Heralds of the Morning
ONE of the most solemn and yet most
glorious truths revealed in the Bible is that of Christ's second coming to complete the
great work of redemption. To God's pilgrim people, so long left to sojourn in "the
region and shadow of death," a precious, joy-inspiring hope is given in the promise
of His appearing, who is "the resurrection and the life," to "bring home
again His banished." The doctrine of the second advent is the very keynote of the
Sacred Scriptures. From the day when the first pair turned their sorrowing steps from
Eden, the children of faith have waited the coming of the Promised One to break the
destroyer's power and bring them again to the lost Paradise. Holy men of old looked
forward to the advent of the Messiah in glory, as the consummation of their hope. Enoch,
only the seventh in descent from them that dwelt in Eden, he who for three centuries on
earth walked with his God, was permitted to behold from afar the coming of the Deliverer.
"Behold," he declared, "the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints,
to execute judgment upon all." Jude 14, 15. The patriarch Job in the night of his
affliction exclaimed with unshaken trust: "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that
He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: . . . in my flesh shall I see God: whom I
shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another." Job 19:25-27.
The coming of Christ to usher
in the reign of righteousness has inspired the most sublime and impassioned utterances of
the sacred writers. The poets and prophets of the Bible have dwelt upon it in words
glowing with celestial fire. The psalmist sang of the power and majesty of Israel's King:
"Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined. Our God shall come, and
shall not keep silence. . . . He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth,
that He may judge His people." Psalm 50:2-4. "Let the heavens rejoice, and let
the earth be glad . . . before the Lord: for He cometh, for He cometh to judge the earth:
He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with His truth." Psalm
Said the prophet Isaiah:
"Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the
earth shall cast out the dead." "Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead
body shall they arise." "He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God
will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of His people shall He take away
from off all the earth: for the Lord hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo,
this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the Lord; we have
waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation." Isaiah 26:19; 25:8, 9.
And Habakkuk, rapt in holy
vision, beheld His appearing. "God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount
Paran. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. And His
brightness was as the light." "He stood, and measured the earth: He beheld, and
drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual
hill did bow: His ways are everlasting." "Thou didst ride upon Thine horses and
Thy chariots of salvation." "The mountains saw Thee, and they trembled: . . .
the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high. The sun and moon stood still
habitation: at the light of Thine arrows they went, and at the shining of Thy
glittering spear." "Thou wentest forth for the salvation of Thy people, even for
salvation with Thine anointed." Habakkuk 3:3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 13.
When the Saviour was about to
be separated from His disciples, He comforted them in their sorrow with the assurance that
He would come again: "Let not your heart be troubled. . . . In My Father's house are
many mansions. . . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for
you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself." John 14:1-3. "The Son of
man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him." "Then shall He
sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations."
Matthew 25:31, 32.
The angels who lingered upon
Olivet after Christ's ascension repeated to the disciples the promise of His return:
"This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like
manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven." Acts 1:11. And the apostle Paul, speaking
by the Spirit of Inspiration, testified: "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven
with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God." 1
Thessalonians 4:16. Says the prophet of Patmos: "Behold, He cometh with clouds; and
every eye shall see Him." Revelation 1:7.
About His coming cluster the
glories of that "restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all
His holy prophets since the world began." Acts 3:21. Then the long-continued rule of
evil shall be broken; "the kingdoms of this world" will become "the
kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever."
Revelation 11:15. "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see
it together." "The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth
before all the nations." He shall be "for a crown of glory, and for a diadem of
beauty, unto the residue of His people." Isaiah 40:5; 61:11; 28:5.
It is then that the peaceful
and long-desired kingdom of the Messiah shall be established under the whole heaven.
"The Lord shall comfort Zion: He will comfort all her waste places; and He will make
her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord." "The
glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon."
"Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed
Desolate: but thou shalt be called My Delight, and thy land Beulah." "As the
bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee." Isaiah
51:3; 35:2; 62:4, 5, margin.
