The Sunday Sermon...
Gospel Driven Disciples introduces a new component: The Sunday Sermon. These sermons will be from various men of God from various time periods with the goal of provoking a deeper appreciation of our Lord Jesus Christ and to facilitate obedience to the admonition given in II Peter 3:18 – “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Savior Jesus Christ.”
This Sermon is by J. C. Ryle, (1816-1900) First published by Drummond's Tract Depot, Stirling, Scotland
Occupy Till I Come (Part II)
II. The second question I wish to consider is this, what is the present position of our Lord Jesus Christ?
The parable appears to me to answer that question distinctly in the twelfth verse. "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return." This nobleman represents the Lord Jesus Christ, and that in two respects.
Like the nobleman, the Lord Jesus is gone into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom. He has not received it yet in possession, though He has it in promise. He has a spiritual kingdom unquestionably: He is king over the hearts of His believing people, and they are all His faithful subjects. He has a controlling power over the world, without controversy: He is King of kings and Lord of lords. "By Him all things consist," and nothing can happen without His permission. But His real, literal, visible, complete kingdom the Lord Jesus has not yet received. To use the words of Heb. ii. 8, "We see not yet all things put under Him." To use the words of Psalm cx. 1, "He sits on the right hand of the Father till His enemies are made His footstool."
The devil is the prince of this world during the present dispensation. (John xiv. 30.) The vast majority of the inhabitants of the earth choose the things that please the devil far more than the things that please God. Little as they may think it, they are doing the devil's will, behaving as the devil's subjects, and serving the devil far more than Christ. This is the actual condition of Christendom as well as of heathen countries. After 1900 years of Bibles and Gospel preaching, there is not a nation, or a country, or a parish, or a long established congregation, where the devil has not more subjects than Christ. So fearfully true is it that the world is not yet the kingdom of Christ.
The Lord Jesus during the present dispensation is like David between the time of His anointing and Saul's death. He has the promise of the kingdom, but He has not yet received the crown and throne. (1 Sam. xxii. 1, 2.)
He is followed by a few, and those often neither great nor wise, but they are a faithful people. He is persecuted by His enemies, and ofttimes driven into the wilderness, and yet His party is never quite destroyed. But He has none of the visible signs of the kingdom at present: no earthly glory, majesty, greatness, obedience. The vast majority of mankind see no beauty in Him: they will not have this man to reign over them. His people are not honoured for their Master's sake: they walk the earth like princes in disguise. His kingdom is not yet come: His will is not yet done on earth excepting by a little flock. It is not the day of "His power." The Lord Jesus is biding His time.
Reader, I entreat you to grasp firmly this truth, for truth I believe it to be. Great delusion abounds on the subject of Christ's kingdom. Take heed lest any man deceive you by purely traditional teachings about prophetical truth. Hymns are composed and sung which darken God's counsel on this subject by words without knowledge. Texts are wrested from their true meaning, and accommodated to the present order of things, which are not justly applicable to any but the period of the second advent. Beware of the mischievous infection of this habit of text-wresting. Beware of the sapping effect of beautiful poetry, in which unfulfilled promises of glory are twisted and adapted to the present dispensation. Settle it down in your mind that Christ's kingdom is yet to come. His arrows are not yet sharp in the hearts of His enemies. The day of His power has not yet begun. He is gathering out a people to carry the cross and walk in His steps; but the time of His coronation has not yet arrived.
But just as the Lord Jesus, like the nobleman, "went to receive a kingdom," so, like the nobleman, the Lord Jesus intends one day "to return."
The words of the Angels (Acts i. 11) shall have a complete fulfilment: "This same Jesus which was taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven." As His going away was a real literal going away, so His return shall be a real literal return. As He came personally the first time with a body, so He shall come personally the second time with a body. As He came visibly to this earth and visibly went away, so when He comes the second time He shall visibly return. And then, and not till then, the complete kingdom of Christ shall begin. He left His servants as "a nobleman," He returns to His servants as "a King."
Then He intends to cast out that old usurper the devil, to bind him for a thousand years, and strip him of his power. (Rev. xx. 1.)
Then He intends to make a restitution of the face of creation. (Acts iii. 21.) It shall be the world's jubilee day. Our earth shall at last bring forth her increase: the King shall at length have His own again. At last the ninety-seventh Psalm shall be fulfilled, and men shall say, "The Lord reigneth: let the earth rejoice!"
