Holiness And Christ’s Return
By D. M. Panton
The divorce between the teaching of consecration and the heralding of Christ’s return is a painful and dangerous development of the moment. “The Judge standing before the doors” is no longer the dynamic truth that shook the apostolic church to its foundations.
And the reason is obvious. Too many are assuming that preparation for Christ’s coming is solely a matter of past experience and not at all a matter of walk, so that for all the saved, no matter how unChristlike a life they live, it will be pure, unmixed, inevitable joy—an instant, miraculous deliverance so wrapped up in the gift of salvation that covers even the most unconsecrated, unholy child of God.
Thus there is and can be, so long as this teaching is believed, no demand for any sanctity beyond salvation, and the tremendous thunders of the fast-approaching tribulation leave myriads of Christians unawake. The issue is a grave one, for our Lord’s outburst from heaven to catch His bride away is either a comforting opiate for disobedient disciples, or else it is one of the most rousing of all truths—it cannot be both.
Of the faithful and wise steward whom He sets over the household, Jesus says, “Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing; of a truth I say unto you, that he will set him over all he has. But if that servant [that is, the same man—a born-again man, for our Lord does not set the unsaved over His household, and the servant’s reward, if faithful, proves him to be born again] shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming, and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidservants, and to eat and drink, and be drunken, the lord of that servant shall appoint his portion with the unfaithful” (Luke 12:43-46).
The Lord’s summary is now as appalling for the unfaithful servant as it is inconceivably joyous for the faithful. “That servant, which knew his lord’s will, and made not ready [for the Lord’s Second Coming] shall be beaten with many stripes.” The Saviour thus establishes forever that overwhelming joy is not the fact of His coming standing by itself, but that this great event will find us obedient. “Enter into the joy of thy Lord” depends on our multiplying the talents. To change a conditional promise into an unconditional one is a very daring act, for it alters the Word of God and puts into Christ’s mouth sentiments He has never expressed and which are not His.
The Apostle Peter, to whom these words of Christ were addressed, enforces the truth only less that his Lord. He cries in words that thrill us to the soul: “The end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore of sound mind [let your thought life be sane, balanced, Scriptural] and be sober [unintoxicated, alert, watchful] unto prayers” (1 Peter 4:7).
We are to be self-watchful as we immerse ourselves in frequent praying and constant gathering for prayer. “Seeing that these things are thus all to be dissolved,” he cries again, “what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy living and godliness!” (2 Peter 3:11).
We ought to live in preparation for those supreme conflicts which both our Lord and His apostles prophesied would conclude the present dispensation. But our preparation is our own, and how the Lord finds us is a responsibility we cannot cast upon Him. “Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for these things, give diligence that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless in His sight” (2 Peter 3:14). Anyone who imagines that even the majority of the saved are conforming to these conditions is living in a world of unreality.
The Apostle John reveals that shame may overwhelm the child of God in that day. “Now, my little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall be manifested, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28). Had our Lord returned in A.D. 96, as He might have done, words which were actually addressed to a leader of a God-recognized church by the Lord Himself would hardly have been an unmixed joy. “Thou knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 4:17).
It is not even a question of what our Lord will say: it is a question of what He has said. Therefore John presses the truth home. Like Samson, shame awaits every victim of Delilah although once God-empowered.
The Apostle James unveils an element in the Second Coming which is a sobering fact; “Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Murmur not, brethren, one against another, that ye be not judged: behold, the Judge standeth before the doors” (James 5:8). Here the Second Coming of Christ is presented as a direct threat for sin—constant mutual criticism—among believers, and we reach the bedrock truth of the revelation. God never assumes or sanctions joy in sin. Even the sinner, under pure grace, is saved only if he abandons his sin.
And believers who live in carnal worldliness or doctrinal rebellion, accepting the current teaching that the Second Coming is all joy for all the saved, will not thank their teachers in that day. There is an element of awe in His Second Coming, for we have the assurance that God has “appointed a day” in which He will judge the world, and in which the individual must give an account of himself and his stewardship.
On the other hand, we must never forget the radiant aspect of His Coming: We have to remember the coming of the Bridegroom for the bride, the breaking in of the heavenly “summer,” “that blissful hope” (to render Titus 2:13 literally), the gladness and glory of His coming.
It is left for Paul to sum up exactly this whole conditional joy which is embodied in the return of Christ for His Church. “Verily in this [earthly house of our tabernacle] we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our habitation which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed [with our resurrection body], we shall not be found naked” (2 Cor. 5:2). What this clothing is the Holy Spirit has made clear. “It was given unto her [the Bride] that she should array herself in fine linen, bright and pure: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints” (Rev. 19:8).
The joy of the Second Coming, once again, is made contingent on obedience in one of the last warnings given in God’s Word to the church: “Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame” (Rev. 16:15). So now we understand why it is to believers that Paul says, “By the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31).
Finally, who shall measure the ecstasy of our possible joy? In a doxology, perhaps the most exquisite in the Bible, Jude says “Now unto Him that is able [once more the point revealed is only the ability of God, not His arbitrary action, but an ability equal to the wrestling saint’s utmost need] to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power both now and ever” (Jude 24).
This is a statement profoundly differing from current comments which run, “Now unto Him who will keep you from falling, and present you faultless.” To keep saints in an unstumbling walk is a greater feat than to keep stars in their courses. Yet if He has made one Enoch, God can make a thousand.
The doxology rises terrace over terrace, each interlocked inextricably with the one below; kept from falling on earth, consequently, raptured from the earth into heaven at His Coming—“presented”; found blameless at the judgment seat of Christ; with, consequently, nothing but “exceeding joy.”
All are facets of one diamond, and that diamond is holiness. Who can conceive the joy when the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father? It will be joy unspeakable and full of glory.