My first pastor was Marden Wickman, at Powell Valley Covenant Church in Gresham, Oregon. I came to faith in Christ through that church, and Pastor Wickman baptized me. For 35 years now Nanci (who grew up in that church) and I have lived less than a mile from Powell Valley Covenant’s church building. I drive by it several times a week and am flooded with memories.
I loved Marden Wickman, who loved to preach God’s Word. There was one preacher he quoted more than any other—G. Campbell Morgan. Under Pastor Wickman’s influence, I bought Morgan’s Westminster Pulpit, the five volume collection of his sermons, and I also read many of Morgan’s books.
G. Campbell Morgan was a British scholar and the pastor who preceded Martyn Lloyd-Jones at Westminster Chapel. One of his many books was The Unfolding Message of the Bible, which he wrote in 1961. That was over fifty years ago.
I read a portion in this book where G. Campbell Morgan said something I think evangelical Christians in America really need to hear today—especially those who are obsessed with how bad things are in our culture, and those convinced that as a result of how bad it’s getting, Christ absolutely has to return right away.
I should back up and say I was a new Christian in the seventies when everyone was reading Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, the bestseller of the decade. We listened to Bible teachers “proving” from Scripture that Christ had to return by 1980. They based this largely on the predominant interpretation of Matthew 24:32-34, calculating that Israel’s return as a nation in 1948 demanded that Christ would come within thirty years of that event, or at least forty. And besides, we said, “Look around, how much darker can things get?” And here we are, forty years later. (One of my friends didn’t get dental work done—“Why spend the money when Christ is going to return within a year or two?” Believe me, he lived to regret it.)
I do believe in the imminent return of Christ, which means He CAN return any time, as has been true for 2,000 years. But it also means, despite all the books persuading people these are the darkest days of history and that current events in Iran and Iraq are fulfilling Bible prophecies, He does not HAVE TO return anytime.
Listen to Dr. Morgan, writing over fifty years ago:
I have no sympathy with people who tell us today that these are the darkest days the world has ever seen. The days in which we live are appalling, but they do not compare with conditions in the world when Jesus came into it. Historians talk of the Pax Romana and make much of the fact that there was peace everywhere, the Roman peace. Do not forget that the Roman peace was the result of the fact that the world had been bludgeoned brutally into submission to one central power.…
Notwithstanding the prevailing conditions, the dominant note of these Letters, revealing the experience of the Church, is a note of triumph. The dire and dread facts and conditions are never lost sight of—indeed, they are there all the way through. The people are seen going out and facing these facts—and suffering because of these facts—but we never see them depressed and cast down, we never see them suffering from pessimistic fever. They are always triumphant. That is the glory of Christianity. If ever I am tempted to think that religion is almost dead today, it is when I listen to the wailing of some Christian people: “Everything is wrong,” or “Everything is going wrong.” Oh, be quiet! Think again, look again, judge not by the circumstances of the passing hour but by the infinite things of our Gospel and our God. And that is exactly what these people did.
When Morgan said, “Oh, be quiet!” it is a close equivalent to “Just shut up, would you?” Yes, let’s serve Jesus faithfully and seek to preserve Christian liberties, but let’s not whine about things being so dark. Instead, let’s shine the light as faithful children of God. Let’s trust Jesus to return when He is good and ready to do so, whether that is today, or a hundred years from now, or a thousand. Let’s live as people who are indeed going to meet Jesus soon, either by His return or our deaths. And let’s be ready to meet Him, and by His grace, hear those incredible words: “Well done, my good and faithful servant; enter into your Master’s joy.”
“But concerning that day and hour [when Christ will return] no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (Matthew 24:36).
“Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people” (Philippians 2:15).