"I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." (John xiv. 18)
When our Lord declared to His disciples that He was about to leave their outward presence and close His personal interaction with them in this world, their hearts were filled with sorrow. They had cherished the hope that He would remain on the earth, become king of the Jews, redeem them from the hand of their enemies, and exalt their nation to universal dominion. From their association with Him they knew He possessed every quality for such a mission. He had wrought the most stupendous miracles in their presence; He had shown that He was endowed with superhuman power; He could control the elements, quell the fury of the storm by a word, cast out devils, and multiply a few loaves and fishes to food sufficient to feed thousands of hungry people. He could cure diseases which had baffled the skill of the wisest physicians; He could give sight to those who were born blind, and even raise the dead. He possessed a penetrating sagacity, which could read the secret motives and inmost thoughts of men, as an open book. He was gifted with a wisdom beyond all human capacity to instruct, guide, and govern men.
What magnificent qualities for a ruler! Under the reign of such a king what heights of power and glory might not their nation attain! No obstacles could hinder His progress in the attainment of His purposes, no enemy could withstand His power, no artifice could escape Him, no skill could outreach Him. There was no person and no power which could prevent Him from raising the Jewish nation to the dominion and glory foretold by the prophets.
But now this magnificent hope, so near realization, is blasted. Their King and Lord abandons His mission, gives up His power, and is about to leave them helpless, fatherless, forsaken. His departure destroys all their visions of freedom from a hated foreign yoke, blasts all their hopes of personal power and of dominion over the nations; it sends them back to their nets and to their obscurity.
The announcement that He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father's house gave them but little comfort. Their minds were clouded with natural ideas; they were slow to apprehend spiritual truths. Where is the Father's house? Who is the Father? Show Him to us and we will be content. Giving up this grand hope of an earthly kingdom, and going away into some spiritual realm, seemed to them, as it always seems to the natural mind, to be giving up a substantial and real possession for an abstract and fanciful one. They had no conception of spirit as a substantial entity; they had no idea of a spiritual kingdom larger than the material universe, and surpassing it in power, glory, and in every means of progress in knowledge and happiness, farther than a person surpasses the grass in their path. They could not understand why it was best for them that He should go away. They could not see, and the Church, to this day, has not understood how He could do more for them by going away from their outward presence than He could by remaining with them. They did not understand what was meant by going to the Father, and, therefore, they did not know that by going away from natural and personal association with them, He could assume a position from which He could come to them with greater power. They did not fully comprehend what He meant when He said, " If I go, I come," - that is, by the very act of going away from the outward world I come with greater and fuller consciousness to the inward spiritual life.
But they seized upon the promise that He would come again. The fact of His coming they could understand, if they did not fully comprehend the manner of it. This fact was their comfort, and it has been the comfort and hope of the Church in every age since the promise was made. The apostles expected it in their day. They constantly refer to it in their preaching, and in their letters to the Churches. They present it in its most terrible aspects, as a restraint from wickedness; they picture in vivid colors the glories and blessings which will attend it, as motives for patience in hardship and suffering, for fidelity in duty, and as a most powerful incentive to a holy life. Their method of using the Lord's Second Coming as a motive to a good life may be summed up in the words of Peter, "Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot and blameless."
Since the apostles' time people have been restrained from sin by the same fears, and encouraged in the weary warfare against evil in their own hearts and in the world, by the same hope. When good people have seen the prevalence of error, when they have felt, with keen and painful consciousness, how strongly sin was entrenched in their own natures, had become organized into institutions and civil governments, and crystallized into private and public habits, they have despaired of the power of truth to withstand the tide of error, and to break up the organized forms of iniquity. When they have been discouraged by the slow progress which heavenly principles have made in taking root in the heart, purifying the affections and controlling peoples’ actions, they have abandoned all hope of success in building up the Lord's kingdom upon the earth by the ordinary means of teaching truth and influencing the life, and they have looked for a second personal advent, and the exercise of personal power, as the only hope of humanity.
The Second Coming is, therefore, still a living subject. In the re-awakening of human interest in all questions concerning our nature, and the means by which we are to work out our destiny, so, important a subject as the coming of the Lord again to the earth could not fail of exciting profound interest.… By common consent we are now in the last times, and human ingenuity and wisdom have been exhausted to wrest from prophecy the secret of the time and manner of the Lord's Coming.
