The power of the Second Coming: Its origin and operation
It was the purpose of the last chapter to show by the testimony of the Scriptures themselves, and by the essential nature of power and glory, that the Lord effects His Second Coming by revealing to us a clearer knowledge of Himself, and of our nature and relations to Him, by means of His Word. " The Spirit of truth" will " testify of Him," and will "reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment," and "will lead men into all truth." New truth is to break out from the letter of the Word as light from the parting clouds, and this truth is the embodiment of the new forces which are to raise the dead, execute the judgment, and create the new heavens and the new earth.
But it is essential to a clear and rational knowledge of the subject that we should understand what this power is, how it reaches humankind through the Scriptures, and produces its grand effects. There is a vague idea floating through the minds of intelligent people that a new and clearer light is about to break in upon the mental world, and disperse the darkness of the past, upon the most vital problems of human life. Some think they see the morning of the new age breaking upon the mountains, and feel the quickening of a new life in their own hearts, and see the stir of a new power in the body of humanity. "They hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth." Many are crying, "Watchman, what of the night?" and the sum of the answers of all the voices is, "The morning cometh, and also the night." A direct and satisfactory answer is not possible without a correct knowledge of the constant source of all power, and the agency of truth in its application to human minds. This, therefore, is the first subject which demands our attention.
All power is from the Lord and is His power. The omnipotence of the Lord means much more than that He possesses the power to do everything He pleases. It has a deeper significance than that He is mightier than all other beings. It means that there is no power of any kind or degree, from the lowest to the highest, but His power. The so-called forces of nature are His. He draws the particles of matter together with greater or less force, forming the endless variety of solids and liquids; He sustains and moves the worlds in their orbits; He causes the grass to grow, and covers the valleys with harvests; He crowns the hills with forests; He lifts the ocean into the air, and spreads the clouds over the mountains. The dead mould has no power in itself to organize the plant; the seed has no inherent energy to select from the earth the materials for leaves, blossoms, and fruit; the stone cannot rise or fall of itself; animals cannot live or die by any power of their own. People have no underived ability to think, or feel, or perform the smallest act. All their physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual power is the Lord's power acting in and upon them. It is a universal and immutable truth, that all power belongs to God.
Power, also, is constantly given: it acts without any remission. It is a stream constantly flowing from its exhaustless fountain. It cannot be given and continue to operate when severed from its origin. The Lord did not create the material universe, and endow it with a certain measure of power, make it over to the control of certain laws, and then withdraw His hand, interposing only in special emergencies. It is a perpetual creation. It is an unremitting stream - a fresh cast from His hand every moment. We find in light a perfect and familiar example of the Divine method of creating and of communicating power and life. The cause which produces light must constantly act. The light which flows from a luminous body does not remain when the body itself ceases to shine. Turn off the switch, and the room is instantly dark; the light which is in it does not remain. Darken the sun, and we darken the moon and all the planets. The light which is in the world disappears.
The same result would take place with everything, however solid and constant it appears to be, if the creating cause were removed. Cut off the hardest rock or the most tenacious metal from the creating forces which flow into them and become them, and they would vanish from the earth as suddenly as the light from a room when the luminous body is extinguished. The earth, the sun, and the material universe itself, and every created existence would vanish away in a moment, if the Lord should remove the hand of His power from them. The tendency of science to resolve matter into one substance, and that substance into force, is in the right direction. "Sustentation is perpetual creation." But while it is true that all power is the Lord's, it is also true that it is given with a generous heart and a lavish hand to all beings and things to have and to hold and to use as their own. It comes by such secret ways and noiseless forms that the inflow of its currents is not noticed. It seems to be underived, innate, spontaneous, and our own, while in truth it is a constant gift of the Lord.
