'Until the Day Break...'
It is a feature of true Christianity that it points us continually to the coming day of God. This is not because we have not work enough to do here and now on earth, but because only those whose eye is on the future can serve properly now on earth. Those who are not heavenly-minded are of little earthly good. Hence the Scriptures inform us that all great servants of God have looked fervently to the end of this age. In such a spirit Noah built an ark, Moses spurned the wealth of Egypt and Paul travelled with Christ's gospel to all corners of the Mediterranean world.
This principle has not changed in our modern age. Luther and Calvin filled Europe with their theology, Edwards beautified New England with his seraphic sermons and Spurgeon made the British Empire ring with the noble truths of the gospel because they were all men who viewed this world in the light of eternity. Until we see the affairs of today in the context of the last day, we are unfit for the service of our own generation.
It is no surprise to discover, therefore, that false religion is shortsighted and prefers to offer its followers their good things today. Satan well understands that sinners prefer their blessings now rather than tomorrow. Hence he is in the business of entertaining men with the here and now. 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush', says popular sentiment. And this spirit easily creeps into the thinking of Christian people. Consequently it is a hallmark of false religion that it takes men's gaze away from the last day and fixes it on this present transitory world. The precise object to which false religion draws attention varies with the error in question. But the procedure is the same in every case. Thus, modernism sets men to work for a social and political kingdom, Roman Catholicism directs men's gaze to masses, popes and priests, and deviant forms of Christianity place their stress on wonders of healing, sensations and childish excitement, all of which take the eye away from the day of God to come.
On the other hand, it is noticeable that the Lord Jesus Christ places immense emphasis in his preaching on the last day. Scarcely anything is stressed by Christ like the importance of preparing for 'that day' and being awake at 'that hour'. Earthquakes and wars, he tells us as believers, are things to be taken in our stride. Persecutions and sufferings in this life are comparatively small matters. The convulsions of empires, the flux and flow of historical changes, the structural alterations in the fabric of this present universe — all these, he informs us, are only a prelude to the great dramatic event which we are to be concerned about. Social and political changes in history, in other words, are to be looked on only as a minor affair. What really matters is the coming great day.
This emphasis in Christ's preaching is reflected throughout all the New Testament Scriptures. Every aspect of life, say the Apostles, is to be viewed from the standpoint of the day of the Lord. The whole structure of life on earth as we now know it should be looked on by us as only temporary and as soon to be abolished. This is true of the family, marriage, the State, politics, governments and the universe itself as a totality. 'It is high time to awake ... now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand' (Romans13:11-12). 'The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly' (Romans 16:20). 'The time is short ... for the fashion of this world passeth away' (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). 'Then cometh the end, when he (Christ) shall have delivered up the kingdom to God ... that God may be all in all' (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). 'Our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven from whence also we look for the Saviour ... who shall ... subdue all things...' (Philippians 3:19-20). 'The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night ... therefore let us not sleep' (1 Thessalonians 5:2) 'The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven' (2 Thessalonians 1:7). 'Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven' (Hebrews 12:26). 'Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord ... the coming of the Lord draweth nigh ... behold, the judge standeth before the door' (James 5:7-9). 'The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up' (2 Peter 3:10). These and similar passages, not to add almost the whole book of Revelation, indicate to us how frequent and how emphatic was the Apostles' insistence on the need to keep the future great day in mind always.
The reason why men without an eye to the judgment day are unfit for present service is not that they lack ability perhaps, or energy, but because they lack a true sense of direction. Not to see by faith the imminence of the end is to be blind to what are the priorities of life. This is the key to explain the many sad failures of recent men of genius who have attempted to shape man's destiny.
Darwin, Marx and Freud, for example, have all had a profound effect upon the modern world. But all went wrong because they lacked a biblical habit of mind and so had little sense of the judgment to come. Consequently their achievements only led mankind astray by drawing attention away from the great goal of history to which mankind is daily moving so fast. Their models of life, of history and of the human soul were all profoundly influential — and yet basically wrong. To move the world away from God is not, therefore, service but disservice. It is not progress but lost labour. It is the tragedy of our times that most men of genius have sought to move the world in the wrong direction. And it is the unspeakable mercy of God's providence that their influence has not been more disastrous than it has.
