For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,…
I. It is clear THAT THE NATURE OF OUR EXPECTATION DEPENDS UPON THE NATURE OF THE PROMISES WHICH EXCITE IT; it will be more or less strong and definite as they are more or less so. Now when we examine these promises, we find in them a remarkable mixture of certainty and of uncertainty; certainty as to the event — uncertainty as to the time of its occurrence. History, as well as prophecy, viewed as a whole, gives the Christian student the same result — certainty, and yet uncertainty; assuring us of His coming, and yet leaving the time of that coming a mystery. And the nature of our expectation must, as we have said, correspond to the nature of the revelation which excites it: it, too, must be thus certain, and yet uncertain. We are fully persuaded as to the event; doubtful, and in anxious suspense, as to the time of it; — now "lifting up our heads because our redemption draweth nigh," now saying, "Why tarry the wheels of His chariot?" Now full of joy at some sign accomplished — now filled with sadness at finding that it is yet to be fulfilled: fear mingling with our hope, and yet hope brightening our despondency; but, through all, sustained by the assured certainty of the event which so perplexes us by the uncertainty of its arrival.
II. BUT WE HAVE NOW TO INQUIRE WHY WE ARE THUS KEPT IN THIS STATE OF UNCERTAINTY. The answer to this question is to be found in that fact which explains so much that is difficult in Scripture, namely, that this present dispensation is merely preparatory to another. The whole life of each Christian, and, therefore, the whole life of the Church, is the time given for the acquisition of that character which we shall need in heaven. To this, every event in our life, every arrangement in our dispensation, was designed to be conducive; and, if you bear this in mind, you will see how it was necessary that there should be this mixture of assured certainty and anxious suspense in our expectation of the Lord's second coming. In the first place, the fact that Christ shall come must be clear and indubitable, in order to fix, steadily, the hope of the Church, in all ages, upon Christ, her future King. Beyond time, and the things of time — above its mists and its storms, we must see, and see clearly, Jesus Christ our King. It is for this reason that the coming of Christ is assured to us by every possible assurance that can be given, so that doubt concerning it is, to him who believes the Bible, impossible. This much, then, of our present state is clearly intelligible: we can see why the fact of the second advent should be certain; but why should the time be uncertain? — why are we in this state of anxious suspense as to when our Lord is to appear? We understand this when we remember that besides the general purpose of giving us a love for, and a dependence upon, Christ, by setting His coming before us as the one thing to be looked for, the promise of His coming is to have certain special effects upon us; it is to produce in us certain particular tempers and feelings — two especially: it was designed to comfort us under trial, and also to be a strong motive to watchfulness. Had the time of our Lord's second coming been known from the first it would have utterly frustrated the design of making this life a state of probation and of gradual sanctification. The early Church would have been languidly indifferent; the later Church intensely and absorbingly expectant: the one would have been tried above measure, the other have had no trials at all. The one would have been patient, but not watchful; the other would be watchful, but not patient; neither, in the true sense of the word, could have been said to wait for the coming of Christ. But if, on the contrary, the date of this event is concealed, and the prophecies and signs of it so contrived that at any given moment there may be reason for thinking it to be near at hand, and reasons, also, for pronouncing it to be far off; if now it needs the straining gaze of ardent faith to catch a glimpse of it, and now it seems advancing full upon our view; if now it seems to approach, and now to recede, so that the earlier Church might sometimes deem it nigh, and the latest generation sometimes think it far off, then at all times, and in all ages, would this event have its full practical effect upon the Church.
III. BUT THIS IS NOT THE ONLY REASON WHY THE TIME OF HIS COMING SHOULD BE THUS UNCERTAIN. So far we have been viewing it with reference only to the saints; it may, and should, be viewed with reference to the ungodly. To those who love Him not, as well as to those who do, it is said, "Behold, I come quickly." And what is the promise of the second advent meant to be to such? A solemn warning; and a fearful snare if they neglect that warning.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,