<< THE SECOND COMING OF THE LORD >>
"They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of
heaven with power and great glory.''—Matthew xxiv. 30.
THE necessity for the Second Coming of the Lord is due to the mental and spiritual condition of humanity at the time of His first advent. All true knowledge of the Lord and the spiritual world had long been lost. Men were in a natural and, for the most part, in a sensual state. Their ideas of God, of heaven, of His kingdom and power and glory, and of their relations to Him were purely natural. The disciples, in common with the Jewish people, understood all the prophecies and promises naturally. The Lord was literally to occupy the throne of David ; the enemies over whom He was to triumph were the Romans and the other nations who had made war upon and subdued them. The '' peace on earth" was not a spiritual, but a civil peace. The blessings the Jews expected from the Messiah were temporal, and limited to their own nation.
It was an immense advance from such natural and strictly national ideas to the acknowledgment that the Lord's kingdom and blessings are spiritual and universal. It was only by slow and painful steps, with many doubts and misgivings, and by the influence of the Lord's resurrection and subsequent appearance, and the miraculous powers conferred upon the disciples by the gift of the Spirit, that they gained a full and clear conviction of the spirituality of His kingdom and the fundamental doctrines which constitute it.
But these doctrines were received as a matter of faith, upon Divine or human authority, as truths to be believed and obeyed. And this has been the teaching of the Christian Church in every age. "We walk by faith." "We see through a glass darkly." The fundamental doctrines of Christianity are acknowledged to be a mystery, and in their reception the reason must be kept in subordination to faith. The Lord has taught us certain truths in the Sacred Scriptures, and we must believe them, whether they accord with our reason or not. A church based upon this principle must come to an end, not because the principle itself is not true as far as it goes, but because the human mind is so constituted that it cannot rest in simple obedience. Admitting that the doctrines taught are true, as long as men are contented to obey them simply, they will go right ; but the moment they begin to reason, to think for themselves, there must arise diversity of opinion, and consequently doubt, especially when language in which those principles are taught is capable of so many interpretations. Discussions, differences of opinion, dissensions, perversions, doubts, disbelief, and ultimate rejection of the truth itself necessarily follow. And as man has no means in himself of gaining the truth concerning spiritual things, the Lord must interpose and provide some way to save him. He must come again in some form adapted to man's state, or he would utterly perish. There are many other subordinate causes which rendered the second advent necessary.
Every principle in man's character and all his relations to the Lord increased and modified this necessity. But it is sufficient for my purpose to present this principal cause. I next invite your attention to what the doctrines of the New Church teach concerning the manner of the Lord's second coming.
The second coming is described in various ways in the Sacred Scriptures. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew and thirtieth verse it is said, " They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. " As we imderstand these words, they contain an exact description of the manner in which the Lord will come. By the " Son of man" we understand the Divine truth of the Lord ; by the '' clouds of heaven," the literal sense of the Word ; by the "great glory," the spiritual sense of the Word, or the Divine truth as it really exists when stripped of all natural appearances ; and by '' power'' we understand true spiritual power, power over the minds and hearts of men, the power which true knowledge always gives.
I do not ask those who are not familiar with the doctrines of the New Church to assent to this. You cannot assent to it until you see it to be true. All that I ask is that you will admit it as an hypothesis or supposition. If the Bible is acknowledged to be such a book as our doctrines teach us that it is, I am confident that this doctrine of the second coming will also be seen to be rational and true. I shall not argue the question,—my limits forbid me to do that,—but simply state the belief of the New Church.
Our doctrines declare that the Sacred Scriptures are Divine truth itself. They contain a precise, connected, and logical statement of all spiritual and Divine laws and principles. They are to man's spiritual nature, to the spiritual world and the Divine nature, what a book which contained a perfect physiology would be to the material body, or what a perfect work upon mathematics would be to all numbers and geometrical forms. That is, the Word contains a perfect spiritual and Divine philosophy and a perfect spiritual history of the human race from its first creation, and a perfect prophecy of its future. This history is not limited to this world, but it extends to the spiritual world, and gives us a complete and clear idea of the nature of that world and of all its inhabitants. When this spiritual truth is seen, it carries with it the same conviction of its absolute certainty that mathematical truths do of their certainty when they are seen.
