Twixt optimist and pessimist

The difference is droll;

The optimist sees the doughnut,

The pessimist sees the hole.

There is a vast difference of opinion among those who look at the world situation today. Some have an abounding optimism that the progress of man will lead to an eventual utopia on this earth. Others see only death and destruction, chaos and disintegration. To them the situation seems hopeless.

Christians should avoid both pitfalls. Their frame of reference, their confidence, their hope all center in a Person and his sovereignty and ultimate triumph. No matter how dark the world’s outlook and how great the seeming disintegration of the social order, there is the assurance in the heart of the Christian that God is still sovereign and that his holy purposes will be accomplished.

The Christian has the right to look at the world and be utterly pessimistic as to its prospects for bringing in a man-made golden age. At the same time, the Christian should be the most optimistic person in all the world because of his own orientation and destiny and the certainty of Christ’s ultimate victory.

The present chaotic world order has been clearly foretold by our Lord and others in the Scriptures. Jesus made some startling predictions before his death. Some were fulfilled in the days and years immediately following, and others have yet to be fulfilled. But many people read our Lord’s words and either distort their meaning or lay down a detailed blueprint of specific events that can at best be no more than the product of fertile imaginations.

In our Lord’s predictions of things to come, he was intentionally both vague and specific.

Having described conditions that will prevail before his return, he says: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14, RSV).

There may be speculation about whether this has been fulfilled, or about the degree to which the Gospel’s “testimony” or “witness” will yet have to be preached. But there can be no question about our Lord’s clear statement, “The end will come”—a “time” or “day” also predicted by both the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles.

At the beginning of this twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, the disciples asked Jesus to tell them the time of the prophesied destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the sign of the Lord’s return and of the close of the age. We know of the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. We know also of the “wars and rumors of wars,” which were never more obvious than they are today. And we know that in the closing days of the age, when “wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12).

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No one can dogmatically affirm that these are the “last days,” but they could be. Astounding wickedness is being multiplied in the world. The Bible-centered standards of morality are being discarded in favor of relativistic ethics, the notion that what is right in a particular situation is determined, not by any divine authority, but rather by the nature of the situation itself. Sexual permissiveness or promiscuity is wrong only if the relationship is not “meaningful,” or if one of the partners “gets hurt.” Into every area of life new standards of morality have been injected that are based, not on the laws of God, but on the sinful desires of men. Wickedness is being multiplied in the earth, because men are rejecting God and his Christ.

Then our Lord gave this promise: “But he who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 13). This “enduring” takes place in the face of abounding wickedness. It is, as Isaiah says, setting one’s face like a flint against the siren calls of evil. It involves complete willingness to rest in and wait on the Lord.

This endurance of which Christ speaks stems from a childlike (not childish) faith in the integrity of God and the promises of his Word. It rests on an unswerving assurance that what he has promised be will fulfill. It is certainty in the heart that beyond the horizon there is a glorious eternity with the One who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Later, in this same discourse, Jesus told his disciples of coming tribulation such as the world had never experienced, and added that but for the shortening of those days “no human being would be saved.” Then he gave the promise, “But for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened” (v. 22b).

Until a few years ago I was unable to find any reason for believing that there could ever come a time when Christians in America would be persecuted for their faith. This has now changed. I personally know men who are being persecuted and ostracized by fellow Christians. An increasing number of ministers are discriminated against because they stand uncompromisingly for the historic Christian faith.

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The detractors of that faith and the critics of the Holy Scriptures are now legion, and their boldness in their new denials and secularistic adventures knows no bounds.

The doctrine of the return of our Lord is vigorously opposed. The fact that some have brought discredit on this truth through their own arbitrariness or obsessions in no way invalidates the fact that Christ will return to terminate history as we know it.

Belief in the Second Coming (i.e., the “blessed hope”) has been the comfort and joy of countless believers. From the days of the early Church until now this hope has existed. Paul thought the Lord was soon coming again. We believe he may even be at the door. Although no man knows the day or the hour of the Second Coming, Jesus has sketched for us the conditions that will exist in the world prior to his return. This sketch we all should heed.

The pessimist looks at the world and feels the situation is hopeless. But the optimist looks about him and then looks up with the assurance in his heart that God is still sovereign and that he has a plan that is being inexorably worked out. What is that plan? That the Gospel shall be preached in all the world as a witness—and “then the end will come.”

World missions are a part of God’s plan. Evangelism directed to the individual and to the masses is a part of the divine commission to go into all the world and proclaim Jesus Christ as man’s only hope, now and for all eternity.

With such a God, such a Saviour, such a Gospel, and such a hope, Christians must be incurable optimists. And the words of our Lord continue to speak to them: “Therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

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