The coming of the Lord has
been in all ages the hope of His true followers. The Saviour's parting promise upon
Olivet, that He would come again, lighted up the future for His disciples, filling their
hearts with joy and hope that sorrow could not quench nor trials dim. Amid suffering and
persecution, the "appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" was
the "blessed hope." When the Thessalonian Christians were filled with grief as
they buried their loved ones, who had hoped to live to witness the coming of the Lord,
Paul, their teacher, pointed them to the resurrection, to take place at the Saviour's
advent. Then the dead in Christ should rise, and together with the living be caught up to
meet the Lord in the air. "And so," he said, "shall we ever be with the
Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words." 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18.
On rocky Patmos the beloved
disciple hears the promise, "Surely I come quickly," and his longing response
voices the prayer of the church in all her pilgrimage, "Even so, come, Lord
Jesus." Revelation 22:20.
From the dungeon, the stake,
the scaffold, where saints and martyrs witnessed for the truth, comes down the centuries
the utterance of their faith and hope. Being "assured of His personal resurrection,
and consequently of their own at His coming, for this cause," says one of these
Christians, "they despised death, and were found to be above it."--Daniel T.
Taylor, The Reign of Christ on Earth: or, The Voice
of the Church in All Ages, page 33.
They were willing to go down to the grave, that they might "rise free."-- Ibid.,
page 54. They looked for the "Lord to come from heaven in the clouds with the glory
of His Father," "bringing to the just the times of the kingdom." The
Waldenses cherished the same faith.-- Ibid., pages 129-132. Wycliffe looked forward to the
Redeemer's appearing as the hope of the church.-- Ibid., pages 132-134.
Luther declared: "I
persuade myself verily, that the day of judgment will not be absent full three hundred
years. God will not, cannot, suffer this wicked world much longer." "The great
day is drawing near in which the kingdom of abominations shall be overthrown."--
Ibid., pages 158, 134.
"This aged world is not
far from its end," said Melanchthon. Calvin bids Christians "not to hesitate,
ardently desiring the day of Christ's coming as of all events most auspicious;" and
declares that "the whole family of the faithful will keep in view that day."
"We must hunger after Christ, we must seek, contemplate," he says, "till
the dawning of that great day, when our Lord will fully manifest the glory of His
kingdom."-- Ibid., pages 158, 134.
"Has not the Lord Jesus
carried up our flesh into heaven?" said Knox, the Scotch Reformer, "and shall He
not return? We know that He shall return, and that with expedition." Ridley and
Latimer, who laid down their lives for the truth, looked in faith for the Lord's coming.
Ridley wrote: "The world without doubt--this I do believe, and therefore I say
it--draws to an end. Let us with John, the servant of God, cry in our hearts unto our
Saviour Christ, Come, Lord Jesus, come."-- Ibid., pages 151, 145.
"The thoughts of the
coming of the Lord," said Baxter, "are most sweet and joyful to
me."--Richard Baxter, Works, vol. 17, p. 555. "It is the work of faith and the
character of His saints to love His appearing and to look for that blessed hope."
"If death be the last enemy to be destroyed at the resurrection, we may learn how
earnestly believers should long and pray for the second coming of Christ, when this
and final conquest shall be made."-- Ibid., vol. 17, p. 500. "This is the day
that all believers should long, and hope, and wait for, as being the accomplishment of all
the work of their redemption, and all the desires and endeavors of their souls."
"Hasten, O Lord, this blessed day!"-- Ibid., vol. 17, pp. 182, 183. Such was the
hope of the apostolic church, of the "church in the wilderness," and of the
Prophecy not only foretells
the manner and object of Christ's coming, but presents tokens by which men are to know
when it is near. Said Jesus: "There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and
in the stars." Luke 21:25. "The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not
give her light, and the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven
shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great
power and glory." Mark 13:24-26. The revelator thus describes the first of the signs
to precede the second advent: "There was a great earthquake; and the sun became black
as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood." Revelation 6:12.
