1 Thessalonians 4:13-18—But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
It is a very interesting fact, I think, that this first Letter to the Thessalonians is the earliest of the writings of the Apostle Paul which the Spirit of God has preserved for the edification of the Church; and yet it abounds in references to the great doctrine of the Second Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then, too, it was written to a very young Church. Some people are inclined to think of the doctrine of the Lord's Return as something so difficult to understand, and as a truth so deep, and so hard for simple men to lay hold of, that it should only be proclaimed to Christians who are well advanced, and who are mature in their experience, and who have a very full understanding of the divine truth. But this Church to whom Paul wrote this Letter was composed of very young Christians. Only a few months before the writing of the Letter, at the most, they had been in the darkness and ignorance of heathendom. A few, perhaps, were Jews who had been brought to a saving knowledge of Christ, but the majority of these people in the Church at Thessalonica were heathen who had been reached by the Gospel, and who were now rejoicing in Christ Jesus. Then you remember that the apostle Paul was only permitted to spend a very brief period with them. Luke speaks of his preaching in the synagogue for three Sabbath days, but how much longer he was there we are not told, possibly a little longer. Then persecution broke out, and in obedience to the Lord's word, "If they persecute you in one city, flee to another" (the apostle Paul did not then have the ultra-dispensational teacher of today to tell him that the Lord's words did not apply to him) he left there, and went on to Berea, and then on to Athens; and he left Timothy behind him to care for the young Church, and then to report. As a result of a letter that came to him at Athens he was so exercised that he sent Timothy back, and he could not rest until he returned the second time, and told him how well they were getting on. It was a wonderful report he brought back. Paul was fearful lest these young believers might have been disturbed by the enmity of the unbelieving Jews, and of their former friends in heathenism, who were opposed to the Gospel of Christ. But when Timothy returned he said something like this: "You know, Paul, it is remarkable the way they are going on. They are not only standing steadfast, and holding fast the Word of truth, but they are holding forth the Word of life. They have all turned preachers, and everywhere in Thessalonica they are carrying the message, and not only there but into Macedonia they have gone, and into other parts and into Achaia; they are telling out the story with great assurance." And he must have added, "You know, Paul, they are greatly distressed over one thing. You remember you told them that the Lord Jesus Christ was coming again to reign as King." He did proclaim that truth, and persecution broke out, and the accusation was made against Paul that he was a disturber of the peace. His enemies said of him, "He is preaching another King, one Jesus." And if Paul was preaching "another King, one Jesus" then he was preaching the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. When our Lord Jesus was baptized in the Jordan and anointed with the Spirit He was set apart for three offices—prophet, priest, and king. He exercised His prophetic office here on earth. He is exercising His priestly office yonder in the glory. But He is to reign as King when He comes back again, when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God, and of His Christ.
This truth seems to have gripped these Thessalonians; they revelled in it, they could think of little else. Some became so occupied with it that they were not much good for the ordinary affairs of life. There is always a danger of going too far in regard to any truth of God, and the apostle had to give them a sobering word. What Timothy communicated to the apostle Paul was this. "Since we have been there some of them have died; they have fallen asleep in Christ, and their friends are disconsolate; they feel that they won't be here to welcome the King when He comes. They feel that they have missed so much that their hearts are really broken because of it." And Paul says, "I will just write them a Letter, and clear that up." So in the course of this Letter, he expounds the part that both those who have died before Christ's Return, and those who are living at His Coming, will have in the glorious future day. "I would not have you ignorant", he says, "concerning them which are asleep." What does he mean by "those which are asleep"? Does he mean when our dear ones in Christ close their eyes to the scenes of earth, when the body is dead, that we put them away, body, soul, and spirit, in the tomb, and that the whole man sleeps in utter unconsciousness until the glorious morning of the first resurrection? No, he certainly does not mean that, because that would contradict very definitely what he taught elsewhere. Take that wonderful passage in the third of Ephesians. He says: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named." Where does he locate the family of God? In only two places—in heaven and on earth. If he were a soul-sleeper he would have said, in the grave and on earth. But he did not say that. He locates those who have left this scene as in heaven. There is not even a third place. I took up a paper in our country not long ago that stirred me to preach a sermon. It had an article beseeching the faithful to come through with more cash, because the poor souls in Purgatory are suffering so dreadfully because of the depression that has swept all over the world. And so I preached a sermon one Sunday on the subject, "What can we do for the poor souls in Purgatory?" We had over five thousand people to hear it; and when we got looking into the Book to find out about it, we found out that there was not any soul in Purgatory, and that the only Purgatory there is is the precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which purged our consciences from dead works to serve the living God. No, Paul does not locate any of the believers in Purgatory, and he does not leave them unconscious in the grave. He speaks of "the whole family in heaven and on earth." And you remember that elsewhere he says that the believer who dies is absent from the body—not asleep in the body—and is present with the Lord. And he says that he himself had a desire to depart and to be with Christ which is far better. How did he know that? Was it simply the word of an inspired man who had been commanded so to write? No, not that alone; he knew it by practical experience.