This spiritual truth is as distinct from the natural truth contained in the letter of the Word as the soul is distinct from the body. Indeed, the spiritual sense bears the same relation to the literal or natural sense that the soul bears to the body. The Bible was not given to man to teach him in what manner or order or time the earth was created, to give him a history of the Jews, or to tell him how or when the world would be destroyed. What is said upon these subjects may be literally true or it may not. It is of no consequence to the real purpose for which the Word was given to man whether it is naturally true or not. It is of no more consequence that the history of the Jews should be true in every particular than it is that the parable of the Prodigal Son or of Dives and Lazarus should be an exact statement of natural events that really occurred. The only essential requisite in the letter is, that the natural object or action shall correctly represent the spiritual idea, as a man's actions, looks, and voice, when spontaneous, truly represent his affections and thoughts.
The literal or natural sense is used to embody and convey or express spiritual truth, as the body is used to express the various states of the soul,—that is, the natural events, images, and actions of nature, animals, and men are employed as symbols to express corresponding spiritual truths. The natural sense is, therefore, called the covering or cloud, which in some places entirely conceals, and in others only partly reveals the real meaning. The objects or events narrated are natural ciphers or hieroglyphics. The natural image bears about the same relation to the spiritual idea that the printed word does to the natural idea. But the differeace between natural and spiritual things is so great that but little spiritual truth can be directly expressed by the natural image. We all know how difficult and often impossible it is to express our affections and thoughts fully by words. The real meaning struggles through them like light through a cloud. How much more impossible must it be to express spiritual and Divine truth in all its fulness and clearness in natural forms !
If the Word is written in symbols, it is plain that the only way to get its true meaning is to know what spiritual truths the natural images represent. For example, we can never learn how the Lord is coming, or what the signs of His coming are, if we think only of wars, earthquakes, clouds, and material things, any more than we could learn what wars, earthquakes, and clouds are by looking at the printed words without imagining even that they had any meaning. When our Lord said to the Jews that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, they understood Him naturally, and they were astounded at the assertion. '' How can this man give us his flesh to eat ?" " This is an hard saying ; who can hear it ?'' '' From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him." They would not follow a man who told them such absurd things. There are many persons at the present day who reject the Bible for the same reason, and many more who draw entirely erroneous conclusions from it.
Now, we believe the key to this cipher has been given to men, and that by means of it they can ascertain with perfect certainty what spiritual and real truths the natural symbols of the Word represent. We are able to open the covering, the cloud, and the Son of man, the Divine truth, comes to us. But He comes to us in the cloud. The letter of the Word is the instrumentality, the vehicle in which He comes ; we do not get the truth by rejecting the letter, but by understanding it. By means of this key, therefore, we gain access to the infinite treasures of spiritual truth.
The first effect of this knowledge is to give us a clear understanding of the nature of the Word itself, and to save us from all the doubts and difliculties which have obscured and troubled readers of the Bible for many generations. We are no longer troubled because we find that the natural sense does not agree with geology or any other science. The discrepancies and contradictions contained in the letter do not disturb our faith in its claims to be the Word of God, because we know it was notgiven to us to teach natural science or the history of nations. The fact that a great part of it is occupied with trivial details, or prophetic visions which have no consistent natural meaning, does not diminish our estimation of its Divine origin and infinite value, because we know that these details, trivial in themselves, and this prophetic imagery, are natural symbols of spiritual things. I regard it as I should a rough casket full of the most precious jewels. I do not stop to criticise the outside. I proceed at once to open it and feast upon the beauty and glory within. I regard it as I should a present of fruit if I were hungry. I do not stop to find fault with the hard and bitter shells. I open them and satisfy my want with the sweet and savory substances within. It is a letter from my Father in heaven, written in cipher, because He could not get it to me in any other way. And in it He tells me all about Himself; what He has done and is doing for me, what a beautiful home He is preparing for me, in what forms He is coming for me to receive me unto Himself, and what I must do to meet and receive Him and follow Him. I do not complain because it is written in cipher. I do not reject it or receive it with doubt because the meaning is not all expressed upon the surface. I am filled with delight rather at the glorious revelation of Himself, and the precious
promises I find in it.
