It is most striking that the conditions of the Church then and to-day are so much alike. The line between Church and world is either badly blurred, or quite wiped out. And this one fact throws a flood of light upon Church conditions. Within the Church, when it comes to the matter of what its real purpose of being is, and what the essentials of faith, the lines are hopelessly crossed and tangled, even though the surface shows so much striving toward at least a seeming unity, and so much aggressiveness in action. The common absence of real spiritual power, that unmistakable moving, like a breath, of the Spirit of God, is freely admitted.
It is a painful fact that membership in a Church no longer gives any clue to a man's vital belief, nor even to his moral conduct. There is utter confusion about the practical meaning of God's prophetic Word, and what the actual outcome of the present order will be; that is, where such things are not quite dismissed from consideration. And, stranger yet, indifference, or an actual repugnance, to any mention of the Lord's return is the common thing. It is not surprising that earnest people are bewildered as to just what should be the attitude of one who would ring true to the absent Jesus. It hurts to remember that all this is the freely admitted commonplace, where such things are seriously spoken of.
Indeed it is of intense interest to note that just this sort of thing has marked the whole interval since these early Church days. Broadly the same characteristics have marked both world movement and the Church movement in this long interval. There is a unity characterizing the age since our Lord ascended. There have been differences, very sharp and marked, but always they have been differences in degree, now more intense, now less. The general characteristics have been the same in kind.
The need of the Church in the end of the first century is its need in the beginning of the twentieth. Surely the thing of all things needed is a simple, clear, understandable revelation direct from our Lord Jesus Himself. It was needed then. Clearly it has been needed in every generation since then. And one whose pulse is at all sensitive to spirit conditions to-day feels that surely it is the thing needed now.
And here it is, a revelation of Himself, crowned in the upper world, keeping in closest touch with things down in this world, telling us what the outcome is to be, and especially speaking of our attitude toward Himself in this present in-between interval.
Usually God's method with man is to give him enough of a revelation of Himself in nature, and in His Word, to start him straight, and guide him as he goes to school with himself as chief pupil, with all of nature to find out and develop, and so to get mastery both of himself and of nature and its forces. We recognize this as the best school-teacher method for good self-development.
But here something more seems needed. The situation down on the earth has gotten badly mixed up. Even though Jesus has been on the earth, and has died, and has sent down the Holy Spirit in such irresistible power, the situation in the world, and among His disciples, has gotten so subtly tangled and intense, the enemy is so viciously and cunningly at work, that only one thing will meet the need,—a revelation, a simple, direct, warm revelation given us personally by the Lord Jesus Himself. And here it is in this little end-book, with its vision of the glorified Jesus, its pleading heart-cry to His followers, and its simple but tremendous outlook into the future.
It would not be surprising if such a book should be made the subject of special attack by the evil one. It is not surprising, though it is deeply grievous, that the common idea about this book among Christian people is that it is a sort of a puzzle, that it is impossible to get a simple, clear, workable understanding of its message. Parts of it are conned over tenderly and loved, a paragraph here, a verse there, and so on, but a grasp of the one simple message of the book seems not common, to put it mildly. No book of the sixty-six has seemed so much like a riddle to which no one knew the answer. And without doubt the full meaning of much will be quite clear only as events work themselves out. Events will be the best exposition of certain parts. But these parts, be it keenly noted, are not essential to the grasp of the whole message. God is intensely practical. Jesus was too intent on helping people to be otherwise than practical. He hasn't changed. He is too tremendously wrapped up in the outworking of His plans. The Bible is wholly a practical book. And this crowning end of it is intensely and only practical. It is with the clear conviction that it is entirely possible to get the simple grasp of it that shall steady our steps, and clear our understanding, and feed our personal devotion to the absent Jesus, our blessed Lord, that these few simple quiet talks have been put together.