The Church of the Future
Haggai 2:4
Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, said the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest…

These prophecies of Haggai are all concerned with the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. The first of them is a prophecy of rebuke, in which God censures the people for devoting all their care and interest to the rebuilding of their own houses, and neglecting the temple, the site of which lay desolate and bare. But the second prophecy, "Be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the Lord, and work: for I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts," is of a different character. It is spoken for the encouragement of the people who had begun to be despondent as they compared the old temple, or their memories of the old temple, with the promise of the new that was at present before their eyes. No doubt it is a kind of misfortune to be born in a little age, to be born when there are none but little men, and when no great things seem to be in process of achievement either for God or for the world. Sometimes people speak as if the age in which we ourselves live were open to that kind of reproach. We have no men now in the service of the State like Chatham or like Peel. There are no names in our literature just now like the names of Scott and Thackeray, or Wordsworth and Tennyson. We have no preachers in our pulpits now like Chalmers. Even science itself seems to have fallen in many departments on little times, and there are not the discoveries made that thrill the imagination and give man's mind a new sense of its own possibilities. Now, it is against that kind of spirit that this prophecy is directed. It is not only a misfortune to be born in a time like that, but there is such a thing as temptation to give way to a spirit like that, and think the age in which we live is destitute of opportunities when it is not, and that there is-nothing for us to do because we are not disposed to set our minds to the work that awaits us. That kind of mood assumes nothing, and it forgets a great deal. It forgets that man has always great duties, and that man is always accompanied in his life through this world by a great Presence, and that if he has faith in his duties and faith in the presence of God which goes along with him, his life may be as great as human life has ever been. That kind of despondency and disparagement of our own time and of the work that God has given us to do is a thing that tends to fulfil its own lugubrious prophecies. Where there is no faith even Christ cannot do any mighty work, and we ought to remember these two things, — that God's work is always waiting to be done, that God always needs us, and surely also that if it is little we can do, it is all the more urgent that we should do that little and leave nothing of it undone. Now look at the encouragement that God in this prophecy gives to Israel and to us when we think of the work to which He calls us. First of all, there is the great encouragement contained in the fact that God has made a covenant with His people. "I am with you, saith the Lord of hosts: According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt." That word carried back the minds of the Israelites to the crossing of the Red Sea and to the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. The covenant which God makes with men is a kind of relation into which God enters with men by which His faithfulness and love are pledged to them. Now, when we in the Christian time think of the work to which God calls us, think of our own powers, think of our duties, and especially when we are tempted to despondency, the thing we have to remember, the thing to which we have to go back, is the Cross of Christ. The blood of Christ is the blood of an everlasting covenant; the death of Christ is the pledge that God has given us of a love from which He can never retreat; and the Cross has in our religion just the same kind of historical significance that the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt had for these Jews. It is something in which God has committed Himself to us in a way from which He can never withdraw. And surely, when we think of it, we can understand how much it must mean, and how securely we can lean upon it. Does anybody think, can anybody think, that God made that awful demonstration of His love for nothing, or that He made it for some little cause, or that He can lightly, or at all, back out of it? And let appearances in the Christian Church be never so mean, let the things that we see with our eyes at any particular time be as discouraging as we please; suppose the Church is a small handful in an unfriendly world; suppose the Church had to worship in no church instead of in a fine building; suppose it had to take ungifted men for leaders, men like Haggai instead of men like Isaiah; that does not alter the fact that the Church is built upon the Cross of Jesus Christ, that it has the people that God has made His own people by the blood of the everlasting covenant, that it has the greatest future before it of any society in the world, that it has God with it and infinite possibilities of service put within its reach. But, then, God gives special promises. Besides recalling to Israel the memory of His covenant, besides recalling to us the Cross of Christ and the infinite faithful promise and hope that there is in that, He gives special promises, and tells them that the great days to which they look back will be renewed, and far more than renewed. In that old time when God called His people out of Egypt there were physical convolutions — Mount Sinai shook before the Lord — but now God says the time is coming that I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and more than that, the thrill will pass out of the natural into the moral world, I will shake the nations, and the nations will come trembling