An Expectant Assembly
Patrick Long, Ontario, Canada
"I WILL COME AGAIN"
The Truth of His Coming
‘The attentive reader of the New Testament will find in its pages three solemn and weighty facts presented to his view; namely, first, that the Son of God has come into this world and gone away; secondly, that the Holy Ghost has come down to this earth, and is here still; and, thirdly, that the Lord Jesus is coming again’.
We need to be clear in our minds and hearts that the Lord is coming again. Every evidence of scripture bears it out. If you, the reader, either by neglect, or by some other influence, have lost confidence in this truth, it is high time to come back to scripture and ask the Lord to awaken in your heart a confidence in the truth of His return.
One dictionary defines expectancy as ‘anticipation: pleasurable expectation’. It is interesting that the thought of pleasure is included in this definition. Is the coming of the Lord something that I am expecting, and expecting with pleasure? Is it a looked for, or longed for event? If this is true of the individual believer then it will be true also of the local assembly. If the believer has lost sight of the preciousness of the Lord Jesus, and the joyous fact of His return, then the local assembly will be characterized by the same attitude. Why would it be a pleasurable expectation? Our Lord Jesus is precious to those who believe. If He is precious to us, then the expectation of His return will be pleasurable. Conversely, if the expectation of His return is not pleasurable, then one might assume that He is not as precious to us as we profess.
The Effects of Expectancy
There will be a number of effects of this expectancy in the assembly, but perhaps some of the more noteworthy will be these three: holiness; a concern for the lost; and a simpler lifestyle.
John tells us, ‘And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin’, 1 John 3. 3-5. Because this passage is divided into verses in our Bibles, we sometimes miss the point John is making. The thought is that coming face to face with the One who is the propitiation for our sins will have a purifying effect on our lives. If it does not have this effect, it must mean that we have lost sight of the wonderful fact that He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, see 1 Pet. 2. 24.
A Concern for the Lost
The amount of information we are exposed to increases at an alarming rate and we are deluged every day with news items that highlight the huge population of the world, it is easy to become hardened to the lost condition of such large numbers of people for whom Christ died. A quarter of a million people have lost their lives in this or that catastrophe, and we become inured to the fact that they died without a Saviour. Millions of people are leaving this life, and going out into a lost eternity, and subconsciously we think there must be an ‘escape clause’ that will give them a second chance, or that it really doesn’t matter. To live with the clear vision of the return of our blessed Lord, and the fact that He said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’, John 14. 6, will rekindle in our hearts a love for the lost, and a desire to reach them.
A Simpler Life Style
Approximately 200 years ago there was a world-wide revival of a number of truths found in the scriptures. One of these was the imminent return of our Lord. The men and women involved in this revival put this truth into practice by simplifying their lives dramatically. Accounts of that time tell us of many who sold many of the luxuries that characterized their homes, including some of the finest carpets, and gave the proceeds to the needy. The places they chose to meet in were also characterized by simplicity; often being rented rooms over stores. If the local assembly were filled with a sense of the soon return of our longed-for Lord and Saviour, many of the little gradual additions that have accumulated in our search to enhance our meetings and programmes would fall away, leaving us with a much simpler and vibrant local assembly.
Hindrances to Expectancy
What has happened that would cause us to lose a sense of the imminence of His return? Why have our hearts grown cold? Why is it that when someone speaks of the soon return of our Lord there is no answering thrill in our hearts? There could be a variety of causes, but in order to emphasize what could be ways in which we can reverse the condition, only a few will be dealt with here. They are things that have crept in and need to be consciously looked at and with help from the Lord and subjected to His order.
The scriptures contain many warnings about the dangers of focusing on the material in opposition to the spiritual. Our Lord taught His disciples that a focus on the material would dull their focus on the spiritual. James wrote that ‘friendship with the world is enmity with God’, Jas. 4. 4. The two realms are contrary the one to the other. We need to be reminded that there is no middle ground; there is no possibility of having a foot in both realms; it is one or the other.