Again, by means of this key we get from the Word a clear, consistent, and rational doctrine concerning spiritual things and the Lord ; a doctrine that fully satisfies the reason and all the wants of the soul, that reconciles all the apparent contradictions in the letter of the Word, that shows how the unity and the trinity are perfectly consistent with each other, and presents the Divine character in such a light that we can see how every attribute and relation is in perfect harmony with the Divine love. The opening of the Word removes all doubts concerning those fundamental questions which have been debated for eighteen centuries, and which by the usual methods of interpretation are no nearer their settlement now than they were when they first arose. But the spiritual understanding of the Word not only settles satisfactorily and rationally all the doctrinal questions which have agitated the Christian Church from its early history, it elevates and indefinitely enlarges the field of knowledge. We gain a clear and rational knowledge not only of the existence, but of the nature of the spiritual world and of man as a spiritual being. By drawing aside the veil of the letter a new world and a new life are revealed to the reason and the heart.
Every one knows what clouds of doubt and uncertainty and utter darkness surround death and all subjects connected with the spiritual world. Many persons really deny its existence ; most persons practically do so ; and it is regarded as a very high attainment in spiritual progress when there are no fears of death and no doubts about the future, when all those momentous subjects which concern our eternal welfare are regarded as matters of faith, and we are willing to shut our eyes and push off into the unknown dark. But in the spiritual sense of the Word these subjects are revealed in clear light. Those whose understandings are elevated into this light not only believe, they know, that the spirit is the real man, that death is a step in life, that the spiritual world is a real world ; and all the laws of that world and the nature of human beings in it, their social, civil, and spiritual relations to one another, their modes of life, their sorrows and their joys, are so clearly revealed that they can see them and understand them as fully as they can any natural laws. They come home to them with the conviction of certain knowledge.
We not only gain certain knowledge upon spiritual subjects, which were the mere objects of faith before, but this spiritual glory sheds a clearer light upon all material things and earthly interests ; it gives a new meaning to all material things and to all human relations ; it removes the curse from labor ; it lifts the burdens of life from the heart ; it solves its enigmas ; it takes the sting from care and death, and gives a new zest to every joy ; it throws a new light upon every path ; and what is of far more importance, it shows how all human, earthly paths open into spiritual ones. This is its great, inestimable service, because it is by means of this that it performs all others. It shows the intimate relations between this life and the life beyond, between earthly and spiritual things. In its pure light we see clearly that natural things are not for themselves alone. The labor, the wealth, the skill, the art, the science, the beauty, the graces, the joys, the power and glory of this life are not for this life alone or primarily ; they are only the wonderful means to a more glorious end. They are so rich, various, complex in their forms and relations ; they so far surpass all human wisdom that men have mistaken them for the final end instead of the means to it. The scaffolding is so complex, so beautifully finished, so spacious and in itself desirable, that men have regarded it as the building itself. They cannot conceive how the Lord can be so prodigal of power and riches as to spend so much for a mere temporary purpose. But when He comes in the glory of spiritual light, they see that He leaves nothing undone, even for the momentary good of His children ; and that the most beautiful things of this life, even the human body which is a universe in itself, are only the coarse and hard coverings and rough doors which open to the real mansion and the real world within.
While, therefore, this new glory corrects our estimate of all earthly things, and shows that they are mere instruments to higher things, the steps by which we enter the mansions of our eternal home, it does not in the least diminish their value. It increases it rather, because it shows their true use. The value of every instrument is not in itself, but in the good it helps us to attain. Measured by this rule and In the light of spiritual truth, we can see that gold has more value than the worldling and the miser put upon it. Knowledge is worth inconceivably more for its spiritual than for its natural use ; and civil power Is a greater good than the most ambitious ever believed it to be. Even poverty and pain and disappointment may have an Inestimable value, and death itself is but the open portal to an endless life.