These signs were witnessed
before the opening of the nineteenth century. In fulfillment of this prophecy there
occurred, in the year 1755, the most terrible earthquake that has ever been recorded.
Though commonly known as the earthquake of Lisbon, it extended to the greater part of
Europe, Africa, and America. It was felt in Greenland, in the West Indies, in the island
of Madeira, in Norway and Sweden, Great Britain and Ireland. It pervaded an extent of not
less than four million square miles. In Africa the shock was almost as severe as in
Europe. A great part of Algiers was destroyed; and a short distance from Morocco, a
village containing eight or ten thousand inhabitants was swallowed up. A vast wave swept
over the coast of Spain and Africa engulfing cities and causing great destruction.
It was in Spain and Portugal
that the shock manifested its extreme violence. At Cadiz the inflowing wave was said to be
sixty feet high. Mountains, "some of the largest in Portugal, were impetuously
shaken, as it were, from their very
foundations, and some of them opened at their summits,
which were split and rent in a wonderful manner, huge masses of them being thrown down
into the adjacent valleys. Flames are related to have issued from these mountains."--
Sir Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, page 495.
At Lisbon "a sound of
thunder was heard underground, and immediately afterwards a violent shock threw down the
greater part of that city. In the course of about six minutes sixty thousand persons
perished. The sea first retired, and laid the bar dry; it then rolled in, rising fifty
feet or more above its ordinary level." "Among other extraordinary events
related to have occurred at Lisbon during the catastrophe, was the subsidence of a new
quay, built entirely of marble, at an immense expense. A great concourse of people had
collected there for safety, as a spot where they might be beyond the reach of falling
ruins; but suddenly the quay sank down with all the people on it, and not one of the dead
bodies ever floated to the surface."-- Ibid., page 495.
"The shock" of the
earthquake "was instantly followed by the fall of every church and convent, almost
all the large public buildings, and more than one fourth of the houses. In about two hours
after the shock, fires broke out in different quarters, and raged with such violence for
the space of nearly three days, that the city was completely desolated. The earthquake
happened on a holyday, when the churches and convents were full of people, very few of
whom escaped."-- Encyclopedia Americana, art. "Lisbon," note (ed. 1831).
"The terror of the people was beyond description. Nobody wept; it was beyond tears.
They ran hither and thither, delirious with horror and astonishment, beating their faces
and breasts, crying, 'Misericordia! the world's at an end!' Mothers forgot their children,
and ran about loaded with crucifixed images. Unfortunately, many ran to the churches for
protection; but in vain was the sacrament exposed; in vain did the poor creatures embrace
the altars; images, priests, and people were buried in one common ruin." It has been
estimated that ninety thousand persons lost their lives on that fatal day.
Twenty-five years later
appeared the next sign mentioned in the prophecy--the darkening of the sun and moon. What
rendered this more striking was the fact that the time of its fulfillment had been
definitely pointed out. In the Saviour's conversation with His disciples upon Olivet,
after describing the long period of trial for the church,--the 1260 years of papal
persecution, concerning which He had promised that the tribulation should be
shortened,--He thus mentioned certain events to precede His coming, and fixed the time
when the first of these should be witnessed: "In those days, after that tribulation,
the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light." Mark 13:24. The
1260 days, or years, terminated in 1798. A quarter of a century earlier, persecution had
almost wholly ceased. Following this persecution, according to the words of Christ, the
sun was to be darkened. On the 19th of May, 1780, this prophecy was fulfilled.
"Almost, if not
altogether alone, as the most mysterious and as yet unexplained phenomenon of its kind, .
. . stands the dark day of May 19, 1780,--a most unaccountable darkening of the whole
visible heavens and atmosphere in New England."--R. M. Devens, Our First Century,
An eyewitness living in
Massachusetts describes the event as follows: "In the morning the sun rose clear, but
was soon overcast. The clouds became lowery, and from them, black and ominous, as they
soon appeared, lightning flashed, thunder rolled, and a little rain fell. Toward nine
o'clock, the clouds became thinner, and assumed a brassy or coppery appearance, and earth,
rocks, trees, buildings, water, and persons were changed by this strange, unearthly light.
