An Advent Sermon by Dr. Samuel Laird
These words reveal to us the secret thoughts of our Lord’s disciples at this period of His ministry. They were drawing nigh to Jerusalem. They gathered from their Master’s sayings that something remarkable was about to happen. They had a strong impression that one great end of His coming into the world was about to be accomplished. So far they were quite right, but as to the precise nature of the event about to happen they were quite wrong.
“And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come.” – Luke 19:11-13.
Table of Contents
Who was Samuel Laird?
George Sandt, the author of the excellent “Life and Teachings of Theodore Schmauk” describes Samuel Laird:
To those who knew Dr. Laird as a preacher, a catechist, a pastor, a leader in the Church, and a man among men, the sermons that appear in this book have an added value. It is not only what is being preached, but also what the preacher himself is that enters into the estimate of a sermon; for what is a sermon other than the Gospel seeking utterance through a personality whom it has inspired and transformed? My acquaintance with the author of these sermons dates back to my seminary days in the early [eighteen-]eighties, when I frequently listened to his preaching and occasionally attended his catechetical lectures. He was then in the vigor of his manhood and one of the leading pulpit lights in the city of Philadelphia.
Dr. Laird belonged to a group of stalwart preachers and leaders whose influence could not be confined to a congregation or a city or a synod. Among them were numbered such men as Krauth, Krotel, Mann, Spaeth, the Schaeffers, Schmucker, Seiss, Greenwald, Passavant. They rose into prominence at a time when Lutheranism in its English form was passing through a crisis because it had in large measure forgotten the rock whence it was hewn and the pit whence it was digged. Though his modesty forbade him to assume the role of leader in the controversy which preceded and followed the organization of the General Council in 1867, he was a staunch defender of the principles for which it stood. He was wont to speak with much admiration of the men who bore the brunt of the battle, and more than once characterized them with the brief sentence, “There were giants in those days,” not once thinking that he was one among them.1
An Advent Sermon
The following sermon is taken from “Selection of Sermons by Samuel Laird” published by the General Council Publishing House in 1914.
1. The mistake of the disciples
Let us attend to the mistake into which the disciples had fallen. What was this mistake? Let us try to understand it.
Our Lord’s disciples seem to have thought that the Old Testament promises of Messiah’s visible kingdom and glory were about to be immediately fulfilled. They believed rightly that He was indeed the Messiah – the Christ of God. But they blindly supposed that He was at once to take to Himself His great power and reign gloriously over the earth. This was the sum and substance of their error. They appeared to have concluded that now was the day and now the hour, when the Redeemer would build up Zion and appear in His glory – when He would smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips slay the wicked, – when He would assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah, – when He would take the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost part of the earth for His possession, – when He would reign in Mt. Zion and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously, – when the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, would be given to the saints of the Most High. Such appears to have been the mistake into which our Lord’s disciples had fallen, at the time when He spoke the Parable of the Pounds.
It was a great mistake unquestionably. They did not realize that before all these prophecies could be fulfilled, it behooved Christ to suffer. Their sanguine expectations over-leaped the crucifixion and the long period to follow, and bounded forward to the final glory. They did not see that there was to be a first advent of the Messiah “to be cut off,” before the second advent of Messiah to reign. They did not perceive that the sacrifices and ceremonies of the law of Moses were first to receive their fulfillment in a better sacrifice and a better high priest, and in the shedding of blood more precious than that of bulls and of goats. They did not comprehend that before the glory Christ must be crucified, and a people gathered for His name from among the Gentiles by the preaching of the Gospel. They grasped part of the prophetical word but not all. They saw that Christ was to have a kingdom, but they did not see that He was to be wounded and bruised, and be an offering for sin. They understood the dispensation of the crown and the glory, but not the dispensation of the cross and the shame. Such was their mistake.
It was a mistake, however, which we Gentiles are bound to regard with much tenderness and consideration. The modern Gentile Christians have fallen into an error, parallel with that of our Jewish brethren, and an error far more inexcusable because we have more light. If the Jew thought too exclusively of Christ reigning, has not the Gentile thought too exclusively of Christ suffering? If the Jew could see nothing in Old Testament prophecy but Christ’s exaltation and final power, has not the Gentile often seen nothing but Christ’s humiliation and the preaching of the Gospel? If the Jew has dwelt too much on Christ’s second advent, has not the Gentile dwelt too exclusively on Christ’s first? If the Jew ignored the cross, has not the Gentile ignored the crown? It seems to me that we have not rightly understood “all that the prophets have spoken” about the second personal advent of Christ, any more than the Jews did about the first. And because we have done this we should speak of such mistakes as that referred to in our text with much tenderness.
