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The Great Gathering!

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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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The Great Gathering!

From Timeless Grace Gems

J.C. Ryle, 1878

© This gathering shall be a humbling one. It shall make an end of bigotry and narrow-mindedness forever. The Christians of one denomination shall find themselves side by side with those of another denomination. If they would not tolerate them on earth — they will be obliged to tolerate them in Heaven. Churchmen and Dissenters, who will neither pray together nor worship together now, will discover to their shame, that they must praise together hereafter to all eternity! The very people who will not receive us at their ordinances now, and keep us back from their Table — will be obliged to acknowledge us before our Master's face, and to let us sit down by their side. Never, will the world have seen such a complete overthrow of sectarianism, party-spirit, unbrotherliness, religious jealousy, and religious pride! At last ,we shall all be completely "clothed with humility." (1 Peter 5:5.)

This mighty, wonderful "gathering together," is the gathering which ought to be often in men's thoughts. It deserves consideration — it demands attention. Gatherings of other kinds are incessantly occupying our minds, political gatherings, scientific gatherings, gatherings for pleasure, gatherings for gain. But the hour comes, and will soon be here, when gatherings of this kind will be completely forgotten! One thought alone will swallow up men's minds — that thought will be, "Shall I be gathered with Christ's people into a place of safety and honor — or be left behind to everlasting woe?" Let us take care that we are not left behind!

II. WHY is this "gathering together" of true Christians a thing to be desired? Let us try to get an answer to that question.

Paul evidently thought that the gathering at the last day was a cheering object which Christians ought to keep before their eyes. He classes it with that second coming of our Lord, which he says elsewhere, believers love and long for. He exalts it in the distant horizon as one of those "good things to come," which should animate the faith of every pilgrim in the narrow way. Not only, he seems to say, will each servant of God have rest, and a kingdom, and a crown — he will also have besides a happy "gathering together." Now, where is the peculiar blessedness of this gathering? Why is it a thing that we ought to look forward to with joy, and expect with pleasure? Let us see.

(1) For one thing, the "gathering together" of all true Christians will be a state of things totally unlike their present condition. To be scattered, and not gathered, seems the rule of man's existence now. Of all the millions who are annually born into the world, how few continue together until they die! Children who draw their first breath under the same roof, and play by the same fireside — are sure to be separated as they grow up, and to draw their last breath far distant from one another.

The same law applies to the people of God. They are spread abroad like salt, one in one place and one in another, and never allowed to continue long side by side. It is doubtless good for the world, that it is so. A town would be a very dark place at night, if all the lighted candles were crowded together into one room. But, as good as it is for the world — it is no small trial to believers. Many a day they feel desolate and alone; many a day they long for a little more communion with their brethren, and a little more companionship with those who love the Lord! Well, they may look forward with hope and comfort. The hour is coming when they shall have no lack of companions. Let them lift up their heads and rejoice. There will be a "gathering together" by and by!

(2) For another thing, the gathering together of all true Christians will be an assembly entirely of one mind. There are no such assemblies now. Mixture, hypocrisy, and false profession — creep in everywhere. Wherever there is wheat — there are sure to be tares. Wherever there are good fish — there are sure to be bad. Wherever there are wise virgins — there are sure to be foolish. There is no such thing as a perfect church now. There is a Judas Iscariot at every communion table — and a Demas in every Apostolic company! And wherever the "sons of God" come together — Satan is sure to appear among them. (Job 1:6.)

But all this shall come to an end one day. Our Lord shall at length present to the Father a perfect church, "having neither spot nor wrinkle, nor any such thing." (Ephesians 5:27.) How glorious such a Church will be!

To meet with half-a-dozen believers together now is a rare event in a Christian's year, and one that cheers him like a sunshiny day in winter — it makes him feel his heart burn within him, as the disciples felt on the way to Emmaus. But how much more joyful will it be to meet a "multitude that no man can number!"

To find too, that all we meet are at last of one opinion and one judgment, and see eye to eye — to discover that all our miserable controversies are buried forever, and that Calvinists no longer hate Arminians, nor Arminians Calvinists; Churchmen no longer quarrel with Dissenters, nor Dissenters with Churchmen; to join a company of Christians in which there is neither jarring, squabbling, nor discord, every man's graces fully developed, and every man's besetting sins dropped off like leaves in Autumn — all this will be happiness indeed! No wonder that Paul bids us to look forward.