Again, this coming of the Lord not only throws a new light upon man and nature ; it is a new light In him. So long as the truth remains in the book it gives us no light ; the images must be transferred to our own minds. Then the clouds and the glory are both there. The understanding becomes elevated, enlarged, illuminated, and purified. The intellectual eye is opened to discern spiritual truth, and the whole mind is illuminated with a new light and comes more directly under the influence of the Spirit of truth ; the Divine promise is fulfilled, " He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you." The gradual and ultimate effect of this clear, rational, spiritual light must be to settle all theological disputes concerning the fundamental doctrines of religion, and consequently it must produce that unity in the church which every good man knows to be so desirable, and which the church has sought to effect by external and arbitrary means. This unity will be obtained through the largest freedom of investigation and discussion ; it will come from within. This new spiritual light must change the whole character of social, civil, and industrial life, because it changes the ends or purposes of life. It brings humanity under the special guidance and control of infinite wisdom, because the coming, the power, and the glory are in the clouds, in the Divine truth in natural forms, as they exist in human minds. So the Lord's kingdom which is within us comes, and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Surely no one can deny that such a coming of the Lord must effect such results. Does it not also involve the exercise of the greatest power and redound the most fully to His glory ?
The common ideas of power are very natural and sensuous. We judge too much by the noise and commotion and the vast array of means, by those effects which Strike the senses. We think of the earthquake which topples down the firmest structures of man and shakes continents, of the cataract sweeping along in its restless current every obstruction and dashing it into its abyss, of the ocean and the storm. But these are not the true types of even physical power. If the force which rifts and rends and sweeps from its foundations is so great, what must that power be which draws all things to a common centre and binds them together? There is more physical power exerted in a mild May morning by the force of attraction in growing grass and blossoming flowers and by the balmy heat that penetrates everywhere and permeates every grain of mould and every germ-cell of every plant than in earthquake and ocean, cataract and storm. The power that destroys is exceptional, local, temporary, while that which creates, sustains,and saves is omnipresent and ever operating. The sun coming in the summer clouds, in the power of heat and the glory of light, is the perfect physical type of the coming of the Son of man, in the power of His love and the glory of His truth. As the sun dissolves the bonds in which frost holds the earth and bids the imprisoned rivulets go free on errands of love and use ; as it opens the closed cells of leaves, blossoms, and fruit to gladden the eye with their beauty and feed the world with their substance ; as it visits every particle of mould and every cell of plant and animal and gives to each according to its needs the power to perform its use, so will the Son of man come to every imprisoned mind, to give freedom to every thought and affection, power to perform its appointed use, and guidance to attain its end.
We make the same mistake in our estimate of civil power. We think of mighty armies marching with resistless might to subjugate great peoples, of vast fleets sweeping over the sea and sinking the commerce of nations in its waves ; we think of the power to overcome enemies, to subjugate, to imprison, to destroy. But that is not true power. He who operates on others only from without, by restraints, by fears, by compulsions, may restrain their external movements, but he does not control their affections and thoughts. True civil power consists in guiding the will of the people ; in making their power yours by their own choice. Every mind you can control in this mild, unobtrusive, invisible way increases your power by the amount of its own. A king or president who could so win the confidence and love of a great people would have in his control a power unknown to any tyrant that ever lived upon earth. Not only the hands and physical strength of the people are his, but those higher faculties of knowledge and skill and art and intelligence and will.
The same principle applies to moral and spiritual power. The church has been and still is an immense power in the world, and the ruling minds have sought to extend it by external means, by compelling assent to certain dogmas and conformity to certain external rites. Suppose the Pope sitting in the seat of St. Peter could burn every book and silence every voice which did not speak the shibboleth of Rome, would that be true power ? Would he not destroy more power than he exercised ? Would he not put out the lights of the world ? Would he not obstruct and thwart and make useless the mightiest forces that are now awakening man to new life ? And yet how imposing such a power would be ! Conceive it to extend over the whole earth ! An edict issued from Rome reaches every man and woman and child upon the earth, dictates to them what they shall think and do, how and when they shall pray. Awful power ! What grandeur of architecture would be embodied in the churches ! What beauty and splendor of ornament would adorn them ! What pomp of ritual and form would characterize the worship ! What unity and peace would everywhere reign ! But would there be as much life and power in humanity as there is now ? Would human faculties have the same free scope and the same incentives to activity ? If they would, then the history of humanity is a lie. No, with all our distractions and collision of interest and opinion, there is inconceivably more power exercised for human good than could be in such a state of forced uniformity and external restraint.
