ALTHOUGH, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, there are some important points of contrast between the Gospel teaching and that of its antecedents, nevertheless, as has already been pointed out, the former is in many respects identical with the latter, so that it is true to say that in many fundamental points the Gospel teaching concerning the Second Advent is to be found in pre-Christian Jewish writings. These points, which have been dealt with in earlier chapters, were: the signs of the Second Coming, the actual Advent, the Judgement upon the Wicked, the Reward of the Righteous, some other points of subsidiary importance, and the characteristics and Personality of the Son of Man, namely His pre-existence before the creation of the world, His universal Kingdom, His Kingship, and His character of Judge.
[paragraph continues] All this teaching, which we have been accustomed to regard as specifically Christian, we find already fully developed, not only in pre-Christian times, but for the most part in literature which is not regarded as being on the same level with the Old Testament Scriptures.
The question naturally arises, and presses for an answer: Is the Gospel teaching merely an adaptation of what was taught in certain unorthodox Jewish circles--for the Book of Enoch, for example, was never accepted as Scripture by the orthodox Pharisaic party? Or, if this is not so, what is one to say in view of the incontrovertible fact that a pre-Christian book, such as the one just mentioned, has, in many vital particulars, the identical teaching on the subject of the Second Advent as that of the Gospels? It is obvious that a great deal turns upon the answer to this question. There are not wanting those who maintain that the whole of the Gospel teaching concerning the Second Advent is to be taken in an allegorical, not in a literal sense; they would say that the struggles of conscience are the signs of the Advent, and that the spiritual entrance of Christ into our hearts is the real Second Coming; that when we are punished
for our sins it is Christ's judgement upon us, and that peace of mind and the consciousness of doing what is right is Christ's reward of the just. That is to say, they regard the whole account as mystic allegory. They point out, further, that just as the Jews were mistaken in their conceptions concerning the promised Messiah, and just as the early Christians, including the Apostles themselves, were mistaken in their expectation of the almost immediate reappearance of Christ, so, too, Christians of to-day are mistaken in believing that Christ will actually come again in glory with ten thousands of His angels. And they turn to us and say: "After all, your Gospel teaching on this subject is only the repetition of some erroneous Jewish notions, applied to Jesus Christ--erroneous Jewish notions found to a large extent in a book, to enhance the importance of which the author pretended was written by Enoch, the man of whom it was said that, 'he walked with God; and he was not; for God took him.'" How are we to answer statements of this kind? Merely to accuse those who make them of irreligion, blasphemy, or the like, is unscientific, unwise, and unchristian; the days in which a simple iteration of the faith was deemed sufficient
are gone; we must give the reason of the hope that is in us; we must at least try and satisfy ourselves, even if we cannot satisfy others. And how is the average Christian going to answer to himself the objections which have just been pointed out, objections which the sceptical attitude of our age with regard to all belief urges with ever greater insistency? Certainly it is no easy matter; we are under the additional disadvantage of having to acknowledge that we can neither prove that our belief is right, nor that the objections of others are wrong; short of the actual coming to pass of the Second Advent, it is impossible to prove that the prophecies regarding it, contained in the Gospels or elsewhere, are true. Nevertheless, there are two prime considerations which, though far from constituting anything in the nature of a proof, do show the precariousness of the position taken up by those who reject as untenable the Gospel teaching concerning the Second Coming of Christ.
§i. It will be remembered that in a previous chapter great stress was laid upon two concurrent ideas which our Lord connects with the title of "The Son of Man"; His own words, which were quoted, showed that His
use of that title connected it at one time with humiliation and suffering, at another with glory and majesty; and that when used with the latter it was almost always in connection with the Second Coming. It was, further, pointed out that in the words, "Behoved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory," our Lord summed up two great prophecies concerning the Messiah in the past, viz., the conception of the "Suffering Servant," in The Book of Isaiah, and the conception of "The Son of Man" in His glory, in The Book of the Similitudes of Enoch. 1 Let us think of this for a little.