(3) For another thing, the gathering together of true Christians will be a meeting at which none shall be absent. The weakest lamb shall not be left behind in the wilderness. We shall once more see our beloved friends and relatives who fell asleep in Christ, and left us in sorrow and tears — better, brighter, more beautiful, more pleasant than ever we found them on earth! We shall hold communion with all the saints of God who have fought the good fight before us, from the beginning of the world to the end. Patriarchs and Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, Martyrs and Missionaries, Reformers and Puritans — all the host of God's elect shall be there. If to read their words and works has been pleasant — how much better shall it be to see them! If to hear of them, and be stirred by their example, has been useful — how much more delightful to talk with them, and ask them questions! To sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and hear how they kept the faith without any Bible; to converse with Moses, and Samuel, and David, and Isaiah, and Daniel, and hear how they could believe in a Christ yet to come; to converse with Peter, and Paul, and Lazarus, and Mary, and Martha, and listen to their wondrous tale of what their Master did for them — all this will be sweet indeed! No wonder that Paul bids us to look forward.

(4) In the last place, the gathering of all true Christians shall be a meeting without a parting. There are no such meetings now. We seem to live in an endless hurry, and can hardly sit down and take breath — before we are off again. "Good-bye!" treads on the heels of "Hello!"

The cares of this world,

the necessary duties of life,

the demands of our families,

the work of our various stations and callings

— all these things appear to eat up our days, and to make it impossible to have long quiet times of communion with God's people. But, blessed be God — it shall not always be so. The hour comes, and shall soon be here, when "good-bye" and "farewell" shall be words that are laid aside and buried forever! When we meet in a world where the former things have passed away, where there is . . .

no more sin,

no more sorrow,

no more poverty,

no more work of body or work of brains,

no more need of anxiety for families,

no more sickness,

no more pain,

no more old age,

no more death,

no more change —

when we meet in that endless state of being, calm, and restful, and unhurried — who can tell what the bliss and blessedness will be? I cannot wonder that Paul bids us look up and look forward.

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The Great Gathering!

From Timeless Grace Gems

J.C. Ryle, 1878

I lay these things before all who read this paper, and ask their serious attention to them. If I know anything of a Christian's experience, I am sure they contain food for reflection. This, at least, I say confidently: the man who sees nothing much in the second coming of Christ and the public "gathering" of Christ's people — nothing happy, nothing joyful, nothing pleasant, nothing desirable — such a man may well doubt whether he himself is a true Christian and has got any grace at all!

In closing, let me offer the following APPLICATIONS.

(1) I ask you a plain question. Do not turn away from it and refuse to look it in the face. Shall you be gathered by the angels into God's home when the Lord returns — or shall you be left behind?

One thing, at any rate, is very certain — there will only be two groups of mankind at the last great day:

those who are on the right hand of Christ — and those who are on the left;

those who are counted righteous — and those who are wicked;

those who are safe in the ark — and those who are outside;

those who are gathered like wheat into God's barn — and those who are left behind like tares to be burned.

Now, what will your portion be?

Perhaps you do not know yet. You cannot say. You are not sure. You hope the best. You trust it will be all right at last — but you won't undertake to give an opinion. Well! I only hope you will never rest until you do know. The Bible will tell you plainly who are they that will be gathered. Your own heart, if you deal honestly, will tell you whether you are one of the number. Rest not, rest not, until you know!

How men can stand the partings and separations of this life — if they have no hope of anything better? How they can bear to say "good-bye" to sons and daughters, and launch them on the troublesome waves of this world — if they have no expectation of a safe "gathering" in Christ at last? How they can part with beloved members of their families, and let them journey forth to the other side of the globe, not knowing if they shall ever meet happily in this life or a life to come? How all this can be, completely baffles my understanding! I can only suppose that the many never think, never consider, never look forward. Once let a man begin to think — and he will never be satisfied until he has found Christ and is safe.

(2) I offer you a plain means of testing your own soul's condition, if you want to know if you will be gathered into God's home. Ask yourself what kind of gatherings you like best here upon earth? Ask yourself whether you really love the assembling together of God's people?

How could that man enjoy the meeting of true Christians in Heaven — who takes no pleasure in meeting true Christians on earth? How can that heart which is wholly set on balls, and races, and feasts, and amusements, and worldly parties — and thinks Christian worship a weariness — how can such a heart be in tune for the company of saints, and saints alone? The thing is impossible. It cannot be.

Never, never let it be forgotten, that our tastes on earth are a sure evidence of the state of our hearts; and the state of our hearts here on earth, is a sure indication of our eternal home hereafter. Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. He who hopes to be gathered with saints in Heaven, while he only loves the gathering of sinners on earth — is deceiving himself. If he lives and dies in that state of mind, he will find at last that it would have been better if he had never been born!

(3) If you are a true Christian, I exhort you to be often looking forward. Your best things are yet to come! Your redemption draws near! The night is far spent — the day is at hand. Yet in a little while, and He whom you love and believe on, will come, and will not tarry. When He comes, He will bring His dead saints with Him and change His living ones. Look forward! There is a "gathering together" yet to come!