But the subject has never awakened more interest than its intrinsic importance demands. If the Lord is to come again in any sense worthy of the name, there must be profound and urgent reasons for it, in the needs and conditions of the human race. There must be a crisis in human affairs which the Church by any means in her power cannot avert, and which demands a more direct interference by the Lord to save humankind, from the impending ruin. Or, as some believe, it shows that the Lord Himself despairs of accomplishing His purposes in the creation of humankind, and that He is coming to put an end to the work, or, abandoning the old plans, to begin anew with wiser methods and greater power. It is not, therefore, an isolated act in the Lord's providential work. It reaches before and after. It involves every doctrine concerning the nature of the Lord, His purposes and methods of action, and His relations to us. It is intimately connected with the doctrines of the Trinity, the atonement, and especially with the resurrection and the future condition of the good and the wicked. It has a most important bearing upon the fact and nature of the inspiration of the Sacred Scriptures. The continuance of the material universe, and indeed every human hope and interest, is involved in the question. It is not surprising, therefore, that it has engaged the profoundest attention of theologians in all ages, and that it is discussed with increasing interest at the present time. It is worthy of the most candid and patient consideration. Our Lord commands us to watch for His coming; and this we must do, not by looking up into the air, but by using our best wisdom to understand the nature, and our sharpest insight to discern the signs and methods of His coming.
There are good reasons for a more thorough investigation of the subject, and for considering it from a new point of view. The wide difference of opinion which has always prevailed among theologians upon the time and manner of the Second Coming is conclusive evidence that the question is not yet settled, and cannot be by the methods of reasoning and interpreting the Scriptures which have been generally employed. Theologians do not agree about the meaning of the dates which they suppose fix the time of the Advent. They are equally uncertain about the import of the signs which are to precede and accompany, and the effects which will follow it. Some think the Lord is coming in person in the material clouds; others do not. Some think the material universe is to be burned up and annihilated; others, that there are no sufficient grounds for such a belief. Some teach that the Lord will come and reign a thousand years before the judgment and the final consummation of all material things, while others advocate the doctrine that the resurrection and final judgment will take place immediately upon the Lord's coming, and that the millennium will succeed it. Some hold that all the Jews will return to Jerusalem, and that the Lord will establish His seat of government there, and that the Jews will become His most intelligent and devoted followers, while others regard the idea as absurd. In general, it will be found that the more the advocates of any theory have descended into particulars, the more incoherent and contradictory have been the results. There is only one point on which all Christians agree, - that is, the fact that the Lord will come again according to His promise.
This failure to reach any satisfactory result has not been due to any want of honesty or learning by those who have investigated the subject. Many of them were good men, who had a due appreciation of the great importance of the question, and who sincerely desired to know the truth about it. They also brought great learning and industry and intellectual acumen to its investigation. But they did not succeed in solving the problem, and they have pretty clearly demonstrated that it cannot be solved by the old methods of reasoning and interpreting the Scriptures.
It is evident, therefore, that the question must be regarded from a new and entirely different point of view. Some method of interpreting the Scriptures must be employed which is of universal application; which will show that the wildest visions of the prophets and the plainest precepts of life; the beauty of song and the dry facts of history, give their consenting voice to this grand event, and plainly disclose the cause of it, the form of it, and the effects which must result from it.
The question must also be regarded from a true knowledge of the Divine character and the purpose of the Lord in the creation of humankind. Any mistake upon this point will enter into every step of our examination of evidence, will color all our reasoning, and bias all our conclusions. If the Lord created human beings to make an exhibition of His power, to have a universe of servants to be the subjects of His will and the echoes of His praise, then He must be disappointed in His hopes. They have rebelled against Him; they refuse to give Him praise and glory. The experiment has failed, and He must come to put an end to it, and give up His original purpose, or try again. If He is a Being of infinite love and wisdom, creating human beings from the sole desire of communicating His own life and blessedness to them, then He must have seen every phase and step in the unfolding of His purpose from the beginning, and He must be coming in the wisest manner to carry it into more complete effect.
It is not impossible to discover, in a general way, what purpose must be the controlling one in all the Lord's works, because we know something of the nature of love and wisdom. All His ends must be such as infinite love would suggest, and they must be carried into effect by infinitely wise means. There cannot, therefore, be any mistake, or any trying of experiments, or any retracting of His steps.
Another question which will enter largely into this subject and have a most important bearing upon the conclusions at which we arrive is the inherent and essential relations of the Lord to the people He has created. Much of the difficulty which people have found in understanding this subject, and many of the false conclusions resulting from their reasonings, have originated in mistaken ideas of the essential relations which exist between people and the Lord. It has, seemingly, been taken for granted that these relations are of the same nature as those which exist between a sovereign ruler and his subjects. But this is a great mistake. There may be this relation, but it is not the essential one. The real one is far more intimate. It is the relation of the giver to the receiver of life. It is not merely regulative, governmental, and external ; it is inherent, essential, vital. The Lord is life itself; people are only recipients of life, and for the preservation of their existence even - much more for the development of his spiritual faculties - it is necessary that life should be constantly given and constantly received. There can be no break or intermission in the flow of its current without the loss of our existence. A true knowledge of this relation will modify all our ideas about the form and manner of the Lord's coming, and have the most important bearing upon all our conclusions concerning it.
