Being a huge Chalmers fan, one of the things I love the most about him is his vision, his idealism. He longed for the Christianization of Scotland. He wanted the Lord’s will done on earth as it is in heaven. And he worked for it, being a wise and faithful steward.
He had reason to be hopeful. The Bible gives great promises about the success of the Gospel among the nations. The leaven will leaven the lump. The small mustard seed will grow into a great tree, the glorious refuge for the fowl of the heavens.
And yet, as I read critical historians on Chalmers and others sympathetic with him (most recently, I’ve been reading up on Thornwell and Smyth in the antebellum South), I am reminded that our hopes must never morph into our Messiah. Promises are one thing. But we need to give ear to other portions of biblical revelation that qualify how those promises will work out in this world. Prior to the return of Christ on the clouds, there will be no Christian utopia. History can have a brutal way of giving us a reality check. Chalmers had hopes for Scotland, but they were disappointed. So with Thornwell and with Smyth for the American South. Heaven on earth is ever elusive; and though it comes close, it is at the same time just beyond reach. Frustratingly so.
But lest our hopes of a better day for Christianity in the West be dashed to the ground, we need the reality check of the Scriptures. Jesus also said that in the world we shall have tribulation. The love of many will wax cold. The tares must remain with the wheat. We must suffer with him, and then on the day of Christ we will be glorified.
That shouldn’t mean we must be resigned to pessimism. Or that we shouldn’t hold out ideals – even concrete ones – and vigorously strive after them. I long to see once again what Wells called ‘the delicious paradise’ of New England Puritan community; and I’m convinced I have a mandate to drive me and a (general) promise to encourage.
But may it never become my Jesus. May I ever learn to say with Him, not my will, but thine be done. May I learn to be patient. And may I ever lay up treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt, where thieves do not break through or steal. Because even if Rhode Island becomes Christianized, it will still remain a part of this age. And the fashion of this age is fading away.
The now and the not yet is a biblical tension. So it is not surpising that we feel the strain now. We are caught in the middle. Our strain in this world may find partial relief, here and there. But “that which is perfect” must wait for another day.
Even so, come, come quickly, Lord Jesus.