The morning after a shipwreck is a sorrowful time. The joy of half-drowned survivors, who have safely reached the land — is often sadly marred by the recollection of shipmates who have sunk to rise no more. There will be no such sorrow when believers gather together round the throne of the Lamb. Not one of the ship's company shall be found absent! "Some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship — all will get safe to shore at last." (Acts 27:44.) The great waters and raging waves shall swallow none of God's elect! When the sun rises — they shall be seen all safe, and "gathered together."

Even the day after a great victory is a sorrowful time. The triumphant feelings of the conquerors are often mingled with bitter regrets for those who fell in action, and died on the field. The list of "killed, wounded, and missing," breaks many a heart, fills many a home with mourning, and brings many a grey head sorrowing to the grave! The great Duke of Wellington often said, "there was but one thing worse than a victory — and that was a defeat." But, thanks be to God, there will be no such sorrow in Heaven! The soldiers of the great Captain of our salvation shall all answer to their names at last! The muster-roll shall be as complete after the battle — as it was before! Not one believer shall be "missing" in the great "gathering together."

Does Christmas, for instance, bring with it sorrowful feelings and painful associations? Do tears rise unbidden in your eyes when you mark the empty places around the fireside? Do grave thoughts come sweeping over your mind, even in the midst of your children's mirth — when you recollect the dear old faces and much loved voices of some who sleep in the churchyard? Well, look up and look forward! The time is short. The world is growing old. The coming of the Lord draws near! There is yet to be a meeting without parting, and a gathering without separation. Those believers whom you laid in the grave with many tears are in good keeping — you will yet see them again with joy. Look up! I say once more. Lay hold by faith on the "coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him." Believe it, think of it, rest on it. It is all true!

Do you feel lonely and desolate as every December comes round? Do you find few to pray with, few to praise with, few to open your heart to, few to exchange experience with? Do you learn increasingly, that Heaven is becoming every year more full — and earth more empty?

Well, it is an old story. You are only drinking a cup which myriads have drunk before. Look up and look forward. The lonely time will soon be past and over — you will have company enough by and by. "When you wake up after your Lord's likeness — you shall be satisfied." (Psalm 17:15.) Yet in a little while and you shall see a congregation that shall never break up, and a Sabbath that shall never end. "The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him," shall make amends for all!

"Therefore comfort one another with these words!" 1 Thessalonians 4:18

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Oh, to be gathered together!

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It is a Glorious Time When We Read of Long Ago...and yet We Are Of The Same Mind-Today...In One Accord...Whew...At Least Some of us...I Dearly Love The Thought...We Will Be In Heaven Together...Focused on Who? and Not Ourselves...Whew What A Glorious Time-Today Is-With Him!!! King of kings and Lord of lords...Jesus My Lord...Thank you, sir, nChrist...

Love In Him, Kathy

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              When the fullness of time had come, it begin to be rumored that the cross was not what men thought it, the place of the curse and shame—but of strength and honor and life and blessing. Then it was, that there burst upon the astonished world the bold announcement, "As for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Greek and Roman, Jew and Gentile, prince, priest, philosopher, Rabbi, Stoic, Epicurean, Pharisee, barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, North, South, East and West—looked to one another with contemptuous impatience, indignant at the audacity of a few humble Christians, thus affronting and defying the "public opinion" of nations and ages; assailing the religions of earth with the cross as their only sword; striking down the idols with this as their only hammer; and with this, as their one lever, proposing to turn the world upside down.

              From that day the cross became "a power" in the earth; a power which went forth, like the light, noiselessly yet irresistibly, smiting down all religions alike, all shrines alike, all altars alike; sparing no superstition nor philosophy; neither flattering priesthood, nor succumbing to politics; tolerating no error, yet refusing to draw the sword for truth; a superhuman power, yet wielded by human, not angelic hands; "the power of God unto salvation."

              This power remains—in its mystery, its silence, its influence—it remains. The cross has not become obsolete; the preaching of the cross has not ceased to be powerful and effectual! There are men among us who would persuade us that, in this modern age, the cross is out of date and out of fashion, time-worn, not time-honored; that Golgotha witnessed only a common martyr scene; that the great sepulcher is but a Hebrew tomb; that the Christ of the future and the Christ of the past are widely different. But this shakes us not. It only leads us to clasp the cross more fervently, and to study it more profoundly, as embodying in itself that gospel which is at once the wisdom and the power of God.