But the manner in which the powers of life are given and received has its order and laws. The amount of power and the kind of power received will depend upon the form and capacity and adjustment of the recipient form to the influent force. As the amount of heat and light a plant can receive from the sun depends upon its nature, form, aspect, and orderly relations to it, so the amount of life any human being can receive from the Lord depends upon the same conditions. The stone cannot feel and grow because it has no forms for the reception of the power which gives sensation and appropriates sustenance. The plant cannot see, and hear, and feel, because it has no organic vessels capable of receiving the forces which give that power. The animal cannot remember ideas, and reason from abstract knowledge, because it is not endowed with the spiritual organism which is capable of receiving power in those forms. The Lord cannot come to the blind man in light, or to the deaf in harmonies, because they have no rooms to receive Him in that way, there is no line of communication opened between man and the Lord in that direction.
We recognize this law in all natural things, and act according to it. The mechanic does not expect that any wheel will turn unless it is connected with the moving power. He knows that the work which a tool will do depends upon its form and quality, the skill of the hand, or the mechanism of the wheels and levers which guide it. The farmer does not gather wheat when he plants corn. The seeds he sows are the vessels with which he goes to the Lord for the power of sustaining life, and the means of happiness, and he expects to get the power and substance which those vessels will hold. He knows that each seed can only hold its own kind. Wheat will bring him wheat; corn will return to him corn; the grape will come loaded with clusters of its own kind. So it is in all cases: we get of the same kind we give. We receive from the infinite fountain of life the highest and best powers which the vessels we take to it will contain. A tin cup will not hold a thought; we cannot bring home heavenly affections in a basket. The memory is the, only vessel which will hold ideas. Truths are the vessels, and the only vessels, which will contain intellectual and spiritual forces.
This brings us to the point from which we can see the bearing of these principles upon our subject. The Lord is coming to execute judgment, and to create a new Age of spiritual life and happiness by means of His Word. He is the constant source of all power; He is the only power. The human race gets power - becomes power - in the degree it can receive it. Our capacity of reception is the absolute measure of the quantity and the quality of the life we receive and become. Life is only another name for power. Life is a Divine and substantial force, constantly emanating from the Lord, by which all things are created and sustained. Truths, when viewed in their essential nature, are the vessels which can receive these forces in their intellectual and spiritual forms, and become their repositories in us. The Word is Divine truth; it is capable, therefore, of containing and communicating a Divine life to us. Truth is the way, the path by which the Divine life comes to the soul.
But we must not leave this point in the obscurity of figure; we must try to see precisely what the office of truth is. If we fail in this, we shall not understand how the Lord is coming in the power and glory of His Word to perform the miracles He has foretold. Strictly speaking, truth is not the power itself, but the means by which we get it. It shows us how to put ourselves in the right aspect towards it, so that its forces can operate directly upon us. Truth is the law of the Divine order; it is the method of the Divine operation. When we know it, therefore, we know how we stand related to the Lord; we know what we must do to get life from Him. This is as true in the natural as in the spiritual realm of the creation. Let us look at some examples.
There is a natural force - which is only another name for a Divine force in nature - which we call gravity. By means of it all bodies are drawn towards one another. Water is held to the earth, and drawn on in a current down every precipice and declining plain. Seeing this, people erects barriers which it must overleap. They turn it from its course and adjust a revolving wheel to its current, which it sets in motion. They connect machinery with this wheel in such a manner that, by its revolutions, it saws logs, and spins wool, and weaves cloth, and renders much useful service. But there is no power in the wheel, none in the machinery nor in the water. The power is the Lord's, by which He draws all to each, and each to all, and keeps the creation in order. It is not a power given to the earth at its creation and left in it. It is constantly arriving from Him - constantly exerted. All that we do is to make the proper adjustments to convey the power in the right forms and order to produce the desired effects. The steam-engine is another example in point. In these cases, and in all others in which people employ the forces of nature, which are the forces of God, to do their work, they simply adjusts themselves to the power in such a way that it can work for them to do the specific service they desire to accomplish. They are enabled to make these adjustments by means of the truth. They have learned the laws of mechanics, the relations of one material substance to another, the composition of matter, its likes and dislikes, and its modes of action. By the aid of these truths, they have brought a power, playing in the idle stream or sleeping in its crystal waters, into their service, and taught it to do a specific work. It feeds them and clothes them, builds their habitations, gives wings to their feet, and brings the products of all climes to their door.