It is said that some of the icebergs are truly grand and beautiful. They rise hundreds of feet above the ocean and cover many roods of its surface. They are so compact and solid that they seem capable of resisting every force. They crush the strongest ships when caught in their embrace as easily as the bark canoe. They lift from their beds and carry to remote distances immense rocks which no human power could move. And yet there are unseen forces playing upon them and penetrating them above and below, which gradually dissipate their form and substance and bear their particles on invisible wings aloft into the sky and scatter them in dews and showers over a continent. Now they carry sustenance to the plant, refresh the thirsty, gather in streams and drive the wheels of power, or, vitalized with heat, move vast engines, bearing man's burdens and doing his work. Such is the difference between a government or a church crystallized into imposing ceremonies and dead formalities, and the human faculties set free from restraint and vitalized by pure affections and employed in multiplied specific forms for human good. Such is the difference between apparent and real power.
The same principles apply to glory as to power. The true glory of a king does not consist in the pomp and splendors of his court, the magnificence of his retinue, and the obsequious honors of the multitude, or the fame of his exploits, but in the wisdom and beneficence of his government ; in the direction he gives to the common affairs of his kingdom and the provision he makes for all his subjects ; the freedom he secures for them ; the avenues he opens for the development of every faculty and the attainment of every good. It is not the outside splendor and show, but the quiet, unobtrusive, genuine worth that constitutes true human glory. This has been and must ever be the verdict of humanity. The glory of truth outshines the splendors of the sun.
Now let us apply these principles to the coming of the Lord. If, as He Himself declares, He is coming in power and great glory, shall we look for power and glory in their lowest and most external forms ? According to the common idea. He is coming in the clouds that float over the earth. He is to be attended with a magnificent retinue of angels flying to every part of land and sea, to awaken the sleeping dead with the terrible blast of their trumpets. He will establish His throne in the heavens, from which will issue terrific lightnings; the earth will quake and tremble at His presence ; the sun will grow dark in the splendors of His glory ; the moon will not give her light, the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. The whole material universe will be in wild commotion and rushing madly to ruin. And man and timid woman and fearful childhood, trembling, affrighted, aghast at these awful commotions, will, it is thought, be summoned before the dread tribunal ; the wicked to hear their awful doom, the righteous to be introduced into their eternal homes. Would that be a greater exercise of power than it requires to keep all these shining worlds in perpetual and harmonious play? Would it be more glorious to make all knees tremble than it would to give them strength to go on their errands of duty and love ; to paralyze all hearts with fear, than to fill them with the quiet joys of home or the holy aspirations of heaven ? Or suppose the earth to be regenerated and the Lord to have established His throne upon it and to be the glorious King of the righteous? The whole earth has become a paradise, and the comparatively few who have believed on Him are enjoying its beauty and peace, and will continue to do so forever. Is that as great or benevolent an exercise of power as it would be to make the earth the gradually improving home of successive generations of immortal beings forever ; of beings who are to be transferred in a few days or years at the most to a world whose perfections are inconceivably greater than those of a material world can ever be, and whose means of development and capacities for happiness surpass all our conceptions ? I do not see how there can be but one answer to this question.
View the subject, then, in whatever aspect we please, how can we resist the conclusion that if the Lord is coming in person to the natural sight of men, according to the literal understanding of the Scriptures, He is not coming in the highest, but rather in the lowest degree of power and glory. But it may be asked, Is it not equally or much more absurd to suppose that nothing more is meant by the Lord's coming—a coming which we must believe, if we believe anything about it, is to work the greatest changes upon the earth and in all human conditions—than that men are to get new truths from a book ? Let us look at the question a moment and see whether it is absurd or not.
The true object of the Lord's coming must be to effect the greatest good to humanity. This no rational mind can deny. It is to exercise the most power over the understandings and wills of men. The question is. Which would effect His purposes the most fully, a personal coming, or the revelation of new and higher forms of spiritual truth ?
