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 The Principles of Theology - Article 2

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


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Part 6. The Return and Judgment

The Article follows the Creed in stating briefly yet plainly the expectation of our Lord’s coming again.

1. The Coming. The return of the Lord Jesus Christ is not a mere doctrine to be discussed, nor a matter for intellectual study alone. Its prominence in the New Testament shows the great importance of the truth, for it is referred to over three hundred times, and it may almost be said that no other doctrine is mentioned so frequently or emphasised so strongly.[40] Just before our Lord died He told His disciples that He would come again (John 14:3), and when He ascended, two heavenly messengers appeared to the Apostles corroborating the Master’s words by saying that He would come back in like manner as they had seen Him go (Acts 1:11). Thenceforward this Coming was to be the “blessed hope” of His people until His glorious appearing (Tit. 2:13). It is, therefore, important to distinguish clearly and constantly between our death and the coming of the Lord. The two are always contrasted. Death comes to all, Christian and heathen, but the Lord’s appearance is to apply to Christians alone. Christ Himself clearly distinguished between death and His Coming (John 21:23). The Creed, following the New Testament, is also quite clear as to the future and personal coming of Christ. While there is a sense in which Christ came in and by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and while, moreover, He still comes to dwell in His people by the same Spirit, yet these are never to be identified with His future coming, for those who had received the Spirit were still to with for Him from heaven (1 Thess. 1:8-10). Thus, the Coming is the climax and culmination of His work of redemption, when the Body of Christ, the Church, will be completed, and the Lord will usher in that Kingdom which will eventually result in God being all in all (Eph. 1:14; Rom. 8:19-23; 1 Cor. 15:23-28).

2. The Judgment. The Article states in general terms the purpose of our Lord’s Coming as that of judgment “at the last day.” But the New Testament has much more detail than this, and judgment is only a part of His work. In the familiar words, “Lo, He comes, with clouds descending,” we have what may be called the second part of His Coming, the coming to judgment, according to the Creed. But before that the New Testament seems to teach a coming for His people, and a taking of them away before He returns to the earth for judgment. Of all the Scriptures which treat of the first part of the Coming there is none more explicit than 1 Thess. 4:13-18. And while on details students of Scripture may differ, it may be said that there is universal belief in regard to the general lines of teaching expressive of the purpose of our Lord’s coming again. Among other objects for which He is coming again are: (1) the taking to Himself of His redeemed disciples, including the resurrection of those who have died and the transformation of those who will be alive at His Coming. (2) To reward His servants after their life of grace on earth. (3)To usher in peace and rule this world now in rebellion. (4) To gather together Israel and to place them in their own land. (5) To execute judgment on the rejecters of His grace. (6) To swallow up death in victory. (7) To bind Satan and to usher in Eternity. It is, therefore, usual to distinguish between Christ coming for His people and with His people, the latter being that which is specifically referred to in the Creed and the Article. But whatever may be our view of detail we must not allow anything to interfere with our firm belief in the fact of the coming. In the light of St. Paul’s inclusion of this in the Gospel preached at Thessalonica (2 Thess. 2:5), the outcome can only be spiritual loss if the coming of Christ is ignored or set aside. There is no truth that so purifies and exalts the Christian life, none that so inspires the worker with earnestness and the discouraged and perplexed with hope. On the institution of the Lord’s Supper reference was made by Christ to His coming again, and no one can enter fully into the meaning of the Holy Communion without looking forward to the Coming as well as backward to the Cross. Salvation includes spirit, soul, and body, and this threefold completeness will only be realised in and through “that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our Great God and Saviour.”

The reference to judgment is of particular value in the light of all the mysteries connected with the presence of sin and suffering. Scripture clearly teaches that Christ the present Saviour is to be the future Judge (John 5:22, 27; Acts 17:31; Rom. 2:16), and in this judgment, marked, as it will be, by absolute impartiality and complete knowledge, man will find the perfect vindication of God and an explanation of all that is now mysterious and inexplicable. The craving for judgment which is forced upon us by our reason and conscience will find its perfect realisation in the action of Him to whom all judgment has been committed.[41]

>>Summary of Articles 2-4


[40] Baptism is mentioned nineteen times in seven Epistles, and in fourteen out of twenty-one is not alluded to. The Lord’s Supper is only referred to three or four times in the entire New Testament, and in twenty out of twenty-one Epistles there is no mention of it. The Lord’s Coming is referred to in one verse out of every thirteen in the New Testament, and in the Epistles alone in one verse out of ten. This proportion is surely of importance, for if frequency of mention is any criterion there is scarcely any other truth of equal interest and value.

[41] Maclear and Williams, Introduction to the Articles of the Church of England, p. 86, Note 2.



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