A few minutes later, a heavy black cloud spread over the entire sky except a narrow rim at
the horizon, and it was as dark as it usually is at nine o'clock on a summer evening. . .
"Fear, anxiety, and awe
gradually filled the minds of the people. Women stood at the door, looking out upon the
dark landscape; men returned from their labor in the fields; the
carpenter left his tools,
the blacksmith his forge, the tradesman his counter. Schools were dismissed, and
tremblingly the children fled homeward. Travelers put up at the nearest farmhouse. 'What
is coming?' queried every lip and heart. It seemed as if a hurricane was about to dash
across the land, or as if it was the day of the consummation of all things.
"Candles were used; and
hearth fires shone as brightly as on a moonless evening in autumn. . . . Fowls retired to
their roosts and went to sleep, cattle gathered at the pasture bars and lowed, frogs
peeped, birds sang their evening songs, and bats flew about. But the human knew that night
had not come. . . .
Whittaker, pastor of the Tabernacle church in Salem, held religious services in the
meeting-house, and preached a sermon in which he maintained that the darkness was
supernatural. Congregations came together in many other places. The texts for the
extemporaneous sermons were invariably those that seemed to indicate that the darkness was
consonant with Scriptural prophecy. . . . The darkness was most dense shortly after eleven
o'clock."-- The Essex Antiquarian, April, 1899, vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 53, 54. "In
most parts of the country it was so great in the daytime, that the people could not tell
the hour by either watch or clock, nor dine, nor manage their domestic business, without
the light of candles. . . .
"The extent of this
darkness was extraordinary. It was observed as far east as Falmouth. To the westward it
reached to the farthest part of Connecticut, and to Albany. To the southward, it was
observed along the seacoasts; and to the north as far as the American settlements
extend."--William Gordon, History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of the
Independence of the U.S.A., vol. 3, p. 57.
The intense darkness of the
day was succeeded, an hour or two before evening, by a partially clear sky, and the sun
appeared, though it was still obscured by the black, heavy mist. "After sundown, the
clouds came again overhead, and
it grew dark very fast." "Nor was the darkness
of the night less uncommon and terrifying than that of the day; notwithstanding there was
almost a full moon, no object was discernible but by the help of some artificial light,
which, when seen from the neighboring houses and other places at a distance, appeared
through a kind of Egyptian darkness which seemed almost impervious to the
rays."--Isaiah Thomas, Massachusetts Spy; or, American Oracle of Liberty, vol. 10,
No. 472 (May 25, 1780). Said an eyewitness of the scene: "I could not help conceiving
at the time, that if every luminous body in the universe had been shrouded in impenetrable
shades, or struck out of existence, the darkness could not have been more
complete."--Letter by Dr. Samuel Tenney, of Exeter, New Hampshire, December, 1785 (in
Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, 1792, 1st series, vol. 1, p. 97). Though at
nine o'clock that night the moon rose to the full, "it had not the least effect to
dispel the deathlike shadows." After midnight the darkness disappeared, and the moon,
when first visible, had the appearance of blood.
May 19, 1780, stands in
history as "The Dark Day." Since the time of Moses no period of darkness of
equal density, extent, and duration, has ever been recorded. The description of this
event, as given by eyewitnesses, is but an echo of the words of the Lord, recorded by the
prophet Joel, twenty-five hundred years previous to their fulfillment: "The sun shall
be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the
Lord come." Joel 2:31.
Christ had bidden His people
watch for the signs of His advent and rejoice as they should behold the tokens of their
coming King. "When these things begin to come to pass," He said, "then look
up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." He pointed His
followers to the budding trees of spring, and said: "When they now shoot forth, ye
see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye
see these things
come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand." Luke
21:28, 30, 31.
