by D. M. Panton

Chapter Sixteen


One last application of the principle, and the most immediate and urgent, still remains: - it is the peril of unwatchfulness on the near approach of the last judgments. "All these things that shall come to pass" (Luke 21:36) what things? Crowding and disastrous miracles : - terrors from heaven (ver. 11); signs in sun and moon and stars (ver. 25) ; the powers of the heaven shaken (ver. 26) for these will be the days of vengeance (ver. 22), of persecution (ver. 17), of distress of nations, men fainting for fear (ver. 25). "Then shall be great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever shall be" (Matt. 24:21). No peril so awful has ever demanded an escape so great.

Escape is possible : "to escape all these things." Now since the distress is universal it can only be an escape into the heavens; "for it shall come upon all them that dwell on the face of all the earth." No foothold of safety will exist in the whole inhabited world. It is an escape to "the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory": for "He bowed the heavens also, and came down;...He sent from on high, He took me" (Ps. 18:9, 16). Therefore this cannot be the deliverance of the elect Jewish remnant: for (1) the escape of the Jew is into the wilderness, never into the heavens (Rev. 12:6). The earthly escape was typed by Noah passing through the Flood, the heavenly by Enoch who escaped it altogether; and this is an escape which sets "before the Son of Man." (2) The Jewish escape is active: this escape is passive. The faithful Jew is to ‘flee to the mountains" (Matt. 24:16): the faithful disciple here is to pray to be removed - "to be set (‘by angels,’ Alford) before the Son of Man." (3) The Jewish escape is on purely physical grounds, - if he instantly sets his face to the mountains, whatever his exact moral condition, he escapes: this deliverance turns critically on moral acceptability - " accounted worthy to escape."

Other Scriptures are conclusive that this escape is Christian. (1) To the chief officer of a Christian church is our Lord’s promise : - "Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world" (Rev. 3:10). (2) To the chief officer of a Christian church is also our Lord’s warning: - "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will arrive over [see Greek] thee" (Rev. 3:3). Thus if, on the ground of 1 Thess. 5:4, it should be said that the Parousia cannot overtake a believer as a thief, this word of our Lord at once negatives the inference, for the threat of a thief-like descent, accompanied by total ignorance of the arrival, is addressed to a Christian pastor[32]. (3) The Type exquisitely confirms it. The Field is the world; the Wheat is the church; the Reapers are angels (Matt. 13:39) : - the Reapers first of all gather the First-fruits, then garner the Harvest, and finally glean the Corners of the Field which had been deliberately left unreaped (Lev. 23:10-22). So first-fruits are found in the Heavenlies before the harvest (Rev. 14:4): and after the harvest (Rev. 16:15) the warning to watchfulness still goes forth (Rev. 14:15). "Only those who are devoutly looking and waiting for the Saviour’s return shall be taken at first" (Seiss).

The moral crisis of the escape lies in the condition: “watch ye at every season, making supplication, that ye may prevail to escape" (Luke 21:36). These Divine words, if they have any meaning at all, must mean that without the worthiness the escape is impossible: and without the prayerful vigil the worthiness is impossible: "watch and pray always." "No command is more frequent, none more solemnly impressed" (Dean Alford): for the escape is no privilege attached to faith, but a reward attached to a standard of holiness known only to God. "Then shall two men be in the field; one is taken, and one is left: two women shall be grinding at the mill; one is taken, and one is left. Watch therefore: for ye know not on what day your Lord cometh" (Matt. 24:40). "Our Lord assumes that some of His beloved Church will continue to be cared for as His sheep upon earth, until He destroy ‘that wicked’ with the breath of His mouth" (Tregelles).

"Watch" is one of the great comprehensive words of the Bible. Watch oneself: watch the advances of the world-crisis: watch for the King: watch for the highest interests of Christ: watch for flying opportunities: watch for dying souls: watch Satan: watch God. Watchfulness is acute alertness exercising every faculty for God. But it must be accompanied by specific prayer: - “pray that ye may be accounted worthy "; "that ye may prevail to escape." Watchfulness invokes all our powers for God, - prayer invokes all God’s powers for us: but more than that, - watchfulness devotes our works to God, - prayer devotes ourselves. Of carnal believers Hudson Taylor, than whom none did a vaster work for Christ in the nineteenth century, and few (I imagine) walked closer to God, says: "They have forgotten the warning of our Lord in Luke 21:34-36, and hence are not accounted worthy to escape: they have not ‘counted all things but loss,’ and hence do not attain unto that resurrection, which Paul felt he might miss. We wish to place on record our solemn conviction that not all who are Christians will attain to that resurrection, or thus meet the Lord in the air." How much safer to strive than to assume!

Thus the cry of urgency should now ring through the whole Church of God. Why? Because (1) "if my faith is wrong, I am bound to change it: if my faith is right, I am bound to propagate it" (Dr. Whately). To withhold the warning is to rob the Church of the very truth which is to deliver from the peril. Because (2) no more powerful lever can be imagined for overturning our natural sluggishness. Facts are more moving than a whole library of exhortation. For the coming judgment of believers is a revelation leveled specifically at the flesh in the believer, and therefore can never be popular: the very bitterness with which it is assailed is an extraordinarily subtle and convincing proof of its truth. Caleb and Joshua witnessed to the approaching Kingdom, and to the necessity for obedience as well as faith to enter it, at the peril of their lives (Num. 14:10); and the Lord foretells that the servant who disqualifies for reward is also the servant whose intolerance starts persecution (Matt. 24:49). It is little wonder if those who belittle responsibility, themselves fail to achieve it. Because (3) the peril, however imminent, has not yet fallen. "Lukewarm Laodiceans can be roused before it is too late: Christ is standing at the door" (G. H. Pember). Fulfillment of its conditions involves a golden certainty of attaining the Kingdom. "Perilous times are upon us: may it be mine to watch and pray always that I may be counted worthy to escape all these things that are coming to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man!" (John Wilkinson). "WHAT I SAY UNTO YOU I SAY UNTO ALL, WATCH" (Mark 13:37)[33].

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

[32] This fact decisively proves that Thessalonian disciples (1 Thess. 4:15) stand, not for the whole Church, but for the watchful only; even as the promise is addressed to the Philadelphia Angel, and only indirectly to all in Philadelphia who also had “kept the word of My patience.” To Thessalonian disciples there will be no thief-like suddenness: therefore the Thessalonians stand for the souls never surprised (1 Thess. 5:4) because never unready.

[33] For fuller treatment see the tenth Present Day Pamphlet, Rapture (6d., Thynne).

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)