The picture of the "Servant of the Lord," with its most sublime description in Isa. liii., depicts, as we know, the ministering aspect of our Blessed Lord's life here on earth in a way which has bound thinking Christians with a holy fascination ever since the Resurrection of our Saviour; the reason of this has been not only the exquisite beauty and heart-moving pathos of the thoughts expressed, but the positively astounding accuracy of the prophecy as fulfilled in our Lord. A convinced sceptic, though one who possessed the historic sense, on having read the fifty-third
chapter of Isaiah and then the life of our Lord, and being asked what he thought about it all, replied: "It looks as though the life were lived in order to fulfil the prophecy!" The answer was characteristic, but profoundly significant. Let only these few points of correspondence be recalled:--He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief (Isa. liii. 3); And they smote his head with a reed, and did spit upon him . . . and they led him out to crucify him (Matt. xv. 17, 20);--"despised and rejected!" And in His own words the Man of Sorrows cries: My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death (Mark xiv. 34). Again, He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities . . . with his stripes we are healed; all we like sheep have gone astray . . . and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa. liii. 5, 6); the fact that words like these were so alien to the Jewish conception of atonement makes it all the more wonderful when we read them in the light of such sayings as these: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you (Luke xxii. 20); I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep (John x. 11). Once more; the sentence:
[paragraph continues] He was cut of out of the land of the living (Isa. liii. 8) was impossible for the prophet's contemporaries to comprehend fully, for the words contained a truth which could only be properly understood in the light of fuller revelation; but the evangelists must have realised how true they were, when they recorded: There they crucified him (Matt. xxvii. 35; Mark xv. 25; Luke xxiii. 33; John xix. 18). It would not be difficult to show how that almost the whole of this wonderful chapter is a prophecy concerning "The Son of Man" as the Man of Sorrows. This is acknowledged on all hands, so that it will not be necessary to emphasise it further. The reason, however, for which attention is drawn to this fact now is that our Lord Himself accepts the prophecy as applying to Him; quite apart from its fulfilment in His life and work, which we can see for ourselves, is His acceptation of it; this is clear, apart from many other quotations that could be given, from His words: Behoved it not the Christ to suffer these things? For it goes on to say: And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke xxiv. 27). This means, therefore, that as
regards that aspect of His teaching about the Son of Man which depicts Him as humiliated and despised He acknowledges the truth, the absolute truth, of what had been foretold. Is this not an a priori argument in favour of the fact that the prophecy concerning the other aspect of the Son of Man is also true? Let us enumerate the points in their logical sequence. The title "The Son of Man" in the Gospels is only used by our Lord; His teaching concerning "The Son of Man" consists of two parts which are apparently contradictory, and may be described by the two words: Humiliation, Glory. There are prophecies concerning each; in the former case the prophecy is seen to have been literally fulfilled in the life, suffering, and death of "The Son of Man"; but apart from this Christ corroborates the truth of what was prophesied, and confesses that it applied to Him. That is to say, the first part of His teaching concerning "The Son of Man" was proved to be true both in prophecy and fulfilment. The conclusion, therefore, is a fair one when it is contended that this fact justifies the presumption that the second part of the teaching is true also. It is not possible to separate the two elements in the teaching concerning "The
[paragraph continues] Son of Man," which our Lord so frequently emphasises; and, therefore, if one element has been historically proved to have been correct, there is an a priori probability that the second also will in the future be shown to have been correct.