But as the spirit of humility
and devotion in the church had given place to pride and formalism, love for Christ and
faith in His coming had grown cold. Absorbed in worldliness and pleasure seeking, the
professed people of God were blinded to the Saviour's instructions concerning the signs of
His appearing. The doctrine of the second advent had been neglected; the scriptures
relating to it were obscured by misinterpretation, until it was, to a great extent,
ignored and forgotten. Especially was this the case in the churches of America. The
freedom and comfort enjoyed by all classes of society, the ambitious desire for wealth and
luxury, begetting an absorbing devotion to money-making, the eager rush for popularity and
power, which seemed to be within the reach of all, led men to center their interests and
hopes on the things of this life, and to put far in the future that solemn day when the
present order of things should pass away.
When the Saviour pointed out
to His followers the signs of His return, He foretold the state of backsliding that would
exist just prior to His second advent. There would be, as in the days of Noah, the
activity and stir of worldly business and pleasure seeking--buying, selling, planting,
building, marrying, and giving in marriage--with forgetfulness of God and the future life.
For those living at this time, Christ's admonition is: "Take heed to yourselves, lest
at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this
life, and so that day come upon you unawares." "Watch ye therefore, and pray
always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to
pass, and to stand before the Son of man." Luke 21:34, 36.
The condition of the church
at this time is pointed out in the Saviour's words in the Revelation: "Thou hast a
that thou livest, and art dead." And to those who refuse to arouse from their
careless security, the solemn warning is addressed: "If therefore thou shalt not
watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon
thee." Revelation 3:1, 3.
It was needful that men
should be awakened to their danger; that they should be roused to prepare for the solemn
events connected with the close of probation. The prophet of God declares: "The day
of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?" Who shall stand when
He appeareth who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil," and cannot "look
on iniquity"? Joel 2:11; Habakkuk 1:13. To them that cry, "My God, we know
Thee," yet have transgressed His covenant, and hastened after another god, hiding
iniquity in their hearts, and loving the paths of unrighteousness-- to these the day of
the Lord is "darkness, and not light, even very dark, and no brightness in it."
Hosea 8:2, 1; Psalm 16;4; Amos 5:20. "It shall come to pass at that time," saith
the Lord, "that I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are
settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will He
do evil." Zephaniah 1:12. "I will punish the world for their evil, and the
wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will
lay low the haughtiness of the terrible." Isaiah 13:11. "Neither their silver
nor their gold shall be able to deliver them;" "their goods shall become a
booty, and their houses a desolation." Zephaniah 1:18, 13.
The prophet Jeremiah, looking
forward to this fearful time, exclaimed: "I am pained at my very heart. . . . I
cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the
alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried." Jeremiah 4:19, 20.
"That day is a day of
wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness
and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of the trumpet and alarm."
Zephaniah 1:15, 16. "Behold, the day
of the Lord cometh, . . . to lay the land
desolate: and He shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it." Isaiah 13:9.
In view of that great day the
word of God, in the most solemn and impressive language, calls upon His people to arouse
from their spiritual lethargy and to seek His face with repentance and humiliation:
"Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain: let all the
inhabitants of the land tremble: for the day of the Lord cometh, for it is nigh at
hand." "Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: gather the people, sanctify the
congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children: . . . let the bridegroom go forth
of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of the
Lord, weep between the porch and the altar." "Turn ye even to Me with all your
heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not
your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for He is gracious and merciful, slow to
anger, and of great kindness." Joel 2:1, 15-17, 12, 13.
To prepare a people to stand
in the day of God, a great work of reform was to be accomplished. God saw that many of His
professed people were not building for eternity, and in His mercy He was about to send a
message of warning to arouse them from their stupor and lead them to make ready for the
coming of the Lord.
This warning is brought to
view in Revelation 14. Here is a threefold message represented as proclaimed by heavenly
beings and immediately followed by the coming of the Son of man to reap "the harvest
of the earth." The first of these warnings announces the approaching judgment. The
prophet beheld an angel flying "in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel
to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue,
and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His
judgment is come: and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the
fountains of waters." Revelation 14:6, 7.