This subject affects the whole question at issue between ourselves and the unconverted Jew. Unless we interpret the prophetical portion of the Old Testament in the simple literal meaning of its words, we will find it no easy matter to carry on an argument with an unconverted Jew.
You would probably tell him that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament Scriptures. To those Scriptures you would refer him for proof. You would show him how it was prophesied that the Messiah should suffer and die and rise again. You would tell him that the 22nd Psalm, the 53rd of Isaiah; Daniel 9:26; Micah, 5:2, etc., were literally fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. You would urge upon him that he ought to believe these Scriptures, and receive Christ as the Messiah. All very good. So far you do well. But suppose the Jew asks you if you take all the prophecies of the Old Testament in their simple, literal meaning. Suppose he asks you if you believe in a literal personal advent of the Messiah to reign over the earth in glory, – a literal restoration of Judah and Israel to Palestine – a literal rebuilding and restoration of Zion and Jerusalem. Suppose he puts these questions to you, what answer are you prepared to make? Will you tell him that the Old Testament prophecies of this kind are not to be taken in their plain, literal sense? Will you tell him that the glorious kingdom and future blessedness of Zion, so often dwelt upon in prophecy mean nothing more than the gradual Christianizing of the world by missionaries? Will you tell him that you think it “carnal” to take such Scriptures literally," – “carnal” to expect a literal rebuilding of Jerusalem, – “carnal” to expect a literal coming of the Messiah to reign, – “carnal” to look for a literal gathering and restoration of Israel? If so, do you not see that you are putting a weapon in the hand of the unconverted Jew, which he will probably use with irresistible power? Do you not see that you are cutting the ground from under your own feet, and supplying the Jew with a strong argument for not believing your own interpretation of Scripture? Do you not see that the Jew will reply that it is “carnal” to tell him that Messiah has come literally to suffer, if you tell him it is carnal to expect Messiah to come literally to reign? Will not the Jew tell you it is far more carnal in you to believe that the Messiah could come into the world as a despised, crucified man of sorrows, than it is in him to believe that He will come into the world as a glorious King? What answer could you give him?
Read the Scriptures in the light of these two great pole stars, the first and second advents of Jesus Christ. Bind up with the first advent the rejection of the Jews, the calling of the Gentiles, the preaching of the Gospel as a witness to the world, and the gathering out of the world a people for Christ’s name. Bind up with the second advent the restoration of the Jews, the pouring out of judgments on unbelieving Christendom, the conversion of the world and the establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth. Do this and you will see a meaning and fullness in prophecy which perhaps you never discovered before.
We should interpret unfulfilled prophecy in the light of prophecies already fulfilled. The curses on the Jews were brought to pass literally; – so also will be the blessings. The scattering was literal; so also will be the gathering.
The rejection of Israel was literal, so also will be the restoration.
We should interpret the events that shall accompany Christ’s second advent by the light of those accompanying His first advent. The first advent was visible, literal, personal; – so also will be His second. His first advent was with a literal body; – so also will be His second. The least predictions concerning His first advent were fulfilled to the very letter; so also will they be at His second. The shame was literal and visible, so also will be His glory.
We ought to regard the mistake of our Lord’s disciples with tenderness and consideration. We ought not to condemn them, for great as was their mistake, that of modern Christians has been almost as bad. We have been very quick in discovering the mote in our Jewish brother’s eye and have not discerned the beam in our own. The Jew looked too much to the final glory of Christ, and turned away from the cross; we have fixed our gaze on the cross and have been neglectful of the kingly reign and glory of Christ to be revealed at His second coming.
2. What is the Lord Jesus Christ doing now?
The second point to which I direct your attention is the present position of our Lord Jesus Christ. What is He doing now? The parable answers that question. “A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return. This nobleman represents the Lord Jesus, and that in two respects. Like the nobleman He has gone into a far country to receive for Himself a kingdom. He has not received it yet in full possession though He has received it in promise. He has a spiritual kingdom unquestionably. He is king over the hearts of His believing people, and they are all His faithful subjects. Without controversy He has a controlling power over the world. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.