It will have been noticed that the argument used is what might be termed "forensic," and is not one that would necessarily be asked for by believers with an unquestioning faith; but our sympathy has, so far, been with the large and growing numbers of those who find it very difficult to accept the New Testament teaching concerning the Second Advent; and the argument used, if carefully considered, must at least show the precariousness of declining to accept our Lord's words about His Second Coming. In our Law Courts the testimony of even the humblest witness is enhanced in value if he is known to have borne true testimony before. How much more, therefore, must this be so when Jesus Christ bears witness concerning Himself. It may, of course, be objected that much of what we read in the Eschatology of the Gospels does not belong to the original teaching of Christ, but has been put into His mouth by the compilers of the sources from which the Gospels
were written; but a study of the eschatological passages in the Gospels and the teaching of our Lord on the subject shows that they constitute such a large portion of the whole material of the synoptic accounts that to regard them in toto as unoriginal, and therefore to deny their authenticity, is quite out of the question. Even were it granted that in some particulars words have been put into the mouth of Christ which He never uttered, this would not be of much use from the objector's point of view; for the fact is that the Gospels are saturated with eschatological teaching. Nor could we well expect it to be otherwise, for while it is undoubtedly true that Christ's teaching is full of guidance for life on this earth, yet the main importance of this life, according to that teaching, lies in the fact that it is merely preparatory for the world to come. The point of view of all the Gospel teaching is other-worldly, everything looks to the world to come, everything is subordinated to the thought of the Hereafter. How, then, should it be possible to eliminate the eschatological teaching of Christ, or any considerable part of it, from the Gospels? Is it always sufficiently realised how many of the parables are eschatological
in character? It is not too much to say that the facts of the case compel us to see that the eschatological teaching in the Gospels is, in the main, Christ's; if it were not so the Gospels might as well never have been written.
§ii. But there is another consideration; a deeper one, and more difficult to follow; and neither believers nor doubters can afford to ignore it.
We know--or at all events we claim to know, owing to the fuller revelation that we have received from God--that Absolute Truth and the Godhead are inseparable. Our Lord, when standing before Pilate, said: Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice; 1 and to Pilate's answer: What is Truth? no reply was returned; He who had said: I am the Truth was standing before Pilate. Absolute Truth and the Godhead are inseparable. For this reason we find that some of the most cherished truths of Christianity are already adumbrated prior to the time of Christ; and if the Godhead and Truth must be in evidence at all times, it is what must be demanded when we find Truth irrepressible. Unquestionably it is the fact, that Truth will often be clothed in
fantastic garb; but that is due to human fancy, not to anything that is wanting in Truth itself. If God is eternal, and if Truth is eternal, those things that are true must from their nature manifest themselves according to man's capacity for grasping the Truth. For this reason man's belief in a Creator, with all that that word implies for us, is inherent in Human Nature: also, man's yearning for a Redeemer is inherent in Human Nature. These facts are indisputable, as the study of the beliefs of primitive man prove. 1 If now--and this is the point that we have been aiming for--we find certain fundamental truths of Christianity in existence before the time of Christ, we have every justification for believing that since they belong to Truth, they belong also to the nature of things. Let an instance be given: The Incarnation generally, and in particular the Virgin Birth. Here is an instance of Virgin Birth--a pre-Christian instance: "It is said that one day the Virgin Ocrisia, a slave-woman of Queen Tanaquil, was offering, as usual, cakes and libations on the royal hearth, when a flame shot out towards her from the fire. Taking
this for a sign that her handmaiden was to be the mother of a more than mortal son, the wise Queen Tanaquil bade the girl array herself as a bride and lie down beside the hearth. Her orders were obeyed: Ocrisia conceived by the god or spirit of the fire, and in due time brought forth Tullus Servius, the future King of Rome, who was thus born a slave, being the reputed son of a slave mother and a divine father, the fire god." 1 The clothing of the truth is folly; but that does not detract from the fact of the conception of the possibility of Virgin Birth being a true conception.
The belief in human gods, and divine men, is so universal among all races of the world, whether civilised or uncivilised, that it is unnecessary to give any examples; 2 but the existence of such beliefs shows that the conception of Incarnation lies in the nature of things.
In view of such things as these the alternative, of course, is as to whether Christianity has merely adapted heathen beliefs, or whether, as we have been trying to point out, Absolute Truth must assert itself, and that therefore
these pre-Christian examples are merely adumbrations of truths which men in those times were incapable of understanding in their essential, spiritual meaning.
For Christians to whom the Truth has been revealed there can scarcely be any doubt about the matter. If there is anything in the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth which partakes of the nature of Absolute Truth, then they belong to the nature of things, a high, mysterious, super-sensuous "nature," but still belonging to the things that are. And therefore men have formed conceptions based upon these truths, just in the same way in which they formed their conceptions concerning the existence of God; that which is in the nature of things will and must find expression in one form or another in all ages, though the expression and form will necessarily vary according to man's varying capacity for apprehending Truth.