and bring all their wealth to lay it at the service of God and His house. "The Desire of all nations shall come." The word translated "desire" is a collective word, and it means "the desirable things" of all the nations shall come. God will stir the nations and they will come to His house, and they will bring along with them everything on which they set store, and though the house looks a bare, poor, unfurnished, desolate house at present, it will be adorned with the wealth of all peoples. Everything on which human hearts set store will be lavished upon the house of God. And what does it mean now when God says to Us, "The desire of all nations shall come "? It means that everything on which human beings set value will be bestowed, and ought to be bestowed, on the enrichment and service of the Church. If we think what the history of the Church has been it will help us to see the meaning of that promise. Bishop Westcott has pointed out that there have been three great epochs in the history of the Christian Church. First, there was the time when the great creeds of the Church were constructed, the time when the Church devoted itself to the intellectual under. standing and interpretation of the Christian religion, when it built up the Christian doctrine of God, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the Christian doctrine of the Person of Christ, such as we find them in the great creeds accepted by all Christians. What did that mean? That meant the consecration of the Greek genius to the enrichment and service of the Church. Then we come to a different period. The great society of the ancient world crumbled into pieces, and as that old social order was dissolved the Christian society consolidated itself in its place, and a Catholic Church arose, covering all the civilised world of the time — Catholic Church — a Church with one uniform government, a Church with one visible head, a Church that gathered into itself all that had been characteristic of the old Roman world. And what did that mean? That meant the consecration of the Roman genius to the Christian Church. And then, since the Reformation we have had another epoch in the history of the Church. The Orthodox and the Catholic have been succeeded by the Evangelic Church, and the Evangelic Church has found its place and career among the free, expansive, aggressive peoples of Northern Europe and America. And what is it these nations value most? What they value most is individual liberty. And in that way, age after age, as the Gospel has invaded and conquered one branch of the human race after another, the dearest spiritual possession of that race — its intellect, or its sense for government, or its apprehension of liberty and responsibility — has been baptized into Christ, has been taken into the Church and made part of its strength and of its beauty. And that process has not finished the prophecy, "The desire of all nations shall come." The things that all the peoples prize will yet con tribute to the strength and beauty of God's sanctuary. Now, when we see that we see not only the promise of God — "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God" — we see not only the promise of God, but surely we see also a suggestion of our own duty. Whose fault is it that the Church is a poor affair? Whose fault is it that the Church is imperfect and bare and unadorned and unattractive? It is in great part our fault, the fault of those who are in the Church and come about it. God expects our best for it; not the things we do not care for. He expects our youth. God does not want us to give Him the dregs of a misspent life after we have bestowed the freshness of our youth in following our own passions and desires. God expects our best men, the most gifted in head and heart, in mind and affection, to offer themselves for His work in the world. There are two things God says He will do, in particular in connection with the Church, that we must remember. He says, "I will fill this house with glory." It looked a bare and unpromising place, but God assures His people it will have a splendour answering to its purpose. It will be a glorious house when the nations bring their gifts into it. And our Church will be a glorious place also when we bring into it everything that is dear to us, and when we consecrate all that to our God. The Church is full of glory when it is full of people who belong to God in the bonds of the new covenant, and who keep back nothing from Him; when it is full of people who are matured in their Christian experience, and who are clear in their Christian convictions and ardent in all their Christian duties. When God fills the Church with that kind of life, with the presence and the tokens of His Spirit in that shape, then it is full of that which we can understand as glory, full of all the splendour that God can set on our weak human nature. Again, He says, "In this place will I give peace." Now, peace may not seem a very great thing to mention after the things that we have been speaking about already. It may seem a little gift after glory, but God knows best, and I fancy there are few things that do more to bring people into the house of God, even at the present time, than just the hope of peace. These poor Jews were harassed with their enemies, and it would be a comforting thought to them when they were in the house of God that they were in sanctuary and in a safe place. Peace is a gift of God. It can only be obtained when it is obtained from God. It can only be obtained when we come face to face with God.

(J. Denney, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts:

WEB: Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,' says Yahweh. 'Be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,' says Yahweh, 'and work, for I am with you,' says Yahweh of Armies.

The Abiding of the Spirit the Glory of the Church
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