The importance of clearly understanding our relation to the source of all power will justify another illustration, familiar to all, which we find in the cultivation of the ground. We have no power to create a seed or to make it grow. Our agency consists wholly in adjustments, and our ability to make these will be measured by our knowledge of the nature of the substances and the forces which play a part in the growth of every plant. Here we can see with perfect clearness what truth does for human kind. The wise agriculturist will not plant corn upon the rocks; he or she will not sow wheat on the ice; they will not plant vines and orchards in the dense forest. They will not try to cultivate the tender plants of a tropical zone in the regions of frost. There would be no proper adjustment of means to ends, of nature to force. They would, therefore, act directly the reverse of the unwise course. They would study the nature of soils; they would learn what plants would find them the most congenial; he would employ the best methods of preparing and enriching them; they would consult the best conditions of heat and moisture, the proper time for planting, the best modes of culture, and, as far as possible, they would bring into their service the whole science of agriculture. But all that people have learned, or ever will learn, of this science gives them no other power than simply that of adjustment, and of providing the best conditions for growth, so that the Divine forces can operate upon the vegetable forms in the seed with the most direct and effective energy. This is a law of the Divine order in every realm of the creation. Paul may plant, and Apollos water; but God gives the increase.
People have the power of learning truth about natural and spiritual things - they have it because the Lord gives it to them - and all the truth which they learn relates wholly to the methods of making the best adjustments to the Divine power to secure its most direct and ample reception. For this is what we need. No growth, no progress is possible in natural or spiritual life without Divine assistance. The more fully we can receive and appropriate the Divine power, the higher we shall rise, and the greater blessedness we shall enjoy. The Lord has embodied and revealed natural truth in the substances and forms of nature. He has revealed spiritual truth to us in His Word. In both cases alike, the truth comes to us in appearances. It could be given in no other way. We must look within, to law and the harmonies of universal principles, if we desire to know how to bring ourselves into such relations to the source of all power that it can operate upon us the most effectively and for our highest good.
Having seen how the law operates on the natural plane of life, how it promotes human progress, how it has taken the human race from a barbarous age and carried us on, from one step to another, until we live in a new world, served by new forces, and find our means of happiness vastly multiplied, let us see how it operates on the spiritual plane of our being. The Lord comes to us and works for us in nature just in the degree we make the proper adjustments. Let us try to understand how He comes in higher forms to our spiritual natures. He is coming as the Spirit of truth to guide us into all truth, and in that way to show us what belongs to the Lord. In the words of our Lord, "He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you." "He will guide us into all truth" concerning the Lord and our relations to Him. He will show us how we stand related to the Source of life; He will teach us what we must do, and how to do it, to so adjust our spiritual natures to the Divine power that it can flow into us in the largest and most precious forms. We want power to overcome evil, to dispel ignorance, to purify the heart, to enlighten the understanding, to raise to life the dead spiritual affections, and to invigorate all our highest and noblest faculties by bringing them into orderly relations and intimate conjunction with the Fountain of Life, so that all its streams can flow into us, and become in us a fountain of water springing up into the life of the new age. We want to be genuine branches of the true Vine, and so intimately conjoined to it that its life can flow into us in full creative tides.
This adjustment of our nature to the Divine forces can only be effected by means of the truth. Truth shows us how to do it, in the same way that natural truth shows the mechanic and the farmer how to adjust themselves to the Divine forces in natural forms to accomplish natural effects. The principle is the same, the only difference being that one is on a higher plane of life than the other.
