I have been reading the book Ecce Venit by A. J. Gordon, published in 1889. This is a great classic bound to be a blessing to all who read it. Ecce Venit means “Behold He comes.” I don’t agree with all the prophetic views of the author, but some portions are so good that I’m more than willing to overlook the disagreements.
A man’s dwelling in one country, and holding citizenship in another and far remote country, is not an unknown circumstance. In such a case, we may have the singular anomaly of one being most a stranger in the land in which he is present, and most at home in the land from which he is absent. Our blessed Lord was the first perfectly to realize this idea respecting the heavenly country. For He speaks of Himself as “He that came down from heaven, even the Son of man who is in heaven.” So truly a citizen of the other world was He that even while walking with men He regarded Himself as there, not here. And this saying of His occurs in that discourse where, with an emphatic “verily, verily,” He declares that “except a man be born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Here is the key to the whole mystery. As the only begotten of the Father, Christ’s native country was above; and during all the days of His flesh He neither relinquished His heavenly citizenship nor acquired an earthly residence. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel: for He hath visited and redeemed His people”, is a significant note in the prophecy of His birth. And four times in the Gospels is our Lord’s advent to earth spoken of as a visit. But it was a visit which never for a moment looked toward a permanent abiding. At His birth He was laid in a borrowed manger, because there was no room for Him in the inn; at His burial He was laid in a tomb, because He owned no foot of earth; and between the cradle and the grave was a sojourn in which “the Son of man had not where to lay His head.” The mountain top whither He constantly withdrew to commune with His Father was the nearest to His home. And hence there is a strange, pathetic meaning in that saying, “And every man went unto his own house; Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives.”
Now, as it was with the Lord, so it is to be with His disciples. “For our citizenship is in heaven,” says the apostle. Herein is the saying of Lady Powerscourt true: “The Christian is not one who looks up from earth to heaven, but one who looks down from heaven to earth.” A celestial nativity implies a celestial residence; and with a certain divine condescension may the Christian contemplate the sordid, self-seeking children of this present evil age and say, with his Lord: “Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of the world.” Let us be admonished, however, that to say this truly and to live it really may subject us to the experience indicated by the apostle: “Therefore the world knoweth us not because it knew Him not.” There is a certain quaint beauty in the apology which an old reformer made for the hard treatment which he and his friends received from the men of this world. “Why, brethren,” He would say, “they do not understand court manners or the etiquette of heaven, never having been in that country from whence we come; therefore it is that our ways seem strange to them.” Would that in the Christians of to-day celestial traits were so conspicuous as to occasion like remark! Perhaps it is because there are so few high saints in the Church that there are so many low sinners outside the Church, since the ungodly can never be powerfully lifted up except by a Church that reaches down from an exalted spiritual plane.
What means that lofty address of the apostle, “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling”? (Heb. iii. I.) The reference is not merely to our final destiny as those who are to be called up to heaven, but to our present service as those who have come down from heaven; sons of God rejoicing in a celestial birth, bringing the air and manners of glory into a world that knows not God. As such we are exhorted to “consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus” an apostle being one who comes forth from God, and an high priest one who goes in unto God. And Christ Jesus not only fulfils both these offices in Himself, as he says, “I came forth from the Father and am come into the world; again I leave the world and go to the Father,” but He makes us partakers with Him of the same heavenly calling, sending us into the world, as the Father hath sent Him, and permitting us “to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” as He has entered in by His own blood.
Confessing that our citizenship is in heaven, it should be easily determined what our conduct and bearing towards the world must be. One is expected to pay taxes and make investments where he holds residence. Therefore all calls to bountiful giving and all demands for rigid self-denial are to be esteemed as reasonable assessments, not as gratuities. Christianity is no paradox, in which believers are required to do peculiar things for the sake of being peculiar, and to exhibit startling contradictions of sinners against themselves. When we are called to lay up treasures in heaven, it is because that is our country; when we are enjoined not to love the world, neither the things that are in the world, it is because this is not our country. Two practical errors spring from an earthly theology, viz., that the world is the Christian’s home, and the grave is the Christian’s hope. On the contrary, one possessed of a clear advent faith would choose for himself such an epitaph as that which Dean Alford composed for his tomb: “The inn of a traveller on his way to Jerusalem.” Ah, yes, that is it! A pilgrim’s portion, food and raiment and contentment therewith; the mansion which fortune has provided, or the cabin which penury has reared, each alike counted a hospice where one lodges as “a pilgrim and stranger in the earth;” and the grave a narrow inn whose windows look towards the sunrising, where the sojourner sleeps till break of day, ¾ this, without question, is the ideal of a Christian life as outlined in the Gospel.