We say sometimes, No one has ever been to Heaven and come back to tell us what it is like? We are wrong, for he had been there. He says: "I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago (whether in the body I cannot tell; or whether out of the body I cannot tell; God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." Now, mark you, the apostle clearly gives us to understand there that a man can be conscious and out of the body. For when he had this experience he says as it were, "If I had a body, I am not conscious of it; and if I was out of the body, I did not miss it!" That helps me in regard to my friends who have gone to Heaven. He saw and heard something; he was thoroughly conscious, and he was caught up into Paradise. Paradise is a Persian word, it is used three times in the New Testament. It means "a royal garden." Paul says, "I was caught up; and I found myself in a royal garden." I never go into one of your beautiful English gardens without saying, "This is a little, wee bit of Paradise." Paul found himself in a scene of ineffable beauty and glory. Then he says, I heard something; I heard unspeakable things which it is not lawful for a man to utter. So he was thoroughly conscious; he could see and hear. I was in a meeting down in Florida some few years ago, and on one night each week we used to have questions and answers. Among the questions sent up was this one. "Will you please tell us what the unspeakable things were which Paul heard when he was caught up into the third heaven." I had to admit that I could not tell. Why Paul himself could not tell. In other words, it was so wonderful that he could not put it into our language. Yet he heard it at the time and understood.
Oh no, he is not telling us here that the soul is sleeping, that the spirit is unconscious. He is speaking of the tired, weary, worn bodies of the people of God, put to sleep till Jesus comes. So he says, "I do not want you to be ignorant concerning those which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope." We are not forbidden to sorrow. Our blessed Lord when He was here on earth was a Man of sorrows; He was acquainted with grief. He looks in sympathy upon us in our sorrow. "In all their afflictions He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them." We are not taught in Scripture that we must adopt a cold, hard, stoical attitude when bereavement enters our home, and snatches our dear ones away. Why, the sisters of Bethany wept at the death of Lazarus, and Jesus wept with them. He has bidden us weep with those who weep at a funeral, and rejoice with those who rejoice at a wedding. We are to enter into the joys and sorrows of one another. What He does tell us is that our griefs and sorrows are not hopeless. These people of Thessalonica, so far as this world was concerned, had no hope whatever of meeting their departed loved ones again in their unsaved state. But to the Christians he says regarding those who sleep in Jesus they were not to sorrow as others which had no hope. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him." We do believe that—don't we? Listen to me; if you do not believe it, you are not a Christian. I do not know if you have any professing Christians on this side of the water who do not believe it, but we have some on our side. They tell us that you can be a Christian, and you do not need to believe in the Resurrection of Christ; that in some way or other His Spirit is permeating men; that His teaching is living after Him, and doing men good. One of our preachers from New York, speaking over the radio, referred to Matthew Arnold's well-known statement when he said that the Body of Jesus still sleeps in a Syrian tomb, but that His soul goes marching on. People said, How magnificent! Magnificent nonsense! It's a "John Brown's body" sort of thing. If the Body of Jesus still sleeps in a Syrian tomb, then, according to First Corinthians xv, "your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins." We begin with the truth of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." So I take it that you cannot begin as a Christian until you recognize the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. "He was delivered for our offences, and He was raised again for our justification." "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him," or, "will God lead forth with Him." What is He referring to? Why, simply this, that in the Old Testament it is written, "The Lord my God shall come and all the saints with Thee." And in the New Testament He tells us the same wonderful truth. And so the Apostle says that when the Lord Jesus returns again, when He comes forth to reign, when He sets up His glorious Kingdom, He is going to bring with Him all His saints, both those who have died in the past and those who will be living at the time when He rises from the Father's throne. They are coming back with Him; they are going to be manifested with Him in glory, and the word will be fulfilled: and "every eye shall see Him and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth will wail because of Him." But He will not come alone; He will come with all His redeemed, the entire heavenly company; those which have been put to sleep by Jesus will God lead forth with Him. The apostle John in his Book of the Revelation, written some forty years after Paul wrote this Letter, described symbolically His Coming leading forth His saints. He pictured Him as a mighty warrior, whose Name is called the Word of God, who is clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, riding upon a white horse. And John says, "The armies which were in heaven followed Him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean." It is a picture of the heavenly host returning with Christ to set up His heavenly Kingdom.