This message is declared to
be a part of "the everlasting gospel." The work of preaching the gospel has not
been committed to angels, but has been entrusted to men. Holy angels have been employed in
directing this work, they have in charge the great movements for the salvation of men; but
the actual proclamation of the gospel is performed by the servants of Christ upon the
Faithful men, who were
obedient to the promptings of God's Spirit and the teachings of His word, were to proclaim
this warning to the world. They were those who had taken heed to the "sure word of
prophecy," the "light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the
daystar arise." 2 Peter 1:19. They had been seeking the knowledge of God more than
all hid treasures, counting it "better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain
thereof than fine gold." Proverbs 3:14. And the Lord revealed to them the great
things of the kingdom. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He
will show them His covenant." Psalm 25:14.
It was not the scholarly
theologians who had an understanding of this truth, and engaged in its proclamation. Had
these been faithful watchmen, diligently and prayerfully searching the Scriptures, they
would have known the time of night; the prophecies would have opened to them the events
about to take place. But they did not occupy this position, and the message was given by
humbler men. Said Jesus: "Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon
you." John 12:35. Those who turn away from the light which God has given, or who
neglect to seek it when it is within their reach, are left in darkness. But the Saviour
declares: "He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light
of life." John 8:12. Whoever is with singleness of purpose seeking to do God's will,
earnestly heeding the light already given, will receive greater light; to that soul some
star of heavenly radiance will be sent to guide him into all truth.
At the time of Christ's first
advent the priests and scribes of the Holy City, to whom were entrusted the oracles of
God, might have discerned the signs of the times and proclaimed the coming of the Promised
One. The prophecy of Micah designated His birthplace; Daniel specified the time of His
advent. Micah 5:2; Daniel 9:25. God committed these prophecies to the Jewish leaders; they
were without excuse if they did not know and declare to the people that the Messiah's
coming was at hand. Their ignorance was the result of sinful neglect. The Jews were
building monuments for the slain prophets of God, while by their deference to the great
men of earth they were paying homage to the servants of Satan. Absorbed in their ambitious
strife for place and power among men, they lost sight of the divine honors proffered them
by the King of heaven.
With profound and reverent
interest the elders of Israel should have been studying the place, the time, the
circumstances, of the greatest event in the world's history--the coming of the Son of God
to accomplish the redemption of man. All the people should have been watching and waiting
that they might be among the first to welcome the world's Redeemer. But, lo, at Bethlehem
two weary travelers from the hills of Nazareth traverse the whole length of the narrow
street to the eastern extremity of the town, vainly seeking a place of rest and shelter
for the night. No doors are open to receive them. In a wretched hovel prepared for cattle,
they at last find refuge, and there the Saviour of the world is born.
Heavenly angels had seen the
glory which the Son of God shared with the Father before the world was, and they had
looked forward with intense interest to His appearing on earth as an event fraught with
the greatest joy to all people. Angels were appointed to carry the glad tidings to those
who were prepared to receive it and who would joyfully make it known to the inhabitants of
the earth. Christ had stooped to take upon Himself man's nature; He was to bear an
weight of woe as He should make His soul an offering for sin; yet angels desired
that even in His humiliation the Son of the Highest might appear before men with a dignity
and glory befitting His character. Would the great men of earth assemble at Israel's
capital to greet His coming? Would legions of angels present Him to the expectant company?
An angel visits the earth to
see who are prepared to welcome Jesus. But he can discern no tokens of expectancy. He
hears no voice of praise and triumph that the period of Messiah's coming is at hand. The
angel hovers for a time over the chosen city and the temple where the divine presence has
been manifested for ages; but even here is the same indifference. The priests, in their
pomp and pride, are offering polluted sacrifices in the temple. The Pharisees are with
loud voices addressing the people or making boastful prayers at the corners of the
streets. In the palaces of kings, in the assemblies of philosophers, in the schools of the
rabbis, all are alike unmindful of the wondrous fact which has filled all heaven with joy
and praise--that the Redeemer of men is about to appear upon the earth.