Then He intends to fulfil the prophecies of Enoch, John the Baptist, and St. Paul: "to execute judgment upon all the ungodly" inhabitants of Christendom— "to burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire,"—and "in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the Gospel." (Jude 15; Matt. iii 12; 2 Thess. i. 8.)
Then He intends to raise His dead saints and gather His living ones, to gather together the scattered tribes of Israel, and to set up an empire on earth in which every knee shall bow to Him, and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord.
When, how, where, in what manner, all these things shall be, we cannot say particularly: enough for us to know that they shall be. The Lord Jesus has undertaken to do them, and they shall be performed: the Lord Jesus waits for the time appointed by the Father, and then they shall all come to pass. As surely as He was born of a pure virgin, and lived on earth thirty three years as a servant, so surely He shall come with clouds in glory, and reign on the earth as a king.
Reader, I charge you to establish in your mind among the great verities of your religion, that Christ is one day to have a complete kingdom in this world,—that His kingdom is not yet set up,—but that it will be set up in the day of His return. Know clearly whose kingdom it is now: not Christ's, but the usurper Satan's. Know clearly whose kingdom it is to be one day: not Satan the usurper's, but Jesus Christ's. Know clearly when the kingdom is to change hands, and the usurper to be cast out: when the Lord Jesus returns in person, and not before. Know clearly what the Lord Jesus is doing now: He is sitting at the right hand of the Father,—interceding as a high priest in the holy of holies for His people,—adding to their number such as shall be saved by the preaching of the Gospel,—and waiting till the appointed "day of His power," when He shall come forth to bless His people, and sit as a priest upon His throne. Know these things clearly, and you will do well.
Know these things clearly, and then you will not cherish extravagant expectations from any Church, minister, or religious machinery in this present dispensation: you will not marvel to see ministers and missionaries not converting all to whom they preach; you will not wonder to find that while some believe the Gospel, many believe not; you will not be depressed and cast down when you see the children of the world in every place many, and the children of God few. You will remember that "the days are evil," and that the time of general conversion is not yet arrived. You will thank God that any are converted at all, and that while the Gospel is hid to the wise and prudent, it is yet revealed to babes. Alas, for the man who expects a millennium before the Lord Jesus returns! How can this possibly be, if the world in the day of His coming is to be found as it was in the days of Noah and Lot? (Luke xviii. 26-30.)
Know these things clearly, and then you will not be confounded and surprised by the continuance of immense evils in the world. Wars, and tumults, and oppression, and dishonesty, and selfishness, and covetousness, and superstition, and bad government, and abounding heresies, will not appear to you unaccountable. You will not sink down into a morbid, misanthropic condition of mind when you see laws, and reforms, and education, not making mankind perfect; you will not relapse into a state of apathy and disgust when you see Churches full of imperfections, and theologians making mistakes. You will say to yourself, "The time of Christ's power has not yet arrived. The devil is still working among his children, and sowing darkness and division broadcast among the saints: the true King is yet to come."
Know these things clearly, and then you will see why God delays the final glory, and allows things to go on as they do in this world. It is not that He is not able to prevent evil,—it is not that He is slack in the fulfilling of His promises,—but the Lord is taking out for Himself a people by the preaching of the Gospel. (Acts xvi. 14; 2 Peter iii. 9.) He is longsuffering to unconverted Christians. The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Once let the number of the elect be gathered out of the world,—once let the last elect sinner be brought to repentance, and then the kingdom of Christ shall be set up, and the throne of grace exchanged for the throne of glory.
Know these things clearly, and then you will work diligently to do good to souls. The time is short. "The night is far spent: the day is at hand." The signs of the times call loudly for watchfulness, and speak with no uncertain voice. The Turkish empire is drying up; the Jews are cared for as they never have been for nineteen hundred years; the Gospel is being preached as a witness in almost every corner of the world. Surely if we would pluck a few more brands from the burning before it is too late, we must work hard and lose no time. We must preach,—we must warn,—we must exhort,—we must give money to religious societies,—we must spend and be spent far more than we have ever done yet.
Know these things clearly, and then you will be often looking for the coming of the day of God. You will regard the second advent as a glorious and comfortable truth, around which your best hopes will all be clustered. You will not merely think of Christ crucified, but you will think also of Christ coming again. You will long for the days of refreshing and the manifestation of the sons of God. (Acts iii. 19; Rom. viii. 19.) You will find peace in looking back to the cross, and you will find joyful hope in looking forward to the kingdom.
Once more, I repeat, know clearly Christ's present position. He is like one who is "gone into a far country to receive a kingdom, and then to return."