              The secret of its power lies in the amount of divine truth which it embodies. It is the summary of all the Bible; the epitome of Revelation. It is pre-eminently the voice of God; and, as such, conveying his power as well as uttering his wisdom. "The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty."

              Yet is the cross not without its mysteries, or, as men would say, its puzzles, its contradictions. It illuminates, yet it darkens; it interprets, yet it confounds. It raises questions—but refuses to answer all that it has raised. It solves difficulties—but it creates them too. It locks as well as unlocks. It opens, and no man shuts; it shuts, and no man opens. It is life, yet it is death. It is honor, yet it is shame. It is wisdom—but also foolishness. It is both gain and loss; both pardon and condemnation; both strength and weakness; both joy and sorrow; both love and hatred; both medicine and poison; both hope and despair. It is grace, yet it is righteousness; it is law, yet it is deliverance from law; it is Christ's humiliation, yet it is Christ's exaltation; it is Satan's victory, yet it is Satan's defeat; it is the gate of heaven and the gate of hell.

              Let us look at the cross as the divine proclamation and interpretation of the things of God; the key to his character, his word, his ways, his purposes; the clue to the intricacies of the world's and the Church's history.

              I. The cross is the interpreter of MAN. By means of it God has brought out to view—what is in man. In the cross man has spoken out. He has exhibited himself, and made unconscious confession of his feelings, especially in reference to God—to his Being, his authority, his character, his law, his love. Though "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23) were at work in the dreadful transaction—yet it was man who erected the cross, and nailed the Son of God to it. Permitted by God to give vent to the feelings of his heart, and placed in circumstances the least likely to call forth anything but love, he thus expressed them—in hatred of God and of his incarnate Son. Reckoning the death of the cross the worst of all deaths—man deems it the fittest for the Son of God. Thus, the enmity of the natural heart speaks out, and man not only confesses publicly that he is a hater of God—but he takes pains to show the intensity of his hatred. No, he glories in his shame, crying aloud, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" "This is the heir, come let us kill him!" "Not this man—but Barabbas!" The cross thus interpreted man; drew the mask of pretended religion from his face; and exhibited a soul overflowing with the malignity of hell.

              You say, "I don't hate God. I may be indifferent to him; he may not be in all my thoughts; but I don't hate him." Then, what does that cross mean?—Love, hatred, indifference—which? Does love demand the death of the loved One? Does indifference crucify its objects? Look at your hands! Are they not red with blood? Whose blood is that? The blood of God's own Son! No—neither love nor indifference shed that blood. It was hatred that did it! Enmity—the enmity of the carnal mind. You say that I have no right to judge you. I am not judging you. It is yon cross which judges you, and I am asking you to judge yourselves by it. It is yon cross that interprets your purposes, and reveals the thoughts and intents of your heart. Oh, what a revelation! Man hating God—and hating most, when God is loving most! Man acting as a devil! And taking the devil's side against God!

              You say, "What have I to do with that cross, and what right have you to identify me with the crucifiers?" I say, "You are the man." Do not say, "Pilate did it, Caiaphas did it, the Jews did it, the Romans did it; I did not crucify Jesus." No—but you did, you did! You did it in your representatives—the civilized Roman and the religious Jew; and until you come out from the crucifying crowd, disown your representatives, and protest against the deed—you are truly guilty of that blood. But how am I to sever myself from these crucifiers, and protest against their crime? By believing in the name of the crucified One! For all unbelief is approval of the deed and identification with the murderers. Faith is man's protest against the deed; and the identification of himself, not only with the friends and disciples of the crucified One—but with the crucified One himself.

              The cross, then, was the public declaration of man's hatred of God, man's rejection of his Son, and man's avowal of his belief that he needs no Savior. If anyone, then, denies the ungodliness of humanity, and pleads for the native goodness of the race, I ask, what means yon cross? Of what is it the revealer and interpreter? Of hatred or of love? Of good or of evil? Besides, in this rejection of the Son of God, we have also man's estimate of him. He had been for thirty years despised and rejected; he had been valued and sold for thirty pieces of silver; a robber had been preferred to him; but at the cross, this estimate comes out more awfully; and there we see how man undervalued his person, his life, his blood, his word, his whole errand from the Father. "What do you think of Christ?" was God's question. Man's answer was, "Crucify Him!" Was not that as explicit as it was appalling?