An impracticable ideal, it will be said, But it was not so in the beginning. To say nothing of apostolic Christianity, let us ask what it was that gave the Christianity of the first two centuries such extraordinary vigor in its conflict with heathenism. An eminent writer, Gerhard Uhlhorn, has shown with a graphic hand that it was just this quality of absolute unworldliness which constituted the secret of its power. The men who conquered the Roman Empire for Christ bore the aspect of invaders from another world, who absolutely refused to be naturalized to this world. Their conduct filled their heathen neighbors with the strangest perplexity: they were so careless of life, so careful of conscience, so prodigal of their own blood, so confident of the overcoming power of the blood of the Lamb, so unsubdued to the customs of the country in which they sojourned, so mindful of the manners of “that country from whence they came out.” The help of the world, the patronage of its rulers, the loan of its resources, the use of its methods, they utterly refused, lest by employing these they might compromise their King. An invading army maintained from an invisible base, and placing more confidence in the leadership of an unseen Commander than in all imperial help that might be proffered, ¾ this was what so bewildered and angered the heathen, who often desired to make friends with the Christians without abandoning their own gods. But there can be no reasonable doubt that that age in which the Church was most completely separated from the world was the age in which Christianity was most victorious in the world.¹
It was also the era of undimmed hope of the Lord’s imminent return from glory, so that it illustrated and enforced both clauses of the great text: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus” (Phil. iii. 20).
Our Lord set forth His departure from the world under the parable of “a certain nobleman who went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return” (Luke xix. 12). As a Roman, living in Judea, on appointment to the governorship of that province, would go to Rome to be invested with office, and then return to rule, so Christ has gone to heaven to be invested with the kingship of the world, and now He and His watchful servants are eagerly waiting for the same thing; He sitting at God’s right hand “expecting till His enemies be made His footstool,” and they expecting till He shall return to reign over the earth. Of the kingdom, the King and His kinsmen, the same avowal of unearthly origin is made by Christ: “My kingdom is not of this world;” “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” The kingdom is the “kingdom of God,” the “kingdom of heaven;” its constituency are those who are “begotten of God,” and “born from above.” True, this kingdom is now in the world in its rudiments and principles, in its citizens and representatives: those who, like their Lord, have been sent hither to accomplish the work of gathering out a people for His name. But, lest we fall into fatal error, let us not imagine that we are now reigning with Christ on the earth, or that the kingdom of God has been set up in the world. The Church’s earthly career during the present age is the exact fac-simile of her Lord’s, ¾ a career of exile rather than of exaltation; of rejection rather than of rule; of cross-bearing rather than of sceptre-bearing. Grasping at earthly sovereignty for the Church while the Sovereign himself is still absent has proved, as we shall show hereafter, the most fruitful root of apostasy. It may be said that this picture of the Church, as despised and rejected in the world, suffering, outcast, and in exile, does not correspond to the facts. Not to the facts of our own generation, we admit, wherein the world is on such excellent terms with Christians. But that it represents the character of the dispensation as a whole cannot be questioned, when we recall the dark ages and martyr ages of the Christian era; the prisons, and racks, and dungeons, and stakes, which stretch on through so large a portion of this age. And the pictures of prophecy are composite pictures, gathering up the main features of the entire dispensation and presenting them in one. Viewed thus, prediction and history perfectly accord.
“The kingdom is now here in mystery, and to be here hereafter in manifestation,” one has tersely put it. And to this the predicted destiny of believers corresponds. “Your life is hid with Christ in God; when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory” (Col. iii. 4). “Sons of God, therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not” (I John iii. I). “The earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” (Rom. viii. 19). “If we suffer, we shall reign with Him” (2 Tim. ii. 12). Obscurity, rejection, exile, and trial in the world now; manifestation, vindication, enthronement, when the King comes, ¾ this is the foretold calling of the children of the kingdom. The unprecedented exemption of the Church from persecution, and the extraordinary triumphs of the Gospel which have characterized this nineteenth century, may tend to seduce us into the notion that the kingdom has already come though the nobleman who had gone into a far country has not yet returned. That we may think truly on this subject, let us hear our Lord’s voice, saying: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke xii. 32). In spite of widespread conquests of the Gospel the Church is still “a little flock,” amid the vast populations of Pagans, Mohammedans, Infidels, and Apostates. This flock in every age has been branded with opprobrium, and torn by persecution, and beaten by hireling shepherds, and the end is not yet; for, as good Samuel Rutherford says, “So long as any portion of Christ’s mystical body is out of heaven, Satan will strike at it.” However favored in our times, this flock is not the kingdom; but it has the promise of the kingdom, in which rejection shall give place to rule, and crucifixion to coronation. When? “And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” (I Pet. v. 4). Whatever temporary respite from persecution we may enjoy, so that for the time it may be said as of old, “then had the Churches rest,” no permanent peace is guaranteed until the Lord’s return. “And to you who are troubled, rest with us when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven” (2 Thess. i. 7).
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman