Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.
A modern Christian has been watching the news on his new sixty-five inch color TV set in the living room of his comfortable home. He switches the set off and comments to his wife that the world is in a horrible condition. He wonders how long it can go on—he is very discouraged as he goes to pour himself a third glass of iced tea.
An old Puritan is tied to the stake, and is about to be burned alive for his faith. He lifts his face toward heaven and rejoices that Christ is on His throne, and that He will be worshipped from the river to the ends of the earth.
What is the difference between these men? Very simply, it is a matter of faith in the promises of God to save the world. One sits at ease and is overwhelmed by troubles. The other is surrounded by troubles, and yet speaks a word that goes forth conquering and to conquer. The first has won his life in what he thinks is a losing battle. The second loses his life in what he knows to be a winning battle.
When the twelve spies went into the land of Canaan, ten of them were like our modern Christian, and fell into the sin of unbelief. They saw that the land was good, but in their sin they saw only the strength of the enemy. There were giants in the land. They forgot that their was a God on the throne. But Joshua and Caleb—troublemakers both—saw the Word of God and the opportunity for obedient conquest.
Now unbelief is not necessarily simple; it can be complicated by many factors. We have our reasons, and our theologies, and our church traditions, for remaining in the sin of unbelief. But Christ told us that our job was to lead the nations to faith in Him; consequently, any theology that rejects our duty to do so is therefore on some level an unbelieving and disobedient theology.
A man says that he has his dispensational charts and diagrams which prove we are living in the last generation. We say that if he would rather sit on the roof doing calculations than obey his Lord in subduing the earth for His glory, he had better hope that Christ doesn’t come back right now. Another man says that Satan is the god of this world. “The task can’t be done—Satan is too strong.” But we say that the God of the Bible is stronger than any creature, including Satan, and God is the one who has given us this task. And if God has given this task, accompanied with a promise, then the task is not impossible.
We do not have the authority to disobey Christ for the sake of an unbelieving systematic theology. Several very popular theologies (dispensationalism and amillennialism) say that effective world evangelization is impossible, whilst Christ says that world evangelization is our bounden duty. The one that we follow is the real authority in our lives, and in this case, we can’t follow both. It is never fashionable to speak this way. We live in an age when it is considered rude to speak plain truth, but the plain ungarbled word is what we need. Christ is King, not our theologies, and our task is to proclaim His advancing and invincible kingdom throughout the world.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He assigned an apparently overwhelming task. “And Jesus came and spake unto them saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Mt. 28:18-20). Like many familiar words, these often just float by us. We think we undersand them simply because we are accustomed to hearing them.
But an understanding of this passage must always be at the center of any thoughts concerning a distinctively Christian culture—not because our Lord’s words are primarily concerned with politics, but because they are not. Following the Lord’s authority, one of the distinctives of Christian cultural understanding is that it is also minimally concerned with politics. The restoration of the nations is not, in any important sense, a political process. Rather, the process is one of baptism and catechism. The means given for the conversion of the heathen were Words and water. When the lessons have been learned, there will of course be some political consequences. But they will be minimal for the simple reason that the state itself, in a nation that has come to repentance, will also be minimal. For the Christian, the political realm is a creature to be redeemed, sinful like the rest of us and with a long way to go before it retires to more biblical proportions.
The state is certainly no redeemer and political theory no savior. Our problems really aren’t political anyway. They are spiritual and the solutions are Word and sacrament. The charge was not “go ye, and elect right-of-center congresspersons.” Now certainly the gospel has an effect on all of culture, as it should. But results are not causes; apples are not roots.
In our history, as the gospel spread throughout the Gentile world, of course it began to have a cultural and civic impact. How could it not? The eventual cultural effect of this was Christendom—a motley collection of nations which together, with varying degrees of success, acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus Christ over them. Beginning with the time of Constantine, warts and blemishes were plentiful, but there were glorious times in Christendom as well. But the spiritual conditions of these once-converted nations is now, it seems, just history. Can these bones live? Lord, Thou knowest.
It is safe to say that with the birth of materialistic secularism, the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the rise of industrial statism, the arrogance of militant unbelief, and the cultural retreat of virtually all believing Christians—in short the triumph of modernity—the vaunt of the secularist appears to be warranted. The issue appears to be settled. When the Confederate States of America surrendered at Appomattox, the last nation of the old order fell. So, because historians like to have set dates on which to hang their hats, we may say that the first Christendom died there, in 1865. The American South was the last nation of the first Christendom.
But the idea of Christendom has not passed away. God’s promise remains. He has promised that all the nations will come to His Son, and He has carefully instructed us to teach them this. When the kings turn to us inquiringly, we are to tell them to kiss the Son, lest He be angry with them. Christians should therefore not be despondent when we do not see this happening on our schedule, or our time-table. Psalm 2 says that kings should be worried about the anger of the Lord, not that the Lord’s people should be worried about the foot-dragging of kings.
Our father in the faith, the ancestor of this glorious ingathering of nations, gives us a wonderful basis for faith whenever we see the cause of the godly “die.”