Today there is an emphasis on the material which threatens our local churches. This will eventually destroy the vibrant expectancy in the local church for the Lord’s return. A local church is experiencing growth in numbers, and the talk soon revolves around the ‘building programme’. This programme soon takes over the thoughts and desires of the assembly, to the point that the various aspects of the building become overwhelmingly more important than the spiritual wellbeing of the church, or the outreach of the assembly to the lost. This is not to say that the place where we gather, and invite people to hear the word should be neglected; but that it is often one of the factors that takes our eyes off His soon return and the glad expectancy associated with it.
The local church that has become wrapped up in physical aspects of its testimony so that the main topics of conversation are: the mortgage; the repair costs associated with the building; the plans for redecorating; etc., will find inevitably that the return of our blessed Lord and Saviour has faded from their vision almost entirely.
It is good to be busy. Why are we warned twice in the book of Proverbs that, ‘a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest’, Prov. 6. 10; 24.33, will bring dire consequences? And yet, experience and sober thought will tell us that it is very easy to let all the duties and programmes that surround us take our eyes off the One who loved us and gave Himself for us; and therefore off the truth of His imminent return. ‘I know your doings and your toil and patient suffering . . . yet I have this against you: that you no longer love Me as you did at first’, Rev 2. 2-4 Weymouth’s Translation.
The presence of sin in the assembly; whether a corporate sin, or individual sin that is left undealt with will inevitably result in a reluctance to come face to face with the One we have sinned against. As pointed out earlier, a vibrant expectancy will encourage holiness; and the reverse is also true, that sin will reduce that longing for the Lord’s return and the benefits spiritually that that brings. If we have sinned against Him, we will be reluctant to look in His eye.
And what sins plague the local church in this generation? Perhaps one of the more grievous in this generation is the sin of diminishing the authority of the word of God. Too often we hear comments like, ‘Yes, I know that’s what it says, but’. Are we greater than He is? Is our wisdom higher than His? Are we demoting the word of God to the place of ‘just another religious book’? To reject His word is ultimately to reject the One who gave it.
Our generation is characterized by ‘tolerance’ and every effort is expended to ensure that no one feels discriminated against, or picked on unjustly. This can lead to a situation where sin is not dealt with as it should be. Adultery is not dealt with as the scripture mandates, and if, perchance the adulterer is disciplined by the local assembly, great care is sometimes taken not to identify the sin and thus leave others unwarned.
Perhaps the first thing to be touched on is that a lost expectancy will be very difficult to restore. BUNYAN pointed out in Pilgrim’s Progress (as have many other authors) that the way into Bypath Meadow is very easy, but the way back into the King’s Road is contrastingly very difficult. To restore in our hearts a lost first love, and a lost expectancy may cost everything. ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple’, Luke 14. 26. James, in writing to the brothers and sisters of his day urged them to ‘be wretched and mourn and weep’, Jas. 4. 9. The scriptures speak of the ‘single eye’, Luke 11. 34, that sees only one thing. Paul, writing to the Philippians recounts how all the things he counted dear became to him as a dung pile for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. He continues to tell how that was still the over-riding motivation of his life, ‘forgetting what lies behind’ he pressed forward with that single eye for the One who had redeemed him, and who filled his heart with expectation, Phil. 3. 13.
The assembly that wants to restore, or possibly see created for the first time, a vibrant expectancy for the Lord’s return, will need to consciously deal with the various things that impede such an expectancy.
There will be a need to:
- Treat sin in the believer’s life, and in the assembly, seriously; as the scripture mandates;
- Prune away all those activities and programmes which have grown up to take away the centrality of our blessed Lord in the local assembly;
- Consciously to refocus the various activities of the assembly, and the ministry given to the assembly, onto the Person and work of our blessed Lord and submission to His word;
- Give priority to prayer, Bible study, and the Lord’s Supper as the essential meetings of the company.
It is my prayer that we will see in our day assemblies of the Lord’s people ‘gazing up into heaven’ and waiting expectantly for His glorious return. ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus!’