(I) THE TRUTH IN THE LAST DAYS
THE purpose of God at the present time is to take out of the Gentiles a people for His name (Acts 15 : 14). The separating process indicated by the "taking out" is achieved by the preaching of the gospel. "Go into all the world", Jesus commanded the apostles before ascending into heaven, "and preach the gospel to every creature; he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved". Thus commissioned and empowered by the Holy Spirit which was poured upon them at Pentecost, the apostles preached Christ and salvation in his name among the Jews. The response was immediate, and the number of believers grew quickly. But persecution arose, testing the sincerity of those who believed, but also, by scattering them abroad, enlarging the spheres of their labours.
The preaching in the first generation was supported by a divine witness in the bestowal of Spirit gifts. These varied in form and consequently in purpose, but Paul taught that those gifts were most important which enabled the brethren who received them to build up the ecclesia by doctrine and exhortation. During this period the books of the New Testament were written and given to the ecclesias, so that when the spirit gifts were withdrawn the New Testament was completed, and with the Old Testament, formed the authoritative revelation of God's purpose.
The preaching of the apostles, though guided by the Spirit, nevertheless largely consisted of reasoning out of the scriptures. They appealed to the Old Testament for the evidence of God's purpose as summarized in the phrase "the gospel of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ". The New Testament was a complement to the Old Testament, and together they formed the source of any knowledge available of God's will. From the end of the first century the saving truth of God's purpose continued to be set forth by the diligent application of men and women to God's word written, and by their earnest contention for the faith once for all given to the, saints.
If we had no information we might think that those who knew God's purpose revealed in His word would so value it that it. would be preserved without corruption. But such a view ignores all the history of man's response to God's revelation. The Old Testament is a divine record of repeated human failure, and of degeneration. Again and again God made fresh beginnings-at the Flood, in the call of Abraham, and repeatedly in Israel's history-but always decline followed. We might therefore expect that history would repeat itself in the present dispensation. This expectation becomes a certainty when we look at the predictions of the apostles concerning the course of events after their death.
The apostles were urgent in pressing upon believers their duty to maintain sound doctrine. Warning was given of declension when fables would be substituted for truth, and when men would believe a lie. By a law of life this was inevitable ; men turn from truth, and the lie becomes a power that blinds them concerning its true nature. Paul puts it plainly : because they received not the love of the truth God would send them a strong delusion that they should believe a lie.
The context of this prophecy in the epistles to the Thessalonians is more particular than other references in setting forth the way the apostasy would develop. The day of Christ would not come until there had been a falling away, and "a man of sin" revealed who would claim divine honours. But this "man of sin" was hindered in his development in apostolic days and for some time afterwards. "He that hindereth will hinder until he be taken out of the way." That which hindered was the rule of pagan Caesars; and when they passed and Christianity became the State religion in the days of Constantine, by common consent of historians, if it could be said that paganism had become Christianized, Christianity had also become paganized.
The history of the "man of sin" is revealed in two books in the Bible which are distinguished by the form in which prophecy is given. Both record chronological prophecy Daniel in the Old and the Apocalypse in the New Testament. The simplest form of chronological prophecy is in the image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his dream. The same theme is revealed in greater detail, and therefore with more complexity, in the vision of the four beasts seen by Daniel. The fourth beast -the Roman-covers the Christian era : and the details of its horns foretell the uprise of many kingdoms when the Roman Empire was broken up. One of the horns was conspicuous among the other horns. Its character, its arrogance, its blasphemy, its duration are all revealed. It would be a persecutor of God's saints for 1,260 years, a record covering the last half of the appointed times of the Gentiles. The loss of power would come at the time of the end; and the establishment of God's kingdom is associated in the prophecy with its fall. So closely connected do these events appear that the expectation of the Lord's return at the time when its predicted duration would close appeared a reasonable conclusion. The little horn was identified with the Papacy, and this lost its power at the expected time, but the idea that the Lord would return at that time proved to be premature. Looking back from the present time we see that other events had to transpire before the advent, but the fall of the Papacy as a temporal power with ability to persecute those it describes as heretics, at the time students of prophecy expected, is a well established landmark of the time of the end.
The fourth beast with its horns, and particularly "the little horn", are the basis of the symbolism in the Lord's last message. Here we find the fuller details of the conflicts between the upholders of truth and the apostasy during Christian times. We are given the same. period of time when God's people would be subject to persecution as in Daniel's prophecy; but we read also of a period when the witnesses were slain.
Taking a broad view of the history of Christianity with all the divisions, heresies, and conflicts that have arisen, it is pertinent to ask whether anything is revealed which indicates that truth would survive? An examination of the prophecy shows that there are reasons for believing a revival of witnessing of gospel truth would take place prior to the end of the age.
We have first the prediction that the witnesses would be revived in Rev. 11. Looking at the work of the witnesses and what is written concerning the "slaying" of them, we see that the term covers all who opposed Romish blasphemy. Some resisted by the sword; some by the word of God's testimony ; but all at the time when the witnesses were slain sealed their witness with their lives. The revival took place in the French Revolution when forces were liberated which have done much to restrain the Roman Church, and which have entered largely into the shaping of the events of the last 150 years. But coincident with the uprise of the political witnesses a revival also of the true witnesses might be expected. Such a view indeed receives specific endorsement from a warning of Jesus which is connected with his reappearance on the earth. "Behold, I come as a thief: blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame." Such a prophecy requires that there shall be living at the second advent some who are waiting and looking for Christ, who know God's way of salvation and have been "clothed" with God's righteousness. The above is but the briefest of outlines of the prophecies that deal with the subject : a fuller treatment with a reasoned exposition may be found in Eureka, an exposition in three volumes of the Apocalypse, and in Elpis Israel.
The articles reprinted in this volume are a contribution to the evidence that the testimony concerning God's great salvation is again heard in the earth, and that for a century the truth of the second coming, the Kingdom of God, the promise of everlasting life, as revealed in God's word, have been faithfully proclaimed.