Enough has been said to show the necessity for gaining a true point of view, and for having true principles to guide us in the discussion of the subject, if we hope to come to any just and satisfactory conclusions. It is sufficient for our present purpose to make this brief statement of the causes of so many failures, and the conditions essential to the solution and comprehension of this problem, which is vitally connected with the perpetuity and happiness of our race.
But it is of little use to expose the mistakes and failures of others unless we have something better to offer in their place. One nail may drive out another without any gain in strength. One theory may give place to another which is no better than itself. This is not progress.
The New Church has new and clearly-defined doctrines with regard to the Second Coming which present the whole subject in an entirely new light, and from a new point of view. These doctrines have their origin in universal principles, and are evolved from them in a strictly logical manner. They are a statement of the laws of the Divine order as they have been revealed in the Sacred Scriptures, and of the inherent and essential relations which exist between the Lord and humankind. They fully disclose the nature of the First Advent, the necessity for it, the work accomplished by it, and the reasons why a Second Advent was necessary, how it takes place, and what it will do in working out the full redemption of people and the universal and permanent establishment of the Lord's kingdom upon the earth….
It will aid us…to state as clearly as possible, in the outset, the doctrines of the New Church concerning the Second Coming. We shall then have before us distinct propositions to prove and elucidate, and this will enable us the more easily and surely to determine the force of the testimony adduced in their favor, and to appreciate the logical value of the arguments employed to prove them. I ask your attention, therefore, to a concise statement of these doctrines, which will be more fully set forth in subsequent [chapters].
1. The Second Coming of the Lord is not a personal advent into the material world, and manifestation to our natural senses. The First Coming was made in this way, and there is no necessity for its repetition. The Lord never repeats Himself. In the First Coming the Lord revealed Himself to people in their lowest states, to their senses. This was necessary to human salvation. As people were spiritually blind, deaf, and even dead, the Lord communicated His truth and life to them in natural forms, the only way they could receive them. He gave them new commandments and brought Himself into such relations to human beings that He could communicate a new and a higher degree of life to them. He raised them up into a new light, gave them new thoughts concerning Himself and all spiritual things. He brought a new Divine force to bear upon their affections, and quickened them with a new life. The heart of humanity beat with a more vigorous pulse, and a new step was taken in spiritual progress. In this way He made preparation for His spiritual coming. He gave people the truths which could only be given in an outward way, that He might use them as the means of coming again in the power and glory of the Spirit, to enlighten the understandings and to open the hearts to a much larger and higher reception of His life. He said many things unto His disciples, and through them to the Church, which they did not fully comprehend, and which the Church has never fully understood, because it has not been in a state to comprehend them. But He did it that He might come again as " the Spirit of Truth," and bring all things to remembrance which He had said unto them, and show them by their own blessed experience that the words He had spoken unto them were " spirit and life."
2. But great as the step was from Judaism to Christianity, it was not a final step. Good and important in itself, it was only a preparation for a much greater one. He had many things to say to humankind, but they could not bear them; they were not in a state to receive them then. But when He came as "the Spirit of Truth," He would guide them into all truth. The Second Coming is, therefore, to be a spiritual one; it is a coming of the Lord to the understanding and to the reason with a clearer light, and to the will and the affections with a fuller and purer love. In His second and higher entrance into human consciousness "He will guide men into all truth." He will not only give us more light, but He will give us light in a higher degree. He will come to a higher plane of the mind. Before, He came to the senses, and gave people such dim knowledge of Himself and of spiritual truth as He could communicate to the natural mind. Now He is coming in a spiritual form to the spiritual mind, to those faculties in our nature by which we apprehend truth in higher forms. By these aids we will take a new and distinct step in spiritual progress. We will rise to a higher plane of spiritual knowledge than could be attained by the means and influences of His First Advent, and come into a corresponding breadth and fullness of spiritual joy and peace.
These new truths are primarily and specifically related to peoples’ highest interests. They are fundamental to all just conceptions of the Divine character, and to a rational knowledge of that crisis in the spiritual condition of humanity which rendered a Second Coming necessary to the continuance of human life upon the earth, and to the establishment of the Lord's Kingdom here according to His purpose and promise. When these truths are fully comprehended, it will be seen that their communication to man is an act worthy of the name of a Second Coming. It is sufficient for my present purpose to state the following points on which new light will be given.