It is evident that a true knowledge of God is essential in this adjustment. Any misconception of His nature and relations to humankind will enter into and mar every method we employ to approach Him and to come into communion with Him. If we regard Him as an arbitrary, wrathful, and implacable Being, we shall cower before Him in fear, or submit with sullen indifference to His fury, or implore Him to restrain His resentments. If we obey His commandments it will be in the spirit of slaves, and not from the love of doing His will, or from the knowledge that they are the laws of spiritual life, the forms of His love, and the only paths of access to Him. If people think the hindrances to their salvation are in God, and all that is necessary to escape from hell and secure heaven is to induce Him to withhold His wrath and exercise mercy, their efforts will take a very different form from what they would if they believed that He is mercy and goodness itself, and that the only difficulties in the way of coming into entire harmony with Him existed in themselves.
If we regard God as existing in three Persons, among whom the Divine attributes are divided, one of whom is the embodiment of creative power and inflexible justice, the other of love and compassionate tenderness, and the third the willing and powerful servant of the other two, the mind will be constantly perplexed to know how to think of the three as one, and how to come into intimate conjunction with those whose characters and relations to men are so diverse. If we try to conceive of God as an infinite and formless Spirit, we put Him at once beyond the reach of human thought, and render any knowledge of the necessary modes of adaptation to His nature and conjunction with Him impossible. We cannot adapt ourselves to unknown conditions; we cannot come into communion with the inconceivable. To attempt it is as absurd as it would be to construct a machine to be propelled by a force of whose laws and nature we were totally ignorant. Any misconception of the Lord's character and relations to the human race must enter into all human motives and purposes, and qualify and hinder every effort to come into union with Him.
A true knowledge of our own nature is equally essential to such an ordering of our faculties that life may flow freely into us from its only source. Our faculties are the instruments we use; they are the subjects which the Divine forces enter, and the field in which they display their effects. Ignorance of those facultiesí nature, capacity, and laws of development will be a constant hindrance to their action. If a person regards their spirit as a formless essence or a vital force of which they can gain no other conception than of its existence, how can they control, guide, and develop its faculties? If it has no laws, no modes of action, no ascertained relations, what can a person do to bring themselves into orderly relations to the Source of life ? The ignorance and false notions concerning our spiritual nature, and the denial of its existence as a substantial and organized form subject to all the laws of organization, have constantly misled people with regard to their own agency in their salvation and spiritual development, and the means necessary to effect them. They have either denied distinct spiritual existence, or have thought of it only under material conditions. Consequently, many have mistaken the plainest directions the Lord has given us for the development of our spiritual faculties and the attainment of heavenly life. He gives a material meaning to flesh and blood, to eating and drinking, to coming and going, to rising and falling, to far and near, to great and small, and to all spiritual and Divine activities and relations, and the result is inaction, or constant error, and aimless and fruitless efforts.
All of our spiritual life and power are a constant gift from the Lord. The amount of power and the quality of life received depend upon the capacity and quality of the recipient forms, and those faculties are under human control. They are subject to us in the same manner that our natural faculties are. Their proper use and disposition for the reception of the inflowing life is our part of the work in their development, and in the attainment of the highest good. But how absurd to suppose we can do this work well unless we acknowledge their existence. understand their nature, and possess a true knowledge of the right means to use! It is as absurd as would be the attempt to construct a telegraph without any other knowledge of electricity than its existence as a force, or of the power of material substances to conduct it.
We see, therefore, that three things are essential to a free and full communication of spiritual power and life from the source of it to the recipients of it, namely, a true knowledge of God, a true knowledge of humankind, and a true knowledge of the means by which the power is transmitted. The Sacred Scriptures were given to us to supply these three wants, and they were given to us in the form best adapted to secure these ends. These means must necessarily be adapted to human conditions. The chain of instrumentalities must come down to the lowest states of our mental condition; they must come down even to our material senses. But in so doing they become subject to the peril of being misunderstood and rejected. Divine truth, which is the means of communication between the Source of life and its recipients, must come to the human race under the guise of appearances, for the senses cannot take cognizance of truth in any other way. They can only perceive the appearances of even material forms and relations. Consequently, the reports they bring us of things without us or within us must be subject to constant' rectification. All that the senses can tell us about the worlds which fill the universe is that they are points of light. They tell us that the earth is at rest and the largest body in the universe, and that suns and systems of suns are revolving around. We look down a long line of railway, and the senses declare that the rails continually approach until they meet. The wind is the highest conception they can gain of spirit; and the blowing of it, of the movements of the spirit; the cleansing of the body with water is the only notion they can gain of the purification of the spirit by means of the truth. Warmth is their report of the nature of love, and fire, of anger. The senses do the best they can. They bring us the materials of knowledge in such forms as lie within their power.