              As the cross reveals man's depravity, so does it exhibit his foolishness. His condemnation of him, in whom God delighted, shows this. His erection of the cross shows it still more. As if he could set at nothing Jehovah, and clear the earth of him who had come down as the Doer of his will! His attempt to cast shame upon the Lord of glory is like a child's effort to blot out the sun. And as his erection of the cross was the revelation of his folly, so has been his subsequent estimate of it, and of the gospel which has issued from it. He sees in it no wisdom—but only foolishness; and this ascription of foolishness to the cross is but the more decided proof of his own foolishness. He stumbles at this stumbling-stone. The cross is an offence to him, and the preaching of it folly.
    • By nChrist
      The Surety's Thirst

      From Timeless Grace Gems
      By Horatius Bonar, 1867

              "I thirst." John 19:28

              Three things need our notice here—the thirst, the cry, the answer. They are not trifles, nor accidents, either in themselves or in connection with the great event of which they form a part. They have much to tell us of the Sufferer, and the nature of his sufferings; and they help us to get at the meaning of the mysterious transaction of that hour—an hour of the deepest darkness which ever rested over earth, yet an hour which proved the forerunner of the brightest and most blessed day-spring that ever shone from heaven!

              I. The thirst. It was a true thirst, and as deep and sore as it was true. It was a thirst corresponding with the character of him who felt it. He was human, and He was divine. It was, of course, humanity which thirsted; but it was humanity in union with divinity, and therefore made more susceptible of suffering, more capable of enduring what alone it would not have been capable of undergoing. Christ's humanity was perfect; but that only made it more sensitive, more acutely alive to suffering, so that his hunger, his thirst, his weariness, instead of being mitigated or made unreal—became more real and intense, more unmodified and harder to bear, than they are or can be in our imperfect humanity. The perfection of humanity implies the perfection of suffering, whenever that perfect humanity comes into contact with suffering at all. Pre-eminence in sorrow, and pre-eminence in joy, must be the portion and prerogative of such exalted perfection. It is only perfection such as this, which can sound the depths of creature-sadness, or reach the heights of human joy. Had there been one taint of imperfection, about either the body or the soul of Jesus, he could not have tasted the whole bitterness of our anguish; he could not have drained our cup; he could not have paid our penalty; he could not have felt that extremity of thirst, regarding which he uttered the bitter outcry in the hour of his conflict with death, and with the powers of darkness, upon the cross.

              Christ was filled with the Spirit, "without measure," in a way and to an extent such as no other man ever was or could be; yet this did not exempt him from pain, or make his thirst unreal, or alleviate one pang which fell to his lot as the Sin-bearer. With that Spirit He was filled; by that Spirit he was sustained and strengthened; by that "eternal Spirit" he "offered himself without spot to God;" but in no way and at no time did this Spirit come between him and suffering, either to blunt the edge of the weapon or ward off the stroke. The indwelling of the Spirit in him added to his perfection, and every addition to his perfection was an increase of his susceptibility to suffering; so that he felt pain more than we can do; he felt weariness, hunger, thirst, more than we can do. The Spirit who dwelt within him could not, indeed, feel the pain or the thirst; but the human nature thus inhabited by the Spirit was made capable of containing or receiving more pain, and thirst, and sorrow than it could have done otherwise, even as perfect humanity.

              Christ was God-man; very God as truly as very man. But this did neither prevent nor nullify his sufferings. No abatement could be made from his sorrows, either in respect of number or intensity, because of his Godhead. That Godhead seemed only to present him as a broader mark for the arrows of his enemies; to make him a more capacious vessel for containing the fullness of the divine wrath due to him as the sinner's substitute. The Godhead could not, indeed, suffer, nor hunger, nor thirst, nor weep; but, by its union with the manhood, it could make all these endurances more true and more intense to that humanity with which it was united; not only attaching to these sufferings a value which they could not otherwise have had—but imparting to them a profound reality, which, in other circumstances, could not have belonged to them. We need to be cautious in using language respecting Christ not expressly employed in Scripture; but, seeing the love of Christ is called the love of God, and the blood of Christ is called the blood of God, may we not term the thirst of the Son of God upon the cross, "the thirst of God?"

              How true was the humanity of Christ! That thirst proclaims him truly a man; in body and in soul a man; in sorrow and in joy a man. His Godhead did not neutralize his manhood, nor make any of its actings less truly human. That which was divine in his person, made that which was human more thoroughly human than it could have been in any other circumstances. As his humanity showed forth his Godhead more illustriously, so his Godhead brought out his humanity into fuller, wider, truer, and more perfect action—exhibiting it in an extremity of weakness and suffering, to which it could not otherwise have been reduced without wholly giving way. No mere man could have passed through Gethsemane and Golgotha, could have endured the agony of the one, and the thirst of the other, without being annihilated.