1. The Lord will come to people in a clearer and higher knowledge of Himself, "whom to know aright is life everlasting." The Church has never had a clear, rational, and satisfactory knowledge of the Lord. There have been doubts and confusion and dimness in the conceptions of the best and largest minds about the personality and nature of God, and of His relations to the human race. At His Second Coming He will give us a clear and rational knowledge of the trinity, and of its unity in the person of Jesus Christ. He will reveal to us His purpose in the creation of humankind and the methods of carrying that purpose into effect.
2. He will come to us in a true and adequate knowledge of ourselves. People have never known much of the higher degrees of their nature. There are a very few, even among Christians, who have a clear idea that a person has a spiritual nature distinct from the natural. To the great mass of human beings spirit stands for but little more than an abstraction, a vital force, or a formless essence. Spiritual truth will give us a knowledge of spirit. It will reveal to us its form, nature, modes of action, its relations to the Lord, and the means and methods of its development. It will disperse the clouds of sense, and raise us into a new and higher world of light; it will disclose to us faculties of our own nature of whose existence he had no knowledge, and of whose capacities for the reception of truth and the enjoyment of peace and blessedness we had no conception. The Lord will come to is in a higher region of the mind than at His First Coming, and will establish His kingdom there, and prepare a place where we can be with Him where He is, and behold His glory.
3. He will come to us in a clear and satisfactory knowledge of the spiritual world. The same ignorance has prevailed about the spiritual world as about the human spirit. To nearly everyone, Christian as well as heathen, it is an unknown world. Peoples’ conceptions of it are dim, shadowy, confused, and contradictory. The most that is said about it is conjecture. Being a spiritual realm, it can only be revealed in spiritual light. This light will be given at the Second Coming, so full and clear that all doubts about the substantial existence of this new world which is the home of all who have been born upon the earth and have passed on, and which is to be the final home of all human beings, will be dispelled; its nature and relations to the material world will be clearly understood, and the activities, modes of life, means of progress, and the causes of the joy and sorrow of its inhabitants, will be fully revealed. It is one of the great objects of the Second Coming to give us a clear, true, and rational knowledge of this world which is to be our home forever.
4. Another important effect of the Second Coming will be the revealing to us the true nature of the Sacred Scriptures. While theoretically regarded by Christians as the Word of God, they have been practically interpreted as the word of people. The most contradictory doctrines have been drawn from them. Given to reveal spiritual truth, they have been interpreted as though they related to natural things. Symbols have been mistaken for the truths they were employed to reveal, and religious doctrines have been drawn from " the letter which killeth," rather than from "the spirit which maketh alive." From this earthly point of view, a large part of the Bible has no spiritual significance, or only a very remote and inferential one. Some parts seem to be in conflict with well-established facts of science; and in many places we find such wild imagery, and such a mixture of symbol and what seems to be plain and natural fact, that no human wisdom has proved sufficient to disentangle them, and deduce from the whole a clear knowledge of either spiritual or natural truth. The Scriptures have always been a cloud through whose obscuring folds the sun of spiritual truth has never shone with clear and steady light. The Lord is coming in these clouds, that through them and by means of them He may reveal Himself to us in all the power and glory of spiritual truth. He will carry on the work which He began on His way to Emmaus with a few of His disciples; He will reveal to all His disciples "the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." He will give a perfect key that will open all their natural doors, and admit us to their genuine spiritual meaning; He will call all things to our remembrance which lie has said to us in His Word, and show us their true import.
5. By these means humankind will be introduced into a world of new truth. We will gain new and satisfactory knowledge upon all questions relating to our spiritual nature and destiny. We will understand the great problem of salvation; we will see what the Lord effected by His first coming, and why it was necessary for Him to clothe His Divine with a human nature; what was the cause of His suffering, and why it was expedient for us that He should die - should go away - that He might come again in the power and glory of the Spirit.
6. It will throw a flood of light upon our resurrection, - show us what it really is, and how effected. It will reveal to us what we are to understand by the End of the World, the Judgment, and the nature of the new Heavens and the new Earth. When the Lord comes as the " Spirit of truth, He will guide us into all truth" upon all the great questions of our spiritual life and death, of our nature and destiny. By His coming in spiritual power to our spiritual mind, He will open new faculties in our nature, He will raise us into a new state of life, and by so doing He will introduce us into a new world, give us a consciousness of new joys, place us in conditions to take a new step in spiritual progress, and, in a word, "make all things new."
Such is a very brief statement of what the doctrines of the New Church teach us concerning the nature and effects of the Lord's Second Coming. It will be my purpose, in subsequent [chapters], to unfold these subjects more fully, and to show that they are not only in accordance with, but are actually drawn from, the whole of Scripture; that they are in harmony with what must be all the purposes of infinite love and wisdom, and eminently worthy of an infinite and benevolent Creator; that they are the fulfillment of all prophecy, commend themselves to enlightened human reason, and reconcile humankind to God and the ways of God to humankind.