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith…even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were: who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be (Rom. 4:13-18).
As the gospel makes its way through a treacherous world, we have seen the righteous fall many times, and before the Lord comes again, we will see them fall again. But whenever the righteous fall, those who lament must be sons of Abraham. They must serve the God who calls those things that do not exist as though they did. Our God raises the dead. This truth is not a peripheral dogma; it is at the center of our faith—Christ rose from the dead. This also is the center of our hope—the nations will come, and those who have fallen shall rise again.
This means that there certainly will be a second Christendom, and if necessary, a third. The Lord taught us to expect the process to be a gradual one—as leaven works through the loaf, as a mustard seed grows—but the Word teaches just as surely that the process is an inexorable one. “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand as an ensign for the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Is. 11:10). And the Psalmist promises us this: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindred of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations” (Ps. 22:27-28). John the Apostle repeats the same truth. “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth of bring their glory and honor into it’ (Rev. 21:24)
Jesus did not teach us to pray, saying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in heaven if and when we get there.” In His commission He told us to disciple the nations. Empowered by the Spirit, this is done with the water and the Word. In our prayers, Jesus told us to pray for the heavenly commonwealth to have an earthly manifestation. In short, we are to pray for the second coming of Christendom.
These prayers will be answered, so this means that the South will rise again. But this is not said with any regional or national jingoistic fervor. So will New England. So will Scotland. So will the Netherlands. And as the gospel comes to the uttermost regions for the first time, savage tribes will attend His Word. The earth is the Lord’s and He will have it. All these things will happen prior to the Lord’s Second Advent. “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Ps. 110:1).
After the Lord completed His perfect work of salvation, He ascended into heaven, on the clouds of glory, He approached the Ancient of Days. The Lord Christ, the Great High Priest, presented His perfect sacrifice to God the Father. It was received with great rejoicing, and the Son was given His inheritance of universal and complete dominion over all the sons of men.
In the wisdom of God it was ordained that this dominion would not be manifested instantaneously. As yeast works through a loaf of bread, the kingdom of God will slowly permeate all the nations of men, and peace will come to middle earth. As the rock cut without hands grows and becomes a mountain that fills the entire earth, so the kingdom of God will grow and subdue everything before it. As the water flows out from under the threshold of the temple, getting deeper and rising higher, so the living water of the gospel flows out of the New Temple until it fills the earth as the waters cover the sea, and all will know the Lord.
Now the Lord Jesus took His seat at the right hand of the Father two millennia ago. He is seated there now, and Scripture tells us that He will remain there until all His enemies are under His imperial heel. He is King of kings and Lord of lords; as temporal kings and lords progressively acknowledge this truth, His enemies collapse before Him. But how will they come to acknowledge such a thing? Will it be through political action or social involvement? No, the scepter in the hand of the Lord is the gospel of Christ in the mouths of His preachers. As they declare in faith who the Lord is and what He has done, the Lord sovereignly and majestically and efficaciously works in the hearts of unconverted men, and they are changed by His grace.
We have this confidence because our Lord and Savior did not come into the world to condemn the world. Nor did He come into the world to try to avoid condemning the world if He only could. His purpose in coming to our rebellious world was to save it. And His passion on the cross will not be seen to have accomplished its principle purpose until the world is saved. This is a promise of Scripture that our anemic Church has long forgotten. We have abandoned the Great Commission though redefinition; this is a grievous error. We of all people should be the ones to acknowledge that Christ is Lord of all. Was it not promised to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through Him? This does not mean all the nations of men will be thrown into hell for rejecting Him—rather it mess that His conquering cross, His efficacious redemption, will overcome their hatred of His holiness and their hostility toward His kingdom.
Do we somehow think that He, rejected by men, went back into the heaven to sulk about it? Do we think that rebellious mankind has frustrated His declared intention and purpose? That is just defeatist dreaming. He went away, but He has not left us here powerless. He has sent His Spirit to enable us to do what He commands from His throne. And what has He commanded? Did He want us to evangelize a few Pakistanis? A handful of Chinese? A thimble full of Russians? Though we might like to think in such limited terms, His command was for us to take the nations.
Popular evangelicalism wants the atonement to touch every last man, woman, and child. But in order to get it to do so, this touch is made ineffectual. The Arminian wants to spread it far and wide. But they spread it like pie dough; the further they spread it, the thinner it gets. At this point you can read the newspaper through it. Then there are those Pessimistic Calvinists who want the touch to be effectual…for half a dozen folks. But Christ has commanded the Church, in His name and authority, to conquer the world through the fearless proclamation of of the New Covenant which He established through His blood.
The hour is coming, and now is, when God will make His people willing in the day of His power. Preachers will speak the truth in power, the Spirit will blow upon the desert bones, dead men will rise and present themselves before the throne of God. This really is the essence of the Great Commission. Christ did not give us something to shoot for. He gave us something to do. So Christian, take heart! Christ will have the fruit of His sufferings. The next time you hear someone despairingly ask, “What is the world coming to?” Let faith arise and say to them with full assurance, “It’s coming to Jesus.”