But how is this going to be? You say, the bodies of our dear ones have crumbled away to dust, and their souls are with Christ, and if they are not coming back as disembodied spirits how then will God lead them forth with Him? The apostle explains it in another verse: "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout." "The Lord Himself." There is something lovely about that. "The Lord Himself." I like that word—don't you? It is not mere symbolism. He is not talking about the death angel, he is talking about "the Lord Himself." Before He went away He said to His disciples, "In My Father's house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there ye may be also." You remember those two shining ones who appeared on the Mount of Olives just after Christ was taken up into Heaven. And you recall that they said to the disciples, "Why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into Heaven." "This same Jesus." I love those words. "This same Jesus." Nineteen hundred years in the glory have not changed Him in the least. He is the same today as when He was here on earth. He is glorified now, but in His own Person, His character, He is the same blessed, living, loving, gracious, compassionate Lord that He was when He was here on earth. When I was a boy they used to sing in the Sunday School:
"I think, when I read that sweet story of old.
When Jesus was here among men,
How He took little children as lambs to His fold,
I should like to have been with Him then.
I wish that His hands had been laid on my head.
That His arms had been thrown around me.
And that I might have seen His kind look when He said,
Let the little ones come unto me!"
Do you know how that hymn affected me? It always made me feel that I had been born nineteen hundred years too late; and I had an idea that something had happened, and the Lord Jesus was not quite the same, and that I would never get as close to Him as those dear little children, when they were brought to Him, and He took them up in His arms. But I gather from this passage that Jesus Christ is "the same, yesterday, and for ever," and that when He returns He will be the same wonderful Saviour that He was when He was here on earth. And I shall look into His eyes, and they will be human eyes. I shall listen to the words that fall from His lips, and they will be human lips. I shall pour the story of my love and adoration into His ears, and they will be human ears. I shall feel the touch of His hands upon me, and they will be human hands. For the Man, Christ Jesus, abides for evermore. The Russellites and the Ruthfordites can have a dead, ghostly kind of a Christ if they like, but as for me,
"I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
As redeemed by His side I shall stand.
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand."
Yes He will be the same Jesus. Why, the last word that ever came ringing down from Heaven before the volume of inspiration was closed, was this, "Surely, I come quickly." And the apostle John, speaking for the whole Church, responded, "Even so come, Lord Jesus." This is our hope—the personal Return of our Blessed, adorable Saviour.
"The Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout." Now, mark you, it does not say that His feet are going to touch the Mount of Olives on that occasion. That will be; but this is something a little different. Follow it carefully. We gather from this passage, and from the I Corinthians 15 that the Lord is going to descend from Heaven, and He is coming down into the region of the atmosphere of this earth, and He will come with an awakening shout, and the voice of the archangel will be heard, and the trump of God will sound, "and the dead in Christ shall rise first." Literally it may be rendered "the dead in Christ will stand up first." The word that is used throughout the New Testament for resurrection is that of standing up. I think it is something like this. Here is a company of soldiers in a battlefield. They have been fighting hard, and they have thrown themselves down on the ground, and they are asleep. Suddenly the trumpet sounds, and they spring to their feet; and then perhaps another trumpet sounds, and away they march. And so when the Lord descends from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, in an instant the dead in Christ stand up; no longer are they sleeping in the dust. You say, that is an impossibility. With God nothing is impossible. If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we need not be afraid to believe the rest of it. He was the first-fruits of them that slept. He came forth from the tomb, and the dead shall come forth from the tomb in their glorious resurrected bodies.
The Lord Jesus will descend from Heaven, and the dead will be raised, and the living changed at the last trump. There are many very earnest and sincere Christians who tell us that this last trump is the seventh trump of the Book of the Revelation, and that the Church will be on the earth all through the blowing of the trumpets of the Tribulation, and at the sounding of the last trumpet the Church will be raised. But may I say as one who can claim to have some knowledge of the teaching of this Book, for I give it the first place in all my thinking, that the Book of the Revelation was not written when this Epistle was written, and, therefore, the apostle Paul cannot be referring to the seventh trump of the Book of the Revelation. That book was not written until about forty years afterwards. And, further, he refers here not to the trump of an angel, but to the trump of God. The trumpets of the angels in the Revelation give us the various stages of the Tribulation period, and they finally come to the culmination which ushers in the Kingdom. What we, as the people of God, are waiting for is the shout from Heaven, and the voice of the archangel, and the sounding of the trump of God which will close up this present dispensation. Therefore, it is called the last trump.
