive. Philosophy had lost its power to satisfy men, and the old religions were dead.
The Greeks and Romans, stood at the head of the nations at the time our Lord appeared on the earth, and the religious state of these people in that age is too well known to require any lengthy description from us. Without exception all were idolaters. The fundamental truth of the Unity of God was held by the Jews alone. Among the heathen, Polytheism and Pantheism were the popular concepts. Innumerable deities were worshipped and to these deities were attributed the most abominable characteristics. Pagan worshipers represented their gods as guilty of drunkenness, thefts, quarrels and incest. Mercury was a thief; Bacchus a drunkard; Venus was a harlot; and Saturn murdered his own children. The worship of their devotees entirely correspond with the characters their gods bore. Human sacrifices were frequently offered upon their altars.
Among the Romans, infidelity and atheism were rampant. The altars were forsaken and the temples were deserted. The general skepticism of his countrymen seems to have been voiced by the bitter words of Pilate -- "What is truth?"
Judaism was also fully ripe for the accomplishment of ancient prophecy. Sadduceeism had leavened the ruling classes and afflicted the whole nation with rationalism. Phariseeism, which represented the ideas and ideals of the popular party, was too often only formal and hypocritical, and at best was cold and hard "binding heavy burdens" and laying on men's shoulders a load which they refused to touch with their fingers (Matt.23:4). The Jewish people were under the government of Rome and were thoroughly dejected. Was there then no eye to pity, no arm to save? Was God unmindful of the tragic conditions of mankind? No; blessed be His name. The "fullness of time" had now come. Earth's fields were "white unto harvest." A platform was erected on which the glories of God's grace might be exhibited. His own blessed Son now appeared among men and the glorious Gospel was proclaimed far and wide. The "fullness of time," then, spoke of ripeness of opportunity and consummation of need.
History repeats itself. As it was in connection with the first advent so it is concerning the second. Just as there was a definite and unmistakable movement in all history preparing the way for the Dispensation of Grace, so is there a similar one going on now making ready the world for the Millennium. Just as the world's urgent need was fully demonstrated before the Saviour appeared among men, so shall it also be ere He comes back as the Prince of Peace to take the government upon His shoulder. And to those who have "understanding of the times," to those whose eyes are not blinded by the glare of a false and foolish optimism, it is evident that the "fullness of times" is rapidly drawing nigh, yea, that it is already almost upon us.
History is repeating itself. Conditions in the world today more closely resemble those which obtained just before the first coming of Christ, than have those of any other generation since then. Today the same luxury and licentiousness; the same skepticism and credulity; the same coldness and formality among those who profess to be God's people; the same lack of natural affection toward children and disrespect for the aged; the same military spirit and lust for blood, followed now by the enslaving of the conquered -- deportation of the Belgians. The need of the world for a competent and righteous Ruler was never so apparent as now. The "Dispensation of the fullness of times" must be at hand. As all History prepared the world for our Lord's first advent, so it is now "making straight His way" for His second coming, when He shall be seen not in a manger but on a throne of Glory; not as the victim, but as the Victor.
But we must restrain our pen and conclude in few words. We have examined many Scriptures, we have listened to the evidence of numerous witnesses, we have compared sundry and independent lines of prophecy, and we have found that they harmonize in their testimony, that they are mutually corroborative, that each sustains the truthfulness of the others, that singly and unitedly they affirm with voice loud and clear "the Coming of the Lord draweth nigh!" Never before did the Church of God gaze upon such a constellation of Signs attesting the near approach of the Redeemer, as it does today. Never before was there such unmistakable demonstration that this Gospel age is rapidly drawing to a close. Never before was there such reason for the sinner to heed that word "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found; Call ye upon Him while He is near." And never before was there such urgent need for believers to obey that admonition -- "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning: and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord"(Luke 12:36, 37). The Bridegroom cometh! Then trim your lamps and go forth to meet Him.