The Sacred Scriptures, in the letter, are the report of the senses concerning God, and man, and their relations to one another. They must, therefore, be subject to rectification in order to get the genuine truth. They tell us that God is angry with us, or that He loves us with an infinite and unchanging affection; that He goes and comes, and yet is everywhere present; that He exists as one personal being, and yet that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and so on indefinitely, their report always being according to the appearance to them. The senses have no memory, and no reason. They report what they see, and hear, and feel. They do not look before or after; they do not arrange or compare; they simply report according to their nature and capacity. They are invaluable servants; we could make no progress without them; but they are fallacious guides, and the most fickle and cruel masters.
Such are the forms and conditions under which the Lord reveals Himself to us, instructs us concerning our own nature, and teaches us how to so adjust ourselves to the order and power and flow of His forces that we can come into conjunction with Him, and receive life from Him in the highest finite forms and in ever-increasing fullness. Our spiritual growth, therefore, will depend upon the correctness of our knowledge of these laws of the Divine order, and upon our obedience to them. A person or a people who have no knowledge of Revelation must depend upon instincts, upon traditions, and such dim light as can be gained by experience. There can be no progress under such conditions, because there are no means of getting new power, there are no new aspects or larger openings of the human mind for the reception of increased life. A people in this state are like a tree which has attained its maturity.
There may be a hereditary belief in Revelation without any desire or effort to understand what is revealed. There can be no progress in that state. There is nothing in such a belief to bring people into such relations to the Lord that He can communicate more life to them. Their highest faculties are asleep; they can do no more than go the narrow round of life, never enlarging it or getting the refreshment of new power. Consequently, we find that the nations which have no revelation remain stationary from century to century.
A people may have an intense belief in the Sacred Scriptures, but limited wholly to their natural meaning. Such was the mental condition of the Jews. On the plane of their thought they were the most literal and bigoted believers; but their knowledge did not rise to the spiritual plane of their natures, and form a connection between them and the Lord in that degree of life. Their conscious relations to the Lord were external, governmental, and, for the most part, arbitrary like those of a subject to any sovereign. Consequently, they could receive life only in low and feeble forms, even when they were in the most orderly state. If they had lived up to the requirements of the law as they understood it; if they had remained scrupulous in the performance of every ritual, and had become perfect Jews, their attainments in spiritual progress would have been comparative, small, and limited to a low plane of action.
People may take a distinct step beyond the Jewish age, as the early Christians did; they may regard the Bible as a revelation of spiritual and Divine truth; they may revere it as the Word of God, and see many glorious and helpful spiritual truths in it, which they accept and believe and seek to regulate their lives by. By these means they come into truer and more intimate relations with the Lord; they receive life from Him in large measures, they "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." They take those parts of the Word in which the letter and spirit coincide, and they come into a new mental state. They live in a new world, and a new sun shines upon them.
But if they receive these truths by faith, and still remain in the letter, they will fall into doubt and confusion. They will mistake appearances for genuine truths; they cannot gain clear and true conceptions of the Lord, or of their own natures and relations to Him; and they must make many mistakes concerning what is required of them, and the appropriate means of gaining the largest measures of spiritual life. Such we know has been the result in the first Christian Church. There have been doubts about all the doctrines of the Church. There have been the widest difference of opinion and the gravest doubts about the authority and truthfulness of the directions which teach us how to come into true relations to the Lord. Some regard them as Divine; others are equally sure that they are merely human, and only the embodiments of the ideas of a narrow and uncultured age. The apparent and the actual are so intimately blended that the mind is confused, and the proper course of action rendered uncertain.