What is to take place? The dead in Christ will stand up at His Coming, clothed with their resurrection bodies, and prepared to meet the King. "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." There will be a generation of believers living on the earth when our Lord returns. You and I may be in that generation. Those who know their Bibles best are more concerned about the signs of the times than those who do not; and we believe that the hour when this passage is to be fulfilled must be drawing very near. And we may be those of whom the apostle speaks "which are alive and remain" and who will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air. How wonderful is the thought! Oh, the separations that death has made; the way in which it has broken families, as well as individual hearts. But when Jesus comes the dead in Christ will all be raised, and the living in Christ will be changed, and we will be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air.
People ask me sometimes, Do you think we shall know our loved ones in that day when we are caught up together? Where would be the object of our being caught up together if we did not. Here on earth we have been heirs together of the grace and love of Christ. We have had fellowship together. We have been labourers together. There should be no question about heavenly recognition. Why, there is recognition even on the part of lost souls. Jesus told of the rich man in hell who looked across the great gulf and saw Lazarus who had begged at his gate on earth, and he recognised him. And he saw Abraham, too; and though he had never seen him before, yet he recognised Abraham, and called him by name. And you remember on the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples saw that with the Saviour there were two others, and they recognised them. Nobody had said beforehand to Peter and the others, "Let me present to you our old friends, Moses and Elijah." No, the moment they looked at Moses and Elijah they recognised them. And Peter was so thrilled that he wanted to build three churches right away—a St. Moses Church, a St. Elijah Church, and a Holy Saviour Church. "Let us build three tabernacles," said Peter, but he did not know what he was talking about. But there was recognition of the two who were with Christ on the Mount. You know the Scripture says, "Then we shall know even as we ourselves have been known." Yes, we are to be caught up together, and "so shall we ever be with the Lord." We shall be like the Lord; we shall have glorified bodies just as He has. And so the dead raised, and the living changed, will be caught up together. That is how the Word is going to be fulfilled. Notice it says that we are going to be "caught up to meet the Lord in the air." This word "meet" implies going out to meet one in order to return with him. When I was in Aberdeen recently I sent a telegram to a cousin of mine telling him that we would arrive at such and such a time, and he promised that he would meet us. And there he was with a car waiting for us. He came to meet us in order to take us back to the house with him. We are going to be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and then we are coming back with Him when He comes to reign in glory for a thousand wonderful years. The same word is used in the last chapter of the Acts where Paul and his company landed in Italy, and, says Paul, "when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us" and "so we came to Rome." We are going up to meet the Saviour, and we are coming back with Him. You say, Do you mean that we are going to live on earth in houses just as we do now? No, our real home will be in the heavenly Jerusalem, and our relationship to this earth will be very much like that of the angels in the past dispensation, when angels appeared as God's messengers to His servants. "For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come" (or, "the age to come") "whereof we speak." We shall be His representatives, and He shall rule the world through His saints in that day, and will appear visibly before the eyes of all people. And the Apostle concludes with this word "And so shall we ever be with the Lord." No matter what comes afterwards, we shall be with Him. I have a friend and he does not believe in this at all. He said to me one day, "My dear brother, you are going to be terribly surprised when you wake up one morning expecting to be in the Millennium and find you are in the new heavens and the new earth." I said, "I have not lost anything even if it should please the Lord to change His programme; I shall be with Him, anyway, and that is the great thing." We are to be with the Lord wherever He goes, and whatever He does we are going to be associated with Him; we are going to serve Him, and we are to have a part in His everlasting Kingdom. Some people have an idea that Heaven is a place of absolute do-nothingness. When Hawthorne was over here from America he was very much interested in some of your old churchyards. And one day he unearthed this epitaph:
"Here is a poor woman who always was tired,
Who lived in a house where help was not hired.
Her last words on earth were, 'Dear friends, I am going
Where washing ain't done, nor sweeping nor sewing.
But everything there is exact to my wishes.
For where they don't eat there'll be no washing dishes.