              And what does this thirst mean? Is it a mere vain exhibition of what humanity can bear; of what the Creator can enable the creature to endure? No. He thirsts as the sinner's substitute; and his strength is dried up like a potsherd, because the heat of divine wrath was withering up his moisture. That thirst is expiatory; for he suffers the Just for the unjust. He thirsts, that we might not thirst. He is parched, that we might not be parched. He is consumed with wrath, that we might not be consumed. That thirst is the bearing of your sin and your hell, O believer. That thirst is the unsealing of the eternal fountain, that its waters might flow forth to the parched and weary sons of earth. How much we owe to that dreadful thirst! How much we owe to the love of Him who thirsted upon that cross for us!

              II. The cry. "I thirst!" or, "I am thirsty!" These are common words among us; and the cry, in itself, does not strike us as remarkable. "I am thirsty," says the child to its mother. "I am thirsty," says the traveler on the highway. "I am thirsty," says the sick man on his hot bed of fever. We are familiar with the cry; it is that of a fellow-mortal; and we know that it will be met with a quick response, for it is a cry for something which can be easily and cheaply supplied.

              But when such words come from the lips of the Son of God, the case is wholly different. It is no remarkable thing to hear a beggar asking alms on the highway or at our door; but when the great Roman general, the conqueror of kings, is reduced to poverty, and begs his bread, we are amazed; an interest is immediately excited, and we ask, How is this? So, when the cry comes from him who is God over all, the Creator of heaven and earth, the framer of all earth's fountains and streams, the fashioner of man's soul and body, we are startled. How can this be? Whence does it arise? What can it mean? Is the cry a real and natural one? Is it the true expression of deep-felt pain in the divine utterer? or is it the mere indication by him of what, in such circumstances, a crucified malefactor would feel—but which he himself, in virtue of his exalted nature, could not possibly have been supposed to suffer?

              One thing strikes us much here. His is the only cry heard at this time. There are two men on crosses beside him; but they utter no cry. One spends his breath in reviling, the other in praying; but they do not say, "I thirst." This is a peculiarity which we cannot fail to notice. Of the three sufferers, the Son of God alone utters the cry of thirst. How great must that thirst have been! how bitter the cry thus wrung from his expiring lips!

              Specially does this appear when we call to mind the meek and uncomplaining character of the holy sufferer. Only once or twice, in a life of unutterable sorrow, did he allow any expression of his grief to escape him, as when he said, "Now is my soul troubled;" and when in Gethsemane he said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;" and now on the cross, when he exclaimed, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and again, in the words of our text, "I thirst." Intense and overpowering must have been his thirst before it could have extorted from him such an utterance at such a time.

              The present is the only reference which the Lord makes to pain of body; the others are to the griefs of his troubled soul. No doubt, in the Psalms he alludes once or twice to his bodily sufferings, as when he speaks of his bones being out of joint, his heart melted like wax, his strength dried up like a potsherd. But these intimations of physical pain are few; it is of the sorrows of his soul, in connection with the wrath of God, that he speaks so fully. In the Gospels, this cry of thirst is the only expression of bodily anguish that is recorded; and from the way in which it is introduced we are plainly given to understand that even this cry would not have been uttered had it not been for the fulfilling of Scripture. However terrible the thirst, the cry would have been repressed, had it not been for what was written in the Psalms concerning this—"In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink" (Psalm 69:21). For thus the Evangelist writes—"After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, says, I thirst."
    • By nChrist
      From Timeless Grace Gems
      by J. C. Ryle

      You probably know that Calvary was a place close to Jerusalem, where the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified. We know nothing else about Calvary beside this. I call this tract "Calvary," because I am going to speak to you about the sufferings and crucifixion of Christ.

      I am afraid that much ignorance prevails among people on the subject of Jesus Christ's sufferings. I suspect that many see no peculiar glory and beauty in the history of the crucifixion: on the contrary; they think it painful, humbling, and degrading. They do not see much profit in the story of Christ's death and sufferings: they rather turn from it as an unpleasant thing.

      Now I believe that such people are quite wrong. I cannot agree with them. I believe it is an excellent thing for us all to be continually dwelling on the crucifixion of Christ. That is a good thing to be often reminded how Jesus was betrayed into the hands of wicked men, -how they condemned Him with most unjust judgment, -how they spit on Him, scourged Him, beat Him, and crowned Him with thorns, -how they led Him forth as a lamb to the slaughter, without His murmuring or resisting, -how they drove the nails through His hands and feet, and set Him on Calvary between two thieves, how they pierced His side with a spear, mocked Him in His suffering, and let Him hang there naked and bleeding until He died. Of all these things, I say, it is good to be reminded. It is not for nothing that the crucifixion is described four times over in the New Testament. There are very few things that all the four writers of the Gospel describe: generally speaking, if Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell a thing in our Lord's history, John does not tell it; but there is one thing that all the four give us most fully, and that one thing is the story of the cross. This is a telling fact, and not to be overlooked.