And now, after this necessary digression, to return once more, and quite briefly, to our main subject. Upon the analogy of what has just been said, we must regard, at all events in its essence, the pre-Christian teaching of the Second Advent as containing elements of Absolute Truth; for if we are justified, as we
believe we are, in worshipping Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and in regarding His teaching as expressing in its essence Absolute Truth, then we must see in his words regarding the Second Advent no merely an adaptation of earlier teaching, but rather the reiteration of Truth. Or, to put it still more plainly, we set ourselves the question: What is one to say in view of the incontrovertible fact that a pre-Christian book has, in many vital particulars, the identical teaching on the Second Coming of Christ as that of the Gospels? The reply is that, inasmuch as that which partakes of the nature of Absolute Truth must assert itself--though it may be in very diverse garb--therefore in some form or another it will appear and press itself to the fore, at different periods of the world's history; so, as the teaching of the Second Coming, or, shall we say, of the Final Appearance on earth of The Son of Man, is in its essence Truth, therefore, in common with other truths, it pressed itself into the minds of receptive seers and became part of the world's common stock of accumulated Truth. At what particular time in the world's history men became cognisant of this particular item of Absolute Truth is really immaterial, since
it must always have been in existence; but it received for us the final seal when Christ proclaimed that it was true.
Of course, it may be that we are entirely wrong; it may be that the whole pre-Christian teaching about this Second Coming is nothing more than speculative dreaming; it may be that words have been put into the mouth of Christ which He never uttered; or it may be, as some maintain nowadays, that Christ was mistaken in common with earlier Jewish teachers. All these things may be; but the point here insisted upon is that this great subject, in which so much is involved, cannot be dismissed of hand in such a manner; there are too many elements that demand consideration in connection with it; it contains too much that is confessedly true, its intrinsic probability (as will be seen in a moment) is too great, than that it should be cast aside as incredible, at any rate by men who have the scientific sense. For what in its deepest signification is the raison d’être of the Second Coming? It is this: The final overthrow of Evil, and the Supremacy of Spirit; would anybody in their senses be prepared to deny that, at least, the best part of Humanity yearns for these things? Why, this, in the
last instance, is the burden of every philosophical system that has ever been evolved; it is the goal of all things; it is that which every man and woman who has ever thought sufficiently about the subject is convinced must sooner or later come to pass. Who would acquiesce in the eternal existence of the principle of Evil? Who does not see that the spirit is greater than that which is merely material? Who would not welcome the final supremacy of spirit? What Christian does not expect this?
And this is what in its essence the Second Coming means; it must assuredly be apparent that this partakes of the nature of Absolute Truth. Or should objection be taken to the details which we read of in the accounts of the Second Coming? Enmities among men, plagues, wars, cataclysms and other cosmic disturbances? Alas, we know too well that most of these things are always prevalent among men, and if the virus of iniquity should work with more concentrated force on the eve of its final annihilation, there would really be nothing insurmountably incredible in that. As to the cosmic disturbances, it is still possible to see a moral significance in them. Nor need the language regarding the
presence of angelic hosts, and the rôle assigned to them, be looked upon as entirely figurative. The moon being turned to blood, and the stars dropping from heaven, etc.--these elements are, likely enough, Oriental imagery; but they are not the things that trouble men's belief regarding the Second Coming. We must look to the larger issues, the permanent principles that are involved, the abiding element of Absolute Truth which the teaching concerning the Second Coming contains.
If this is done, then, it is maintained, that although we cannot in the nature of things prove the truth of Christ's teaching on the subject, nevertheless, as we have tried to show, the intrinsic probability of its truth makes it precarious to disbelieve in the doctrine of the Second Advent.
208:1 See chap. viii.
214:1 John xviii. 37, 38.
215:1 See the writer's Religion a Permanent Need of Human Nature, passim.
216:1 Frazer, The Early History of the Kingship, pp. 218-219 (1905).
216:2 Fraser, The Golden Bough, l., 137f. (2nd Ed.).
In so far as there has been Christian adaptation of Jewish teaching in this matter, it has been because the latter contained elements of Absolute Truth. Think not that I came to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I came not to destroy, but to, fulfil.