No class of persons in this world should be more moved by the thought of the last day than Christians. It should be our constant topic of thought and our frequent topic of conversation. It is a theme which we ought to rehearse again and again in our minds till it shapes and moulds our entire character. For in the end nothing will matter like appearing well before the judgment seat of Christ.
What a day that will be for the ungodly! Death and the cold grave will seem more desirable to the enemies of God in that day than to look Christ in the eye. Amid the incandescent embers of a doomed universe they will put on the rags of their accursed resurrection bodies. With a terror unknown to man in all past history they will be drawn by divine power, though all unwilling, to hear the dismal record of their earthly lives read out to the assembled universe. Their own consciences will echo amen to the just sentence of God upon their lives. Everlasting anguish and pain will rise up in their consciousness as they are gathered into bundles by the angels to be burned in never-dying flames of divine wrath. O! how Christians ought to pity the ungodly! And how preachers should plead with them and warn them to flee to Christ for mercy!
But the Christian has other, and brighter, reasons for looking forward to the day of God. It is little wonder that the words which form the title to this piece have been a popular text on the gravestones of the Lord's people over the centuries: 'Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether' (Song of Solomon 2:17).
The present life is marked for the child of God as a place of darkness and shadows. He is made aware of the imperfection of all things here below. He finds the shadow of sin upon the best of men. There is scarcely a church where some shadow of error is not to be found. There is not a preacher free from the shadow of frailty. There is not a relationship without its shadow of sorrow. There is not a home without its shadow of trouble. There is not an hour of life in which the shadow of past failure or future fear has no part. If it were not for the hope of the great day soon to dawn, the believer would be on the verge of despair many a time. But the sum of all a believer's sad yesterdays is as nothing to him when he remembers the glory which is to be at the Lord's return.
What pen can describe the changes which will occur to the believer in an instant when Jesus comes again? When 'the day breaks and the shadows flee away' all a believer's sorrows will vanish forever and his soul will enter into unimaginable ecstasies. It will be a joy beyond bliss to see ourselves welcomed home by the Lord himself. O! what a universe of love will be in Christ's face as he gathers his people to him as those for whom he died! What a host of emotions will crowd the breast of every saint when he sees the face of his divine Husband! Surely the emotion of the heart in that hour will demand that we must be taught the language of heaven itself, since all earthly languages are too flat and tame to tell Christ what we think of him. The heart would swell and burst for very joy if God were not then to give us a redeemed body 'raised in power' (1 Corinthians 15:43). But how it can be that ten thousand times ten thousand glorified saints can all at one and the same time get near enough to the Lord Jesus Christ for their full satisfaction or all fill their gaze with enough of him, let those tell us who know the unknown mysteries of God.
Till the day breaks and the shadows flee away, the believer is to pray to the Lord for His spiritual, as distinct from His physical, presence: 'Turn, my beloved...' The physical presence of Christ will slake our thirst for ever in glory. The spiritual presence of Christ must slake our thirst in part in this present life.
Christ's spiritual presence is not a myth or a nonentity. It is a felt reality to those who are of spiritual maturity and who have their senses exercised. Hence the prayer, 'Turn my beloved...' is equivalent to the desire that Jesus should fulfil to us personally his gracious promises: 'I will not leave you comfortless (orphans): I will come to you' (John 14:18); 'Ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you' (John 14:19-20); 'I will love him, and will manifest myself to him ... my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him' (John 14:23); 'Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid' (John 14:27)
'Turn again, my beloved'! The prayer needs to be on our lips continually while we live in the shadows of this modern age, in which men have followed false lights and lost their way. It is a prayer for personal and felt communion with Christ in his glory. It is also a prayer for the church's reviving.