      People seem to me to forget that all Christ's sufferings at Calvary were fore-ordained. They did not come on Him by chance or accident: they were all planned, counseled, and determined from all eternity; the cross was foreseen, in all the provisions of the everlasting Trinity for the salvation of sinners. In the purposes of God the cross was set up from everlasting. Not one throb of pain did Jesus feel, not one precious drop of blood did Jesus shed, which had not been appointed long ago. Infinite wisdom planned that redemption should be by the cross: infinite wisdom brought Jesus to the cross in due time. He was crucified by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.

      People seem to me to forget that all Christ's sufferings at Calvary were necessary for man's salvation. He had to bear our sins, if ever they were to be borne at all: with His stripes alone could we be healed. This was the one payment of our debts that God would accept; this was the great sacrifice on which our eternal life depended. If Christ had not gone to the cross and suffered in our stead, the just for the unjust, there would not have been a spark of hope for us; there would have been a mighty gulf between ourselves and God, which no man ever could have passed. The cross was necessary, in order that there might be an atonement for sin.

      People seem to me to forget that all Christ's sufferings were endured voluntary and of His own free will. He was under no compulsion: of His own choice He laid down His life: of His own choice He went to Calvary to finish the work He came to do. He might easily have summoned legions of angels with a word, and scattered Pilate and Herod, and all their armies, like chaff before the wind; but He was a willing sufferer: His heart was set on the salvation of sinners. He was resolved to open a fountain for all sin and uncleanness, by shedding His own blood.

      Reader, when I think of all this, I see nothing painful or disagreeable in the subject of Christ's crucifixion; on the contrary, I see in it wisdom and power, peace and hope, joy and gladness, comfort and consolation. The more I keep the cross in my mind's eye, the more fullness I seem to discern in it; the longer I dwell on the crucifixion in my thoughts, the more I am satisfied that there is more to he learned at Calvary than anywhere else in the world.

      Would I know the length and breadth of God the Father's love towards a sinful world? Where shall I see it most displayed? Shall I look at His glorious sun, shining down daily on the unthankful and evil? Shall I look at the seed time and harvest, returning in regular yearly succession? Oh, no! I can find a stronger proof of love than anything of this sort. I look at the cross of Christ: I see in it not the cause of the Father's love, but the effect. There I see that God so loved this wicked world, that He gave His only begotten Son,-gave Him to suffer and die-that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. I know that the Father loves us, because He did not withhold from us His Son, His only Son. Ah, reader, I might sometimes fancy that God the Father is too high and holy to care for such miserable, corrupt creatures as we are: but I cannot, must not, dare not think it, when I look at Christ's sufferings on Calvary.

      Would I know how exceedingly sinful and abominable sin is in the sight of God? Where shall I see that most fully brought out? Shall I turn to the history of the flood, and read how sin drowned the world? Shall I go to the shore of the Dead Sea, and mark what sin brought on Sodom and Gomorrah? Shall I turn to the wandering Jews, and observe how sin has scattered them over the face of the earth? No: I can find a clearer proof still, I look at what happened on Calvary. There I see that sin is so black and damnable that nothing but the blood of God's own Son can wash it away; there I see that sin has so separated me from my holy Maker that all the angels in heaven could never have made peace between us: nothing could reconcile us, short of the death of Christ. Ah, if I listened to the wretched talk of proud men I might sometimes fancy sin was not so very sinful; but I cannot think little of sin when I look at Calvary.

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    • By nChrist
      The Outlook
      From Timeless Grace Gems
      J. C. Ryle, 1886

      (1) The first and worst cloud which I see in our Church's outlook, is the widespread disposition to regard religious externalism as a substitute for vital soul-saving Christianity.

      When I speak of externalism, let me explain what I mean. We all know that the external part of religion has received a large amount of new attention during the last forty years. All over the land it has become the fashion to restore churches, to get rid of old square pews, to improve the singing and music, to have a well-adorned choir, to decorate the church-building in a most elaborate style, and, in one word, to adorn, beautify, and improve the whole exterior of Church Christianity. Do I say there is anything sinful in all this? Nothing of the kind! I abhor everything like slovenliness in the ceremonials of worship. I dislike square pews, and bad music, and bad singing as much as anyone! But I do say, that I fear an external improvement often takes place in a church—without the slightest corresponding increase of godliness in the worshipers! No doubt there is a far more show of religion in our Churches—but it is very doubtful whether there is more vital Christianity, more presence of the Holy Spirit, more heart and conscience work, in the private lives and the homes of our people. I fear that in hundreds of cases, men have rested content with having secured a handsome church and a 'bright and hearty service,' and have forgotten that what God looks at—is the hearts of the worshipers, and the quantity of grace to be found among them.

