At first sight perhaps this inquiry might appear almost irreverent and some may feel inclined to remind us that |secret things belong unto the Lord.| In response we would say, It is not in any spirit of idle curiosity nor is it to indulge an inquisitive speculation that we take up this question, but simply because we believe that a humble examination of it will prove profitable to our souls, inasmuch as the answer to our inquiry demonstrates the wisdom and grace of Him with whom we have to do.
Of old, the mother of Sisera cried concerning her son, |Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of his chariot?| (Judges 5:28). We might well appropriate these words to our present inquiry. On the eve of His death,the Lord Jesus said |I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself, that where I am there ye may be also,| but eighteen centuries have run their weary course since then and He has not yet returned! Is not this deeply mysterious? A world in which iniquity abounds more and more; an Israel without a home and without a king; a church rent by divisions and, like Samson, shorn of its power; a groaning creation and a war stricken earth , all unite in crying with the souls under the alter |How long, O Lord!| (Rev.6:10).
Why then such delay? Why has the millennial era of blessedness been thus postponed? Why has not the Redeemer returned to enter into His blood-bought inheritance long ere this? Stupendous questions surely. Questions which sometime or other exercise the hearts of all the saints of God. Is it possible to discover a satisfactory answer? A complete answer -- No; for now we |know in part.| But an answer -- yes, an answer that will at least enable us to see, even though it be through a glass darkly, something of the meaning of our Lord's delay. Why this protracted interval since the time of His departure? Why has He not returned long ere this? We answer --
First, because God would give man full opportunity to develop his schemes and thereby demonstrate the world's need of a competent Ruler.
Man cannot complain that God has not allowed him full opportunity to experiment and test his own plans. Man has been permitted to do his utmost in ruling and regenerating the world. God, as it were, has put the reins of government into his hands, and withdrawn for a season. Why? To show whether man was sufficient for these things. To show whether or not man was capable of governing himself. To show whether man was competent to grapple successfully with the powers of evil which war upon his soul.
Throughout the ages man's efforts have been directed toward ruling and regenerating the world. Man has been given full scope. With what results? With the result that the incurable hatred of the human heart to God and the utter depravity of human nature have been fully displayed. How has man used the freedom, the opportunities, the privileges, the talents with which his Maker has endowed him? To what profit has he turned them? Have they been used with the purpose of glorifying God or of deifying himself? To ask the question is quite enough. Loud have been man's boasts. Lofty have been his claims. Pretentious has vauntings. Such terms as improvement, advancement, enlightenment, evolution, civilization, have been his favorite slogans. But the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, and the folly of the world's wisdom and the vanity of man's claims are now displayed before our eyes. What has |civilization| effected? With all our so-called enlightenment and progress unto what have we attained? Let the records of our Law-courts tell us. Let the columns of the daily newspapers make response. Let the economic political and moral conditions of the day make answer. Let the world war with all its inhumanities, its barbarities, its fiendish atrocities, give reply. And mark, it cannot be said that these things are due to man's ignorance and inexperience. Man is not just starting out to make history. We are now living in the twentieth century of the Christian era. Man then cannot complain that God has not given him plenty of time to mature his plans. No; God has given ample time, time enough to show that he is an utter failure, time enough to demonstrate that he is totally incapable of governing himself, time enough to prove that if relief comes at all it must come from outside himself.
Here then is the first part of our answer. Christ's return has been delayed in order to provide opportunity for man's plans to fully develop. God waits till harvest-time. He has been waiting for the harvest time of man's schemes and efforts. He has been waiting patiently with sickle in hand, and as soon as the crops of human industry have fully matured, the word will go forth -- |Thrust in thy sickle, and reap: for the time is come for thee to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe|(Rev.14:15).
Why has not our Lord returned long ere this? -- We answer --
Second, in order that God might fully display His long-sufferance.
|But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance| (2 Pet.3:8, 9). All through these nineteen centuries the Lord has been saying, |Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.| Ever since the Saviour left the earth, God has been dealing with the world in mercy instead of visiting it with judgment. God's patience toward our wicked race has been truly marvelous. Wonderful it is that the vials of His wrath have not been emptied upon the nations long ere this. What long-sufferance Jehovah hath shown in bearing with such rebels these twenty centuries! Why is it that the Day of Salvation has lasted until it now exceeds in length every dispensation that has preceded it? Why is it that the door of mercy still stands open wide and God is yet beseeching sinners to be reconciled to Himself? Why is it that Christ has not long, long ago returned in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that know not God and obey not His Gospel? Why is it that He is not even now seated upon the Throne of His Glory and saying to His enemies, |Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels|? Why? Ah! why? Because the Lord God is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish. Suppose that Christ had returned five, ten, twenty, fifty years ago, then, in such case, how many who read these lines rejoicing that they have been accepted in the Beloved, would have perished in their sins! Join, then, with the writer in returning thanks for the marvelous long-sufferance of our gracious God.
Why has not the Lord returned ere this? We answer --
Third, in order that God might fully test the faith of His own people.
This has ever been His way. Why those years of waiting before Abraham received Isaac? Why that protracted bondage in Egypt, when the chosen groaned beneath the burdens imposed on them by their cruel taskmasters? Why those four centuries of silence between the ministries of Malachi and John the Baptist? Why a four thousand years interval from the giving of the promise of the woman's Seed until its realization? Why? -- to test the faith of His people, to demonstrate the reality of their confidence in Him. So in this dispensation. Why has our Lord tarried so long in the Father's house? Why these eighteen centuries for His church to journey through the wilderness of the world? Why is it that the first, the second, and the third |watch| has passed and yet our Lord has not come? Why did God permit the Blessed Hope to be recovered almost a hundred years ago, and still the Bridegroom tarries? Why this earnest expectation on the part of His own for three generations past and even now the heavens are silent? Why tarry the wheels of His chariot? Why? -- because God would fully test the faith of His people. Why is He pleased to do this? To the praise of the glory of His grace. Perhaps to demonstrate to the angels, to whom we are |made a spectacle|(1 Cor.4:9), that God has a people who by His grace can trust Him even amid the darkness of a profound mystery! Wonderful are the ways of our God. Scoffers may cry |Where is the promise of His coming?| Evil servants may exclaim |my Lord delayeth His coming,| and our own wicked hearts may sometimes be tempted to murmur against the long delay, nevertheless, it shall yet be seen that He |doeth all things well.|