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More than this concerning the future of the Church could not have been told without defeating the very object of the admonition and warning which Christ had exclusively in view, when answering the question of the disciples. Accordingly, what follows in ver. 29, describes the history, not of the Church—far less any visible physical signs in the literal heavens—but, in prophetic imagery, the history of the hostile powers of the world, with its lessons. A constant succession of empires and dynasties would characterise politically—and it is only the political aspect with which we are here concerned—the whole period after the extinction of the Jewish State.' Immediately after that would follow the appearance to Israel of the
Sign' of the Son of Man in heaven, and with it the conversion of all nations (as previously predicted), the Coming of Christ, and, finally, the blast of the last Trumpet and the Resurrection."
5. From this rapid outline of the future the Lord once more turned to make present application to the disciples; nay, application, also, to all times. From the figtree, under which, on that springafternoon, they may have rested on the Mount of Olives, they were to learn a 'parable.' We can picture Christ taking one of its twigs just as its softening tips were bursting into young leaf. Surely, this meant that summer was nigh-not that it had actually come. The distinction is important. For, it seems to prove that all these things,' which were to indicate to them that it was near, even at the doors, and which were to be fulfilled ere this generation had passed away, could not have referred to the last signs connected with the immediate Advent of Christ, but must apply to the previous prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Jewish Commonwealth. At the same time we again admit, that the language of the Synoptists seems to indicate, that they had not clearly understood the words of the Lord which they reported, and that in their own minds they had associated the last signs' and the Advent of Christ with the fall of the City. Thus may they have come to expect that Blessed Advent even in their own days.
II. It is at least a question, whether the Lord, while distinctly indicating these facts, had intended to remove the doubt and uncertainty of their succession from the minds of His disciples. To have done so would have necessitated that which, in the opening sentence of the Second Division of this Discourse, He had expressly
I vv, 29-31
I Not as in the R. V. He.' It can (not as Meyer would render dépos = scarcely be supposed that Christ would . harvest '). In St. Luke xxi. 31 it is speak of Himself in the third person. paraphrased the Kingdom of God.' The subject is evidently the summer
6 St. Matt. xxiv. 36 to end
THE WAITING ATTITUDE OF THE CHURCH.
declared to lie beyond their ken. The when'-the day and the CHAP. hour of His Coming-was to remain hidden from men and Angels.* Nay, even the Son Himself—as they viewed Him and as He spake to a St. Matt. them—knew it not. It formed no part of His present Messianic Mission, nor subject for His Messianic Teaching. Had it done so, all the teaching that follows concerning the need of constant watchfulness, and the pressing duty of working for Christ in faith, hope, and love-with purity, self-denial, and endurance-would have been lost. The peculiar attitude of the Church : with loins girt for work, since the time was short, and the Lord might come at any moment; with her hands busy; her mind faithful; her bearing self-denying and devoted; her heart full of loving expectancy; her face upturned towards the Sun that was so soon to rise; and her ear straining to catch the first notes of heaven's song of triumph—all this would have been lost! What has sustained the Church during the night of sorrow these many centuries; what has nerved her with courage for the battle, with steadfastness to bear, with love to work, with patience and joy in disappointments—would all have been lost! The Church would not have been that of the New Testament, had she known the mystery of that day and hour, and not ever waited as for the immediate Coming of her Lord and Bridegroom.
And what the Church of the New Testament has been, and is, that her Lord and Master made her, and by no agency more effectually than by leaving undetermined the precise time of His Return. To the world this would indeed become the occasion for utter carelessness and practical disbelief of the coming Judgment.b vvv. 37–10 As in the days of Noah the long delay of threatened judgment had led to absorption in the ordinary engagements of life, to the entire disbelief of what Noah had preached, so would it be in the future. But that day would come certainly and unexpectedly, to the sudden separation of those who were engaged in the same daily business of life, of whom one might be taken up (Trapalaußávetai, “received '), the other left to the destruction of the coming Judgment.
But this very mixture of the Church with the world in the ordinary avocations of life indicated a great danger. As in all such, the remedy which the Lord would set before us is not negative in the avoidance of certain things, but positive.d We shall best succeed, a vv. 42–51 not by going out of the world, but by being watchful in it, and keeping fresh on our hearts, as well as on our minds, the fact that He is
e vv. 40, 41 BOOK
| The expression does not, of course, the Christ, such as they saw Him, in His refer to Christ in His Divinity, but to Messianic capacity and office.
