The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand
It was at a time of crisis like the present that one of the most singular figures of history came to the front. John the Baptist was a man of obscure parentage, the son of a priest, brought up in a country village and never moving more than a hundred miles from his birthplace. But his influence upon world history and the fates of nations has been tremendous. The principles he enunciated, the moral teaching he expounded; above all, the startling declaration which formed the chief burden of his message, all have been proven true, gloriously true or tragically true according to the notice men have or have not taken of them, throughout all centuries since his day.
John the Baptist
He was born two thousand years ago, and was executed by a tyrant whilst still a young man. He was thirty before he came into the public eye, but within six months he had an entire province of the Roman Empire waiting on his words. His short-lived appearance prepared men for the coming of the greatest teacher the world has known—Jesus of Nazareth! But the impetus of that forward move which accompanied the birth of Christianity has spent itself, and now the world we know faces an even greater crisis than that which destroyed Israel two thousand years ago.
But the same message can save us!
Human nature has not changed since those far off days; the evils from which we suffer are due to the same human failings and weaknesses; it needs but a re-examination of the message proclaimed by John and its application to ourselves and our world to produce the same results. The message of the Baptiser is the message for every man and woman today!
What is that message?
Expressed in modern English, it is simply:
Turn from evil,
Does the world need such an appeal?
The effects of society’s disease are manifest. Crime, vice and immorality are rampant and increasing. Respect for law is vanishing; the most elementary rights of the weaker are habitually denied them by the stronger. Fundamental qualities such as self-denial and generosity are discounted as signs of weakness; selfishness, self-seeking and greed are exalted in their place. Honour in business and political life has given place to intrigue, bribery and corruption. The social fabric is undermined by laxity in the marriage relationship, dishonesty in daily life and excessive addiction to debasing pleasures and diversions. Twenty-year-olds shoot policemen and gangs of children rob houses. A dry rot permeates society and causes grave concern to all serious observers. And the question comes “Why?”
The peoples of earth—speaking now more particularly of the so-called “civilised” peoples—have renounced God and in the main no longer acknowledge His supremacy. The moral principles of the Bible have been cast aside and many take whatever course their inclinations, desires and passions dictate. There is no real belief in judgment to come, or even in the certainty or likelihood of retribution for their crimes. Therefore many indulge themselves according to their fancy without thought of the consequences to themselves or their fellows.
But the Bible still proclaims the basic principles of creation: that which is evil cannot endure; it may subsist, uneasily, for a time, but it must eventually pass away. It bears within itself the seeds of its own destruction. That is why Paul says in one place “the wages of sin is death” and Ezekiel in another “the soul that sins shall die”, and Peter, referring to the order of things instituted by man upon earth, speaks of a heaven and earth of evil repute, which now exists, being destroyed as by fire and replaced by a new heavens and earth wherein dwells righteousness. The operation of this Divine law implies retribution, judgment, and so a secondary maxim is propounded: “Whatever a man sows, that will he reap”. (Rom.6:23; Ezek.18:20 RSV; 2 Pet.3:10; Gal.6:7 RSV)
The world must learn their lesson first
The world is reaping a bitter harvest of its own sowing. The ills from which we suffer have their origin in the things we or our fathers have done in times past. There is no escape. It is inevitable that the world should enter into this period of judgment and suffer the calamities that must come upon it. It is futile to blame God. We were created with ability to govern ourselves along lines of benevolence and equity, but we have elected to take the easier way and must find for ourselves that it leads only to destruction. God means to save; He does not will that His purpose in creation should be frustrated; but men must learn their lesson first.
Now although there can be no universal deliverance from the judgment of this world, there can be, and is, individual deliverance from the state of mind and way of life that has led to this state of things. That is the first step. Multiplied a thousand, a million, ten million fold, it will bring world judgment to an end and usher in an eternity of peace. But it can only be attained by means of repentance.
The word “repentance” is associated with the emotional fervour of 19th century revivalism, conjuring up visions of the old-fashioned “penitent form” in mission halls and impassioned appeals to leave one’s sons at the foot of the cross. Now this does enshrine a fundamental principle, but it is not the whole meaning of the word. To “repent” means to change the mind, to repudiate a previous course of action, to enter upon a new way. Applied to individuals’ consciences that all is not well with the world in which they live, nor with themselves, it means to consider what there is in one’s own way of life that is out of accord with the principles of rightness, and resolve that those things shall be banished and a new way of life adopted, a way which shall have as its object a due acknowledgement of the supremacy of God, and the well-being and happiness of one’s fellows. Since no such resolve can be put into effect to any appreciable degree without close attention to the examples and precepts of Jesus Christ, it follows that such repentance must of necessity involve belief in the sufficiency and integrity of His teaching and acceptance of His leadership in life.
This of itself in not enough.
Many have sought to model their lives after the example of great philosophers and teachers, becoming powerful influences for good in consequence; but they have not banished the evil that is in the world, and nothing short of the elimination of evil can solve the problems which distress mankind. The intellectual acceptance of Jesus and His message involves something more than any other teacher demands. Jesus claimed to have come from above, from God, to bring His world-saving message. He declared the necessity of His death as a man in order that men might be saved, and also His intention of returning again to earth after the lapse of a pre-determined period of time—during which the seed of His teaching was to germinate and spread among the nations—to complete His work of abolishing evil and bringing men into fellowship with God. If Jesus is to be accepted as a reliable guide to a new way of life all this must be accepted too. If He was mistaken in this theological and eschatological (last days) aspect of His message, forming as it does the whole framework within which His ethical teaching is set and upon which that depends, then He was a misled and completely deluded man and no leader in whom men today, with the problems they have to solve, can afford to repose confidence.
Proof comes after acceptance of Christ
Jesus was not mistaken! He came, as He said, from God. He is, as He claimed, the Son of God, and in His Divinity He is supreme over all created things, and comes again in the glory of that Divinity, to finish His work on earth. There can be no physical or intellectual proof of all this, for these are matters transcending human values and means of measurement. The proof comes after, and not before, the repentant individual has “turned” to serve God. Having accepted Christ, not only as a guide to conduct and instructor in morals, but a personal Deliverer from sin and the effects of sin, he becomes increasingly conscious of a new and different sphere of understanding which advances satisfactory and convincing proofs not capable of demonstration by the materialistic arguments of every day.
World Reclamation and the Millennial Age
Repentance, then, does involve coming to Jesus in submission as to a Master and leader. It does involve claiming Him and accepting Him as a personal Saviour and subordinating one’s whole life and interests to His service. The object is not merely that one may be “saved from the wrath to come”. God does not look with approval on people whose sole desire is to save their own skins, and advance their own interests. The world has seen too much of that already. Rather should one come to God in dedication of life to be used by him in the further reclamation of the world from evil. It implies service, and it implies hard work. The day set aside by God for this purpose is the still future Millennial Age, during which all men, including the returned dead, will be taught the ways of God and be led to choose between good and evil, and decide their future destiny for themselves. Nevertheless there is much that can be done in this present day, before God breaks through into human affairs with His promised Millennial Kingdom. That is why the repentance and dedication to Christian service of any man or woman has an immediate effect upon the prevalence of evil. It is one more blow struck for right dealing and right living, one more influence making for peace and rectitude in the affairs of men and nations, leading immediately to some mitigation, however slight, of the troubles that now afflict mankind.
This then is God’s call
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. And He shall send Jesus Christ...whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things”. (Acts 3:19-21)
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