I'll be where loud anthems forever are ringing,
But having no voice I'll get clear of the singing.
Don't weep for me now; don't weep for me ever,
I'm going to do nothing forever and ever."
Poor thing. How tired she was! You know, dear friends, that is not the Biblical conception of the ages to come. It is not that we are to do nothing for ever and ever, but "His servants shall serve Him, and His Name shall be in their foreheads." We shall reign with Him. We shall bear rule with Him over a redeemed universe. What a delight it will be to run His errands!
Let me tell you a little story. Some years ago when my eldest son, who is now Superintendent of the Coloured Bible Institute in Dallas, Texas, was a little boy, my wife, and the little lad, and myself were up in Manitoba; I was engaged there in Gospel work. And one day we left a place in South-Eastern Manitoba to go in a round-about way to the city of Brandon, where I was preaching that night, going on to Winnipeg the next morning. It was a very hot autumn day, and the men were taking in the harvest, and the people in the train were not feeling very comfortable. If the windows were opened the dust came blowing in, and the mosquitoes; and if the windows were closed everyone was half-suffocated. We stopped at a certain place, and a Roman Catholic missionary priest got on the train. (Now if there happens to be a person here and you have been brought up in the Roman Catholic Church, do not get your back up. I expect this priest to be with me in Heaven for all eternity.) Well, he got on the train and the dear man walked all through the car looking for a seat, but no one made room for him. Mostly the seats which accommodated two only had one person using them, but that one person was planted in the middle of the seat, and he would not move one way or the other, and so no one made room for this priest. He was a man of rather generous proportions, and he had on a long dark habit, with a rope round his waist, and a cross hanging to it; and you can understand on such a hot day the people in the train did not want so heavy a man pressing against them. So at last he made his way to the rear of the car, and he seated himself half-way on the wood-box; it is a place where the wood is kept to keep the train warm. I felt sorry for him, and I said to my wife, "There are only three of us here; we will get some of this luggage out of the way, and then I will go and ask him if he would care to come and sit with us; it may give me the chance to say a word to him about his soul." So we fixed things up, and then I went to where he was sitting, and I said, "You do not look very comfortable there; if you do not mind sitting with a little family, we would be glad to have you come and sit with us." He said, "Thank you very much; I appreciate your kindness." And from his accent I knew he was accustomed to speaking in French. So he came to where we were sitting, and sat down. I was anxious to get in a word with him, but it is often difficult for me to get started with a stranger. My mother's folk came from Rutlandshire, so that is the English strain in me. I did not know how to begin. We generally start with the weather, because, as a rule, there is generally some weather around that you can say something about. So I made some remark about the weather. I intimated that it was quite warm. Then he made the very original remark that they were taking in the harvest, and I agreed with him. So we got started, and finally he gave me just the opening that I wanted. "Pardon me, sir," he said, "are you a resident of our fair province, or are you just a visitor?" "I am simply a visitor," I replied. "Are you a tourist travelling for pleasure?" he remarked further. "No," I replied, "but I get a lot of pleasure out of it." "Are you a commercial traveller representing some business?" he asked. "Not exactly, I replied, "though I do represent one particular house, and I have some magnificent goods to tell people about." "You excite my curiosity," he said. "Just what is your calling, if I may ask?" "I will tell you," I said. "To be perfectly frank, I am a catholic priest engaged in missionary work." He looked at my collar; he looked also at my wife, and little boy, and he said, "You are surely jesting with me, sir. You do not really mean that." "I was never more serious in my life," I replied, I am a priest in the Holy Catholic Church." "You mean," he suggested, that you are an Anglican clergyman." "No," I replied, "I am simply an ordinary priest in the Catholic Church." "But you have not the Roman collar on," he said. "I did not say that I was a Roman Catholic priest," I said. "I belong to the Church universal. I am a priest in that Church." He looked puzzled. "I do not quite understand," he said. "Would you like to hear how I became a priest? "I asked. "I would indeed," he said. "I shall have to begin first by telling you how I became converted." I took two hours telling him how I became converted, for we had lots of time. I wanted to give him all the Scriptures, and I turned him to Scripture after Scripture. Then at last I brought him to the place where I came before God as a poor sinner, and cried out to Him for salvation. And I turned to His Word, and I read this wonderful sentence to him: "He that believeth on Him is not condemned." I said, "You know I saw that the moment I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, God said that I was not condemned. I rested on that, and I passed from death unto life, and He has been my Saviour ever since." "This is most interesting," he said. "I have never heard anything like this in my life before. You remind me of St. Augustine." I tried to think what he looked like, but I could not call up any