There is no evidence that
Christ is expected, and no preparation for the Prince of life. In amazement the celestial
messenger is about to return to heaven with the shameful tidings, when he discovers a
group of shepherds who are watching their flocks by night, and, as they gaze into the
starry heavens, are contemplating the prophecy of a Messiah to come to earth, and longing
for the advent of the world's Redeemer. Here is a company that is prepared to receive the
heavenly message. And suddenly the angel of the Lord appears, declaring the good tidings
of great joy. Celestial glory floods all the plain, an innumerable company of angels is
revealed, and as if the joy were too great for one messenger to bring from heaven, a
multitude of voices break forth in the anthem which all the nations of the saved shall one
day sing: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward
men." Luke 2:14.
Oh, what a lesson is this
wonderful story of Bethlehem! How it rebukes our unbelief, our pride and self-sufficiency.
How it warns us to beware, lest by our criminal indifference we also fail to discern the
signs of the times, and therefore know not the day of our visitation.
It was not alone upon the
hills of Judea, not among the lowly shepherds only, that angels found the watchers for
Messiah's coming. In the land of the heathen also were those that looked for Him; they
were wise men, rich and noble, the philosophers of the East. Students of nature, the Magi
had seen God in His handiwork. From the Hebrew Scriptures they had learned of the Star to
arise out of Jacob, and with eager desire they awaited His coming, who should be not only
the "Consolation of Israel," but a "Light to lighten the Gentiles,"
and "for salvation unto the ends of the earth." Luke 2:25, 32; Acts 13:47. They
were seekers for light, and light from the throne of God illumined the path for their
feet. While the priests and rabbis of Jerusalem, the appointed guardians and expounders of
the truth, were shrouded in darkness, the Heaven-sent star guided these Gentile strangers
to the birthplace of the newborn King.
It is "unto them that
look for Him" that Christ is to "appear the second time without sin unto
salvation." Hebrews 9:28. Like the tidings of the Saviour's birth, the message of the
second advent was not committed to the religious leaders of the people. They had failed to
preserve their connection with God, and had refused light from heaven; therefore they were
not of the number described by the apostle Paul: "But ye, brethren, are not in
darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light,
and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness." 1
Thessalonians 5:4, 5.
The watchmen upon the walls
of Zion should have been the first to catch the tidings of the Saviour's advent, the first
to lift their voices to proclaim Him near, the first to warn the people to prepare for His
coming. But they were at ease,
dreaming of peace and safety, while the people were
asleep in their sins. Jesus saw His church, like the barren fig tree, covered with
pretentious leaves, yet destitute of precious fruit. There was a boastful observance of
the forms of religion, while the spirit of true humility, penitence, and faith--which
alone could render the service acceptable to God--was lacking. Instead of the graces of
the Spirit there were manifested pride, formalism, vainglory, selfishness, oppression. A
backsliding church closed their eyes to the signs of the times. God did not forsake them,
or suffer His faithfulness to fail; but they departed from Him, and separated themselves
from His love. As they refused to comply with the conditions, His promises were not
fulfilled to them.
Such is the sure result of
neglect to appreciate and improve the light and privileges which God bestows. Unless the
church will follow on in His opening providence, accepting every ray of light, performing
every duty which may be revealed, religion will inevitably degenerate into the observance
of forms, and the spirit of vital godliness will disappear. This truth has been repeatedly
illustrated in the history of the church. God requires of His people works of faith and
obedience corresponding to the blessings and privileges bestowed. Obedience requires a
sacrifice and involves a cross; and this is why so many of the professed followers of
Christ refused to receive the light from heaven, and, like the Jews of old, knew not the
time of their visitation. Luke 19:44. Because of their pride and unbelief the Lord passed
them by and revealed His truth to those who, like the shepherds of Bethlehem and the
Eastern Magi, had given heed to all the light they had received.