      This is a very delicate subject, and I would be sorry to be misunderstood, or to give pain to anyone in handling it. But I am obliged to say plainly, that I fail to see that all the external improvement of the last forty years, is accompanied by any corresponding growth of practical holiness! There is no decrease in the total idolatry of recreations, or the extravagant expenditure of money, or self-indulgence of all kinds. On the contrary, there is far less repentance, faith, holiness, Bible-reading, and family religion! If this state of things is not a most unhealthy symptom in the condition of a Church, I know not what is!

      We may depend upon it—that knowledge of Christ, obedience to Christ, and the fruits of the Spirit—are the only tests by which God weighs and measures any Church. If these are absent, He cares nothing for beautiful buildings, fine singing, and a pompous ceremonial. These are 'leaves,' and He desires to see not leaves only, but 'fruit'. The tree of the Church of England perhaps never had so many leaves on it, as it has just now. I wish there was a corresponding quantity of fruit!

      We must never forget that the Temple service at Jerusalem in the day of our Lord's crucifixion was the most perfect ceremonial that ever was—whether for singing, order, vestments, or general magnificence and beauty. Yet we all know that at this very time, the Jewish Church was thoroughly rotten at heart, and after forty years was swept away! Who can doubt that the little upper chamber, where the apostles met on the day of our Lord's ascension, was far more beautiful in God's sight, than the beautiful temple which our Master Himself called 'a den of thieves'? I heartily wish that we would remember this, more than we appear to do. The disposition to make an idol of externals, and to sacrifice the inside of religion to the outside, is, in my judgment, the darkest cloud on our ecclesiastical horizon! Of this we may be quite certain—that God will never support a Church which is content with such a low standard of practical piety.

      "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence! Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness!" Matthew 23:25-28

      (2) The second thing which I see with pain in the outlook of the Church of England at the present time, is the growing tendency to ignore all distinct doctrine.

      The leading idea of many minds in this day appears to be, that it does not signify much what a man believes or teaches about what are commonly considered the principal verities of the Christian faith. A wave of extravagant liberalism in religion, as well as in everything else, is sweeping over England. Concerning the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, the atonement, the Person and work of the Holy Spirit, conversion, justification, the inspiration of Scripture, the future state, and the like—it seems to be agreed that men may believe as much or as little as they please, and nobody is to find fault. The only question you are to ask is, whether a man is 'earnest, sincere, and zealous,' and if he is, you are not to ask anything more. It is thought very narrow and illiberal to say that any opinion in religion is false, or that anybody is unsound in the faith. Distinct and positive statements about anything in Christianity are thought downright uncharitable. All the old dogmas are to be held back, and never to be put forward in a solid, tangible state—or to be put forward in such a foggy, misty manner that, like a half-developed photographic plate, they are never to come out distinct, sharp, and clear. I challenge any one who observes closely the pulpit utterances of this day, or reads speeches which touch religion, to deny the accuracy of what I have just said.

      Now all this, no doubt, sounds very noble and generous and liberal. It is in perfect harmony with the political tendencies of the age, which all lean in the direction of the principle—that everybody is to be allowed to do what he likes, and to be at liberty to do anything except commit theft or murder. Moreover, these ideas save men a great deal of trouble in the way of thinking and inquiry in order to find out truth. But the question still remains to be answered, Can this indifference to doctrine stand the test of cross-examination? Is it really true that there are no limits to the Church's comprehensiveness? If it does not matter what we believe—where is the use of the Bible, Creeds, Confessions, and Articles of faith? We may as well throw them aside as useless lumber! Beside this, does history show that any good work has been done in improving human nature during the last eighteen centuries by any instrumentality except that of distinct and positive doctrine? Did the apostles turn the world upside down by proclaiming everywhere, 'Be earnest, be sincere, be moral, be charitable—and it does not matter what you believe'? Did the early church Fathers, or the Continental and English Reformers, work on these lines? Do the missionaries to the heathen abroad, or to those who are practically heathen at home, ever obtain success without distinct doctrinal statements? And, to come home to ourselves at last—is there a man or woman among us who would be content on a deathbed to be told, 'Never mind what you believe; if you are in earnest you will go to heaven'? Questions like these demand very serious consideration.

      I commend this whole subject to the attention of all who hear me. I am convinced that it is a very dark spot in the outlook of our Church at the present time, and I apprehend great danger in this quarter. Surely we must stop somewhere. There is such a thing as liberality and 'breadth of thought' gone mad! The modern notion, that all faiths so called are equally good and true, is very dangerous, and replete with eternal harm to men's souls!

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