* St. Matt. xxiv, 43, 44
our Lord, and that we are, and always most lovingly, to look and long for His Return. Otherwise twofold damage might come to us. Not expecting the arrival of the Lord in the night-time (which is the most unlikely for His Coming), we might go to sleep, and the Enemy, taking advantage of it, rob us of our peculiar treasure. Thus the Church, not expecting her Lord, might become as poor as the world. This would be loss. But there might be even worse. According to the Master's appointment, each one had, during Christ's absence, his work for Him, and the reward of grace, or else the punishment of neglect, were in assured prospect. The faithful steward, to whom the Master had entrusted the care of His household, to supply His servants with what was needful for their support and work, would, if found faithful, be rewarded by advancement to far larger and more responsible work. On the other hand, belief in the delay of the
Lord's Return would lead to neglect of the Master's work, to unfaith5 ver. 45, end fulness, tyranny, self-indulgence, and sin. And when the Lord
suddenly came, as certainly He would come, there would be not only loss, but damage, hurt, and the punishment awarded to the hypocrites. Hence, let the Church be ever on her watch, let her ever be in readiness!d And how terribly the moral consequences of unreadiness, and the punishment threatened, have ensued, the history of the Church during these eighteen centuries has only too often and too sadly shown.
e ver. 42
& ver. 44
| The Parable in St. Luke xii. 35–48 is so closely parallel to this, that it seems
unnecessary to enter in detail upon its consideration,
THE LAST PARABLES.
EVENING OF THE THIRD DAY IN PASSION-WEEK-ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
- LAST PARABLES : TO THE DISCIPLES
CONCERNING THE LAST THINGS
THE PARABLE OF THE TEN VIRGINS-THE PARABLE OF THE TALENTS-
(St. Matt. xxv. 1-13; St. Matt. xxv. 14–30; St. Luke xix. 11-28.)
1. As might have been expected, the Parables concerning the Last Things are closely connected with the Discourse of the Last Things, which Christ had just spoken to His Disciples. In fact, that of the Ten Virgins, which seems the fullest in many-sided meaning, is, in its main object, only an illustration of the last part of Christ's Dis
Its great practical lessons had been: the unexpectedness St. Matt. of the Lord's Coming ; the consequences to be apprehended from its delay; and the need of personal and constant preparedness. Similarly, the Parable of the Ten Virgins may, in its great outlines, be thus summarised: Be ye personally prepared; be ye prepared for any length of time; be ye prepared to go to Him directly.
Before proceeding, we mark that this Parable also is connected with those that had preceded. But we notice not only connection, but progression. Indeed, it would be deeply interesting, alike historically and for the better understanding of Christ's teaching, but especially as showing its internal unity and development, and the credibility of the Gospel-narratives, to trace this connection and progress. And this, not merely generally in the three series of Parables which mark the three stages of His History—the Parables of the Founding of the Kingdom, of its Character, and of its Consummation—but as regards the Parables themselves, that so the first might be joined to the last as a string of heavenly pearls. But this lies beyond our task. Not so, to mark the connection between the Parable of the Ten Virgins and that of the Man without the Wedding-Garment.
Like the Parable of the Ten Virgins, it had pointed to the
future. If the exclusion and punishment of the Unprepared Guest did not primarily refer to the Last Day, or to the Return of Christ, but perhaps rather to what would happen in death, it pointed, at least secondarily, to the final consummation. On the other hand, in the Parable of the Ten Virgins this final consummation is the primary point. So far, then, there is both connection and advance. Again, from the appearance and the fate of the Unprepared Guest we learned, that not every one who, following the Gospel-call, comes to the Gospel-feast, will be allowed to partake of it; but that God will search and try each one individually. There is, indeed, a society of guests—the Church; but we must not expect either that the Church will, while on earth, be wholly pure, or that its purification will be achieved by man. Each guest may, indeed, come to the banqueting-ball, but the final judgment as to his worthiness belongs to God. Lastly, the Parable also taught the no less important opposite lesson, that each individual is personally responsible; that we cannot shelter ourselves in the community of the Church, but that to partake of the feast requireth personal and individual preparation. To express it in modern terminology: It taught Churchism as against one-sided individualism, and spiritual individualism as against dead Churchism. All these important lessons are carried forward in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. If the union of the Ten Virgins for the purpose of meeting the Bridegroom, and their a priori claims to enter in with Him--which are, so to speak, the historical data and necessary premisses in the Parable-point to the Church, the main lessons of the Parable are the need of individual, personal, and spiritual preparation. Only such will endure the trial of the long delay of Christ's Coming; only such will stand that of an immediate summons to meet the Christ.
It is late at even—the world's long day seems past, and the Coming of the Bridegroom must be near. The day and the hour we know not, for the Bridegroom has been far away. Only this we know, that it is the Evening of the Marriage which the Bridegroom had fixed, and that His word of promise may be relied upon. Therefore all has been made ready within the bridal house, and is in waiting there; and therefore the Virgins prepare to go forth to meet Him on His Arrival. The Parable proceeds on the assumption that the Bridegroom is not in the town, but somewhere far away; so that it cannot be known at what precise hour He may arrive. But it is known that He will come that night; and the Virgins who are to meet Him have gathered-presumably in the house where the