When we add to these conflicting appearances and to this imperfect knowledge the constant tendency of evil to obscure the perceptions of truth and bias the judgment to give a verdict in their favor, we have conditions which render it almost impossible to understand and practice the directions for so disposing and ordering our faculties that we can receive life and spiritual power from the Lord in the highest degree and fullest measure. The history of the world, and the present doubt and darkness and conflict of opinion among those who nominally, or really, accept the Bible as a Divine revelation, is practical and conclusive evidence that it has not hitherto been possible to get from reason, or tradition, or revelation a distinct and rational idea of the Lord's character and relations to men, of man's nature and destiny as a spiritual being, and of the means of attaining it, which is adequate to his wants. The greatest problems of human life to most men are yet an enigma. If there were the same imperfect knowledge, and consequent doubt, uncertainty, and conflict of opinion about any natural end, and the means of attaining it, there would be no hope of success.
What, then, is needed? Evidently, a knowledge of the true meaning of the directions which the Lord has given us for placing ourselves in such relations to Him that He can communicate His life to us, and work in us the purposes of His infinite love and wisdom.
As this connection is to be formed between a spiritual and Divine Being and a human being in the natural world, the directions must have two sides, a spiritual and a natural one, and they must be regarded from both points of view. The ladder of truths which connects us with the Lord is composed of natural, spiritual, and Divine steps, one within another. The mind must not confound them, or stop in the natural. It must ascend by means of it into the spiritual, and from that gain access to the Divine. In this way it rises out of the region of sensuous knowledge, it escapes from the illusion of appearances, and comes into the realm of realities, where all things are seen in their true form and order. From this point of view the directions are plain and easily comprehended.
Practically, this step in spiritual knowledge is of the same kind as that which has been taken by the scientific mind in the knowledge of the material world, and it will give people the same assistance in the attainment of spiritual power and in progress in spiritual life that a true knowledge of the material world has given them in bringing material forces into amicable and useful relations to him. As science has shown us how to put ourselves into such relations to the Lord that He can bring His Divine power in natural forms, to work for us and to minister to our comfort and delight in manifold ways, so will a true knowledge of the laws of spiritual life show us how to place ourselves, as spiritual beings, in such relations to the Lord that the Divine forces of life can act upon us in fullness and regenerating power, creating us anew into His image and likeness, making us His children, the heirs of His love and wisdom, and the recipient of His blessedness.
But this knowledge cannot be obtained by seasonings based on the natural forms of spiritual truth. The laws of spiritual life must be seen in their own form and order, and in their relations to the natural plane of existence. But to do this it is necessary that the mind gain a point of view from which both the natural and the spiritual side of truth can be seen at the same time. In his ordinary state, people see only the natural side. But they are so constituted that their spiritual sight can be opened, as in the case of the prophets, when they can see spiritual objects while their natural sight is closed, or the natural and spiritual are so blended that they cannot be distinguished from one another. In neither case could the distinctions between the spiritual and the natural, and the relations which exist between them, be seen and rationally understood.
To see how spirit acts on matter, how spiritual forces become natural forces and spiritual laws become embodied and revealed in natural laws, and expressed in human language, it is necessary that both the natural and the spiritual consciousness be awake, so that both sides - the outer and the inner, the natural and the spiritual - can be seen at the same time, and sharply discriminated and accurately compared. In this way alone can the illusions of the senses be dispelled, the obscurities and distortions wrought upon spiritual truth by clothing it in material forms be corrected, and the laws of spiritual life be seen in their true order and normal activities. That such a state is possible, and necessary to another step in spiritual progress, and how the Lord has provided for it, will be the subject to which we must next address ourselves.