The Great Gathering!
From Timeless Grace Gems
J.C. Ryle, 1878
"Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him" 2 Thessalonians 2:1
The text which heads this page contains an expression which deserves no common attention. That expression is, "Our gathering together."
"Our gathering together!" Those three words touch a note which ought to find a response in every part of the world. Man is by nature a social being — he does not like to be alone. Go where you will on earth, people generally like meeting together, and seeing one another's faces. It is the exception, and not the rule — to find children of Adam who do not like "gathering together."
For example, Christmas is peculiarly a time when English people "gather together." It is the season when family meetings have become almost a national institution. In town and in country, among rich and among poor, from the palace to the workhouse — Christmas cheer and Christmas gatherings are proverbial things. It is the one time in the year with many, for seeing their friends at all. Sons snatch a few days from London business to run down and see their parents; brothers get leave of absence from the desk to spend a week with their sisters; friends accept long-standing invitations, and contrive to pay a visit to their friends; boys rush home from school, and glory in the warmth and comfort of the old house. Business for a little space comes to a standstill — the weary wheels of incessant labor seem almost to cease revolving for a few hours. In short, there is a general spirit of "gathering together."
Happy is the land where such a state of things exists! Long may it last in England, and never may it end! Poor and shallow is that philosophy which sneers at Christmas gatherings. Cold and hard is that religion which pretends to frown at them, and denounces them as wicked. Family affection lies at the very roots of well-ordered society. It is one of the few good things which have survived the fall, and prevent men and women from being mere devils! It is the secret oil on the wheels of our social system which keeps the whole machine going, and without which neither steam nor fire would avail. Anything which helps to keep up family affection and brotherly love is a positive good to a country. May the Christmas day never arrive in England when there are no family meetings and no gatherings together!
But earthly gatherings after all have something about them that is sad and sorrowful. The happiest parties sometimes contain uncongenial members — the merriest meetings are only for a very short time. Moreover, as years roll on, the hand of death makes painful gaps in the family circle. Even in the midst of Christmas merriment, we cannot help remembering those who have passed away. The longer we live — the more we feel to stand alone. The old faces will rise before the eyes of our minds, and the old voices will sound in our ears, even in the midst of holiday mirth and laughter. People do not talk much on such things; but there are few that do not feel them. We need not intrude our inmost thoughts on others, and especially when all around us are bright and happy. But there are not many, I suspect, who reach middle age, who would not admit, if they spoke the truth — that there are sorrowful things inseparably mixed up with a Christmas party. In short, there is no unmixed pleasure about any earthly "gathering."
But is there no better "gathering" yet to come? Is there no bright prospect in our horizon, of an assembly which shall far outshine the assemblies of Christmas and New Year, an assembly in which there shall be joy without sorrow, and mirth without tears? I thank God that I can give a plain answer to these questions; and to give it is the simple object of this paper. I ask my readers to give me their attention for a few minutes, and I will soon show them what I mean.
I. There is a "gathering together" of true Christians which is to come. What is it, and when shall it be?
The gathering I speak of, shall take place at the end of the world, in the day when Christ returns to earth the second time. As surely as He came the first time — so surely shall He come the second time. In the clouds of Heaven He went away — and in the clouds of Heaven He shall return. Visibly, in the body, He went away — and visibly, in the body, He will return. And the very first thing that Christ will do, will be to "gather together" His people. "He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of Heaven to the other." (Matthew 24:31.)
The MANNER of this "gathering together" is plainly revealed in Scripture. The dead saints shall all be raised, and the living saints shall all be changed. It is written, "The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them." "The dead in Christ shall rise first. Those who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." "We shall not all sleep — but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed!" (Revelation 20:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17; 1 Corinthians 15:51, 52.) And then, when every member of Christ is found, and not one left behind, when soul and body, those old companions, are once more reunited — then shall be the grand "gathering together."
The OBJECT of this "gathering together" is as clearly revealed in Scripture as its manner.
It is partly for the final reward of Christ's people — that their complete justification from all guilt may be declared to all creation; that they may receive the "unfading crown of glory," and the "kingdom prepared before the foundation of the world;" that they may be admitted publicly into the joy of their Lord.
It is partly for the safety of Christ's people, that, like Noah in the ark and Lot in Zoar, they may be hid and covered before the storm of God's judgment comes down on the wicked; that when the last plagues are falling on the enemies of the Lord — they may be untouched, as Rahab's family in the fall of Jericho, and unscathed as the three Hebrew children in the midst of the fire. The saints have no cause to fear the day of gathering, however fearful the signs that may accompany it. Before the final crash of all things begins — they shall be hidden in the secret place of the Most High. The grand gathering is for their safety and their reward. "Come, my people," shall their Master say: "enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by!" (Isaiah 26:20.)
(a) This gathering will be a great one. ALL children of God who have ever lived, from Abel the first saint down to the last born in the day that our Lord comes — all of every age, and nation, and church, and people, and tongue — all shall be assembled together. Not one shall be overlooked or forgotten. The weakest and feeblest shall not be left behind. Now, when "scattered," true Christians seem a little flock; then, when "gathered," they shall be found a multitude which no man can number.
(b) This gathering will be a wonderful one. The saints from distant lands, who never saw each other in the flesh, and could not understand each other's speech if they met — shall all be brought together in one harmonious company. The dwellers in Australia shall find they are as near Heaven, and as soon there, as the dwellers in England. The believers who died five thousand years ago, and whose bones are mere dust — shall find their bodies raised and renewed as quickly as those who are alive when the trumpet sounds. Above all, miracles of grace will be revealed. We shall see some in Heaven, who we never expected would have been saved at all. The confusion of tongues shall at length be reversed, and done away. The assembled multitude will cry with one heart and in one language, "What has God wrought!" (Num. 23:23.)
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