If the Lord comes to destroy the earth and to put an end to the creation of human souls, it is self-evident that He puts a limit to the exercise of His power at once. But suppose He should come and establish His throne here, and govern men directly. Suppose He should come as many Christians expect Him, with irresistible power, with great magnificence, with the richest rewards for His friends and the most terrible punishment for His enemies. Suppose He were to estabhsh His government over the nations of the earth to-day. There is not a mercenary politician, or an office seeker, or a contract hunter that would not hasten to His courts and seek His favor. The stock exchange and legislative and congressional halls would be changed into houses of prayer, and Jew and Gentile would vie with each other in devotion. Why ? Because they would be suddenly converted to a love for truth, justice, purity ? Because they are humble and penitent for the past and sincerely desire Divine aid to assist them in overcoming their evils and living a heavenly life ? No, but that "thrift may follow fawning. '' And Christians themselves must be much changed before they could bear such power and favor, or all observation and history are false. If you say, the Lord would be omniscient and know the hearts of all men, and would spurn from His presence all hypocrites, that does not alter the result. Suppose He spurns them from His presence, or sends them to hell, the result is the same. He loses His power over their understandings and hearts. He fails in the very object of His mission. He could control outward actions by external power, but the will and the understanding cannot be forced. The mind must be instructed, the will and the affections must be led and gradually developed by their own exercise. Even man's physical powers cannot be forced beyond their own strength. Samson could not compel an infant to walk. It can gain the strength or acquire the skill to do it in no other way than by walking. The wisest teachers cannot force the mind beyond its own capacity. The attempt to do it often injures its delicate organization. The Lord has all knowledge and all power, but the human mind can only receive according to its capacity and the laws which the Lord has implanted within it. No, every fact of human experience, every natural, spiritual, and Divine law, leads to the conclusion, that by coming in person with display of power and glory the Lord would defeat the very ends for which He created and sustains humanity.
Suppose, on the other hand, that the Lord has given to man a Book embodying His will, the principles of His own being, the modes of His life, the existence and nature of the spiritual world, the joys of heaven and the sorrows of hell, and pointing out clearly the way in which man may escape the one and attain the other. These Divine laws and principles of human life are so expressed that they are adapted to every state and condition of society, giving natural truth to the natural mind, and rising and opening as man advances, supplying milk for babes and meat for men. When at length man is prepared for it, the Lord gives him a key which opens a distinct plane of spiritual truths that satisfy the reason, illuminate the understanding, and feed with the bread of heaven every want of the heart. Has He not embodied His power and glory in the most benignant, the wisest and most efficacious form ?
According to our belief, there are signs in that Book which represent every principle in the Divine being, and every mode of Divine and human operation. As education and civilization advance, the Book can be multiplied and introduced into every home and imbue the life of every inmate within. The traveller can take it on his journey ; the lonely prisoner in his cell can learn the way to gain true spiritual freedom ; the sick man in his chamber can find in it a physician which will cure every spiritual disease. As its true principles become known, and the lives of men are formed after their laws, these principles will rule in the marts of commerce and in the halls of legislation ; they will guide the hands of civil rulers, and human laws will be the outward and natural expression of Divine laws. The graceful courtesies and sweet charities which they inculcate will rule in social life, and every home will be modelled after the heavenly home which they reveal. By means of these spiritual truths the Lord will come to every understanding, illuminate it with the light of heaven, and guide it in perfect freedom according to the laws of His own life. He sits upon His throne and establishes His kingdom, not in one place alone, but in every heart. And there He dwells in all the fulness of the heart's capacity to receive Him, constantly expanding every faculty and making more room for Himself He takes the helm of every individual life in His own hand, and steers its course towards heaven.
As men yield more implicitly to the Divine guidance, and come more fully under these principles, the heavens open, the spiritual world becomes the great reality. In their clear vision men see it shining through every natural form and human use. They know that they are already in it, and while they do their duties with cheerful hearts and willing feet, they look forward to the time when the Lord shall call them home, with subdued patience but unspeakable joy. This is the New-Church doctrine of the Second Coming. True or not, can you conceive of any other form in which the Lord could come with so much power that reaches to the centre of human life and places humanity so fully under its beneficent control, and with so great glory to Himself and blessing to His children?
Author: Chauncey Giles, From Progress in Spiritual Knowledge, 1895