effigy I had seen. "What do you mean, that I remind you of St. Augustine?" I asked. "Don't you remember," he said, "that it was through the Book that he was converted. He had no one to talk to him, then he was told to read, and as he read the Epistle to the Romans the whole thing opened up." I said, "I am glad you reminded me of him, because it is through believing the words of this Book that I have been saved." We talked of many things, for we had all day to do it in. I told him how I learned that I was a priest, by reading the Letter by the blessed apostle St. Peter. For he said, "ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood." We talked and talked, and we had dinner together; and then when we reached Brandon there was a cousin of mine waiting for me, and he looked a little bit surprised as we two priests came down the steps together. I said to him, "You look after my wife and boy, and we two priests will walk along together. We talked all the time of the things of God and then we got to the junction where one road led to the monastery and the other to the Gospel Hall; and I said to him, "I am going this way, and you have to go that way to the monastery." "I wish you could spend the evening at the monastery," he said. "I should be glad to have done so," I said, "but my cousin's wife has prepared dinner for me. You are a bachelor, and you do not realise how terrible it is, when a lady has prepared dinner, for you not to be there on time to enjoy it. So I am afraid I shall have to go." "Couldn't you come up afterwards?" he asked. "No," I replied, "I have to go to a meeting." "I would like to have more conversation with you," he said. "You are the first clergyman I have ever talked with who did not get angry with me!" "Why don't you come to hear me preach at the hall?" I said. "But I could not come dressed like this," he said. "You are just my size; I have a suit I could lend you if you would care to come along to my cousin's for dinner." He laughed, and said, "Thank you very much, but I have taken solemn vows always to wear this costume." "I would not have you break your vow," I said, "and so we will have to say 'good-bye."' He took my hand, and said, "Good-bye. I have enjoyed this day. I am going to think these things over. I suppose we will never meet again." I said, "We shall meet in one of two places." He said, "What did you mean by saying, One of two places?" "In a little while," I said, First Thessalonians four is going to be fulfilled." And I read to him the Scripture that we have talked about tonight. I said, "When that takes place, and it may take place at any time, I will be there with the Lord for I am going to be caught up to meet Him in the air." He said, "You are sure of it?" "Absolutely," I replied. "Well," he said, "you must think you are a very good man. It is just the opposite," I said. "I have been a very bad man, and I have found out that Jesus died for sinners, and as a lost sinner I trusted Him, and He washed my sins away in His precious blood. And when I am caught up to meet the Lord in the air, I shall remember our talk today, I will look about for you, and if your faith has been, not in the Church, not in its Sacraments, not in your good works, but in the precious atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, I shall see you there, and we will have a good time together for all eternity." He was silent, and then he said, "You said 'One of two places'." "Yes," I replied, "the Scripture says concerning that event, 'Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.' And at the end of the thousand years, John says, 'I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it; from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the Book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works'. Now," I said, "when that event takes place, I will be there. I shall not be in front of that throne for judgment, for my judgment was dealt with when those two arms were out-stretched on Calvary's Cross, and when the weight of my sins fell upon Jesus, my Substitute, and by trusting in Him I have been saved from judgment. And wherever He is His saints are going to be with Him. And if I have not found you in the air when Jesus comes, I will look for you there in that great throng, and if you have lived and died depending on the Church, and the creeds and sacraments of the Church, and on your good works to save you, I shall see you there, and I shall see the awful look that will come over your face as the Blessed Saviour has to say to you, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." "God forbid! Not that!" he cried out. "It need not be," I said, "if you will trust that precious blood of Jesus to wash away your sins. Is it to be Christ, or the Church, and your good deeds, and your prayers? In what do you trust for salvation?" He was silent; and then he looked up with tear-filled eyes, "Christ, He is the Rock" he said. "I dare not trust in anyone but Him. I rest my soul on Him." "That is what St. Augustine said. Not Peter, but Christ is the Rock on which the Church is built," I said. "If that confession comes from your heart, then I shall see you in the air when Jesus comes."
Are you trusting the Lord Jesus? Are you ready to meet Him when He comes? If you have never availed yourself of what He did the first time when He was here you will never be ready to meet Him when He comes the second time. He died to put away sin, and if you trust Him tonight you will be saved for eternity, and ready to meet Him when He returns.
From Four Golden Hours at Kingsway Hall, London with Dr. Harry A. Ironside. London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, [n.d.].
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