And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains…
Isaiah shows us the Church of the future only in outline; the great fact which he gives us is that in the last days the spiritual Jerusalem shall gather into itself all the kingdoms of the world and all the glory of them. It may be possible for us in some indistinct way to fill in this outline; to imagine, if we cannot prophesy, what the scope and character of the future Church shall be.
I. WILL IT HAVE A CREED? A creed is only a statement, more or less elaborate, of the facts and principles of religion accepted by those who adhere to it. Religion is not wholly an affair of the emotions; it involves the apprehension of truth. In the future, as in the past, this truth must be stated, in order to be apprehended. A man's creed is what he believes; and there must be creeds as long as there are believers. It is probable, however, that the creeds may be considerably modified as the years pass. Certainly they have been undergoing modifications, continually, through the centuries gone by. It must be remembered, however, that the changes through which theological science has been passing have been changes of spirit rather than of substance, of form more than of fact. The essential truth remains. The great changes in theology are moral changes. Theology is constantly becoming less materialistic and more ethical. This progress will continue through the future. The creed of the future will contain, I have no doubt, the same essential truth that is found in the creeds of the present; but there may be considerable difference in the phrasing of it, and in the point of view from which it is approached.
1. Men will believe in the future in an infinite personal God, the Creator, the Ruler, the Father of men. The abstract, impersonal Force to which Agnosticism leads us has no relation to that which is deepest in man, and can have none. Christ bade us love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul. Can any man ever be perfectly happy until he has found some Being whom he can love in this way? Must not the Being who is worthy to be loved in this way be both perfect and infinite? And is it possible for a man to love with heart and mind and soul, any being, however vast or powerful, that has neither heart nor mind nor soul?
2. Concerning the mode of the Divine existence, men will learn in the future to speak more modestly than they have spoken in the past. It will become more and more evident that it is not possible to put the infinite into terms of the finite. There is the doctrine of the Trinity; there is truth in it, or under it; but can anyone put that truth into propositions that shall be definite and not contradictory?
3. II one may judge the future by the past there is no reason to fear that the person of Jesus Christ will be less commanding in the Church of the future than it is in the Church of the present.
4. The fact of sin will not be denied by the Church of the future. Doubtless organisation and circumstance will be taken into the account in estimating human conduct; but the power of the human will to control the natural tendencies, to release itself from entangling circumstances, and to lay hold on the Divine grace by which it may overcome sin, will also be clearly understood. The supremacy of the moral nature will be vindicated.
5. Punishment, as conceived and represented by the Church of the future, will not be an arbitrary infliction of suffering, but the natural and inevitable consequence of disobedience to law. It will be discovered that the moral law is incorporated into the natural order, and that its sanctions are found in that order; while, in the work of redemption, God interposes by His personal and supernatural grace to save men from the consequences of their own disobedience and folly. Law is natural; grace is supernatural Transgressors will be made to see, what they now so dimly apprehend, that no effect can be more closely joined to its cause than penalty to sin.
6. Whatever the creed of the future may be, however, it will not be put to the kind of use which the creed of the present is made to serve. It will not be laid down as the doctrinal plank over which everybody must walk who comes into the communion of the Church. The Church, like every other organism, has an organic idea, and that is simple loyalty to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. There will be but one door into that Church — Christ will be the door.
II. WHAT WILL BE THE POLITY OF THE FUTURE CHURCH? It is likely that, of the various sorts of ecclesiastical machinery, each of the several religious bodies will freely choose that which it likes best. Doubtless the Church will have some form of government: it will not be a holy mob; lawlessness will not be regarded as the supreme good, in Church or in State. In whatever ecclesiastical mould the Church of the future may be cast, there will be no mean sectarianism in existence then. The various families of Christians will dwell as happily together as well-bred families now do in society. Though there be diversities of form in the future, there will be real and thorough intercommunion and cooperation among Christians of all names, and nothing will be permitted to hold apart those who follow the same Leader and travel the same road.
III. WHAT KIND OF WORK WILL BE DONE BY THE CHURCH OF THE FUTURE? It will have many ways of working that the Church of the present has not dreamed of. "The field is the world," Christ has told us; and in that better day the Church will have learned to occupy the field.
1. Paul said that as a preacher of the Gospel he magnified his office. There is no office more honourable. But it must not be inferred that there is no other Way of preaching the Gospel except the formal utterance of religious truth, in the presence of a congregation. The truth will be disseminated, in that time, in many other ways. For though the living voice is the best instrument for the proclamation of the truth, so far as it will reach, it cannot reach very far. The art of printing has been given to the world since that day; and by that invention the whole business of instructing and influencing men has been revolutionised. The Church has already appropriated this agency; and it is doubtless true that it will be employed in the future more effectively than in the past. Neither will the range of teaching be so narrow as it has sometimes been in the past. To apply the ethical rule of the New Testament to the conduct of individuals, and to the relations of men in society, will be the constant obligation of the pulpit. Out of Zion must go forth the law by which parents, children, neighbours, citizens, workmen, masters, teachers, pupils, benefactors, beneficiaries, shall guide their behaviour. Science, long the nightmare of the theologians, will no more trouble their dreams; it will be understood that there can be no conflict between truths; that physical science has its facts and laws, and spiritual science its facts and laws; that these are diverse but not contradictory, and that the one is just as positive and knowable as the other. The unfriendliness now existing between the scientists and the theologians will exist no longer, because both parties will have learned wisdom.
2. But the work of teaching will not be the only work to which the Church of the future will address itself. Large and wise enterprises for the welfare of men will be set on foot; many of the instrumentalities now in use will continue to be employed, under modified forms, and many new ones will be devised. It will be understood that the law of the Church is simply this, "Let us do good to all men as we have opportunity."
(Washington Gladden, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.