“It is no myth but sober fact that Christ is coming again in glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead.”

Someone has said that hell is truth seen too late. If this is so, then every reminder of Christ’s promised return adds up truth to come crashing home to us at the eleventh hour. This is the real crisis underlying the ephemeral crises of our fast-moving history. According to Paul, the night of this world is nearly over; the denouement of Christ’s coming to judge is almost here (Rom. 13:12a). This is a message charged with both danger and opportunity. It bears on the world-process as a whole, it speaks to the Church as an institution, and, most importantly, it carries a personal call to us as individuals.

To the world, judgment is indeed impending. It is no myth but sober fact that Christ is coming “again in glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead.” That coming will consummate the values of the historic process and will vindicate the holiness of God in the judgment of evil. There are preliminary manifestations of this truth of the coming End in the tentative and partial judgments within history itself, and not least in our own contemporary history. As the Nazi tyranny was judged at the end of World War II, so will the Marxist tyranny be judged in God’s good time. And it is meet and right for Christians to “contend against evil, and to make peace with oppression, reverently to use their freedom in the maintenance of justice among men and nations” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 44). The rebellion of nations against God contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction.

But this impending judgment is not merely something that the Church is announcing to the world. It is something that God is saying to the Church itself. Judgment must begin at the House of God. The promise that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” was given to a Church built upon the foundation of faith in Jesus as the Son of the Living God, the Saviour of men whose death and resurrection won the crucial victory over sin, Satan, death, and hell. The Church must ever stand under the judgment of the Word of God. For the Church has a built-in necessity for ever-fresh renewal. There can be “works of darkness” in the Church itself.

Much has been heard lately of the new prophets of atheism or near-atheism found within the ranks of the Church’s ordained teachers. Those who have studied the history of the relation between theology and philosophy can trace the source of this new academic experiment. Every age has a prevailing philosophical fad, and among the fads influencing the fashioners of “the secular gospel” of “the death of God” are existentialism and logical positivism (or analytical philosophy). A few ministerial professors have been trying to stretch their inherited theology on the Procrustean bed of post-Kantian movements, having a common assumption that what cannot be verified according to criteria of their own predilection is either meaningless or unworthy of belief. They give more credence to their own philosophically ratiocinations than to the historically based revelation of the Bible. Theirs is a rationalistic idolatry. As the Pharisees set about to establish their own righteousness instead of submitting themselves to the righteousness of God, so these philosopher-theologians go about trying to establish a system of thought based upon their own assumptions as to what constitutes valid knowledge, and refuse to submit to the Word of the truth of the Gospel. Subjecting their theology to the pseudo-gospel of the Enlightenment, and showing astonishing credulity toward the canons of unbelief adopted by the post-Kantian philosophers, the would-be apostles of intellectually respectable Christianity find themselves aligned with Nietzsche in their twentieth century rehash of “the death of God.” They can, indeed, claim the rights of academic freedom; but it is high time that they be challenged about the validity of their rationalistic substitutions for the Christianity of the Bible.

Article continues below

The theology of the New Testament—both of the Gospels and of the Epistles—is radically revelational; not anti-intellectual, but, like salvation itself, learned “by grace through faith.” The trouble with the “new” theologians is that they put the cart before the horse: for fides quaerens intellectum they have substituted intellectus quaerens fidem. The “particularity” of the Christian Gospel will always be a “scandal”; but even so it continues to make more sense than any of the alternatives offered by the infidel mind.

Pectus facit theologum (it is the heart that makes the theologian). Apart from spiritual conversion, no one can apprehend or be apprehended by the “Mystery of Christ.” Thus the message of Christ’s Second Coming ever leads up to a renewed call that God revive his Church “beginning from me.” It is always in season to say with St. Paul: “Now is the day of salvation.” The crisis arising out of the facts of the Gospel is that of being unable to postpone decision about Jesus Christ without risking perdition.

Article continues below

The lost human being has a fatal tendency to try anything rather than God. He may praise the spiritual therapist rather than do what he says; admire the doctor’s diagnostic skill rather than submit to the treatment he prescribes; say to the preacher or counselor, “You are doing a good job,” instead of getting right with God in line with the Word of God the preacher is communicating. We are all escape artists when we are confronted by the claims of Christ and the urgency of the Gospel. So the Word is ever and repeatedly the same: “Wake up now, surrender to Jesus Christ now, let go your self-directed efforts to run your life now, let Jesus Christ take over now.” The crisis of impending judgment is always with us. It is as much a living, present reality as it is a truth enshrined in the creed. In the providence of God it can bear down upon men “with majestic instancy” at any time, with ineluctable demand for decision. The time may come when we are surrounded with soul-shattering catastrophe, and in the mercy of God someone may be at hand to point to the one way of salvation.

But why wait for circumstances to do this? Why not make now the response that the ever-present crisis urges upon you? Now, in the time of this mortal life. Now, when the Good News of the Cross is getting through to you. Now, while the tempest still is high. Now, while the tide of the Holy Spirit’s influence is full. Now, before you have returned to the shallows of workaday mediocrity. Now, while the Crucified Lord is saying to you with all the persuasiveness of his victory over the Enemy, “Come unto me … and I will give you rest.” Now, not tomorrow when you have had time to think it over. Now, not after you have given the Devil a chance to come back at you with his talk about your rights—your right to yourself, your right to go to hell in your own particular way. Now, when you have a chance to win a resounding victory over that Devil by sharing in the crucial victory that Christ has already won. Now, not after you have experimented with other lines of action. In this crisis all alternative lines come from the Enemy, however persuasive they may seem. “Now is the day of salvation,” not when you are closer to the end of your earthly life.

The plain fact is that you are closer to that end right now than you may realize. The Judgment Day is nearer than you think. In a very real sense it is here right now. There are impinging upon you the powers of the world to come. “The night is far spent: the day is at hand,” right here, right now. The crisis is not some future thing that you can judiciously postpone to a more convenient day. The Day is here, pressing upon you with all the immediacy of a personal call from Christ for your surrender to him. The call is to engage now in battle in Christ’s Name in all areas of the Devil’s usurpation of the throne of your heart and life. Face this crisis now. Make the decision Christ calls for now. Confess your sins, accept Christ as your Sin-bearer and Saviour, and yield to him the control of your life. Then start living the victorious life of “Christ in you the hope of glory.”

Article continues below
Luther On Justification By Faith Alone

One of the earliest testimonies of Martin Luther to justification by faith alone (sola fide) is contained in a letter written on April 8, 1516, to George Spenlein, a friar in the Augustinian monastery at Memmingen:

“Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say: ‘Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou hast taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.’ Beware of aspiring to such purity that you will not wish to be looked upon as a sinner, or to be one. For Christ dwells only in sinners.

On this account he descended from heaven, where he dwelt among the righteous, to dwell among sinners. Meditate on this love of his and you will find his sweet consolation. For why was it necessary for him to die if we can obtain a good conscience by our works and afflictions? Accordingly you will find peace only in him and only when you despair of yourself and your own works. Besides, you will learn from him that just as he has received you, so he has made your sins his own and has made his righteousness yours” (Weimar Edition Briefe I, 33–36, quoted from the “Library of Christian Classics,” Volume XVIII, Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, by Theodore G. Tappert, p. 110).

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.