“By Him all things consist,” and without His permission nothing can happen. But His visible complete kingdom He has not yet entered into. “We see not yet all things put under Him.” To use the words of the 110th Psalm: “He sits on the right hand of the Father till His enemies are made His footstool.” The devil reigns over the hearts and lives of the mass of the people of this world. They choose the things that please the devil far more than the things that please God. Little as they may think it, they are doing the devil’s will, behaving as the devil’s subjects, and serving the devil far more than they are serving Christ. This is the actual condition of Christendom as well as of heathen countries. After 1800 years of Bibles and Gospel preaching, there is not a nation or a country, a city or a town, where the devil has not more subjects than Christ. So fearfully true is it that the world is not yet the kingdom of Christ. Christ is followed by a few and they often neither great nor wise, but they are a faithful people. But He has none of the visible signs of the kingdom at present on earth, no earthly glory, majesty or greatness. The vast majority of mankind see no beauty in Him. They will not have this Man to reign over them. His people are not honored for their Master’s sake. They walk the earth like princes in disguise. His kingdom of glory is not yet come. His will is not yet done on earth as it is in heaven. He is gathering out a people who are carrying the cross and walking in His steps, but the time of His coronation has not yet arrived.
But just as the Lord Jesus, like the nobleman, went to receive a kingdom, so like the nobleman He intends one day to return, and then and not till then will Christ take to Himself His power and reign over all the earth. He left His servants as a nobleman. He will return to His subjects as a King. Then He intends to cast out the old usurper, the devil, and strip him of his power. Then He will make a restitution of the face of creation. It will be the world’s jubilee day. The King will at last have His will done. At last men shall say, “The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.” Then will He execute judgment on all the ungodly despisers of His word, and in flaming fire take vengeance on them that know not God and obey not His Gospel. Then He will raise His dead saints and gather His living ones, and gather together the scattered tribes of Israel, and set up an empire in which every knee shall bow to Him, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
When, how all these things shall be we can not say. Enough for us to know they shall be. The Lord Jesus waits for the time appointed by the Father and then shall they be brought to pass. Now He is sitting at the right hand of the Father – interceding as a high priest in the holy of holies for His people – adding to their number such as shall be saved by the preaching of the Gospel, – and waiting until the appointed day of His power, when He shall come forth to bless His people and to sit on His throne.
Have these things clearly in your mind, and then you will not cherish extravagant expectations of any church, minister or religious machinery in the present dispensation. You will not marvel to see ministers and missionaries not meeting with greater success. You will not wonder to find that while some believe the Gospel, many do not believe. You will not be depressed in seeing the children of the world in every place many, and the children of God few. You will remember that the days are evil, and that the time of general conversion has not yet arrived. Alas! for the man who expects a millennium before the Lord Jesus returns. How can this be if the world in the day of His coming is to be found as it was in the days of Noah and Lot.
Be assured of these truths and you will not be surprised by the continuance of immense evils in the world. Wars, tumults, oppression, dishonesty, selfishness, covetousness, superstition, bad government and abounding heresies will not appear to you unaccountable. You will not sink down into a morbid, misanthropic condition when you see laws and reforms and education failing to make mankind perfect. You will not relapse into a state of apathy and disgust when you see churches full of imperfections and godly people making mistakes. You will say to yourself, “The time of Christ’s kingdom has not yet arrived – the devil is still working among his children and sowing tares among the good seed – the true King is yet to come.”
This will also explain why God delays the final glory, and allows things to go on as they do in this world. It is not that He is not able to prevent evil – it is not that He is slack in fulfilling His promises – but He is taking out for Himself a people by the preaching of His Gospel. He is long suffering – not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
Think on these things and you will be often looking for the coming of the day of God. You will regard the second advent as a glorious and comfortable truth, around which your best hopes will all be clustered. You will not merely think of Christ crucified, but you will think also of Christ coming again to reign. You will long for the day of refreshing and manifestation of the sons of God. You will find peace in looking back to the cross, and you will find joyful hope in looking forward to the kingdom. For as surely as Christ has gone into a far country to receive a kingdom, so surely will He come as a King.
3. What is the present duty of all Christ’s professing disciples?
We find an answer in the act and words of the nobleman in the Parable to his servants, “He delivered them ten pounds and said unto them. Occupy until I come.” These words are spoken to all who call themselves Christians. They address the conscience of every one who has not renounced his baptism and formally turned his back on Christianity.
The Lord Jesus bids you occupy. By that He means that you are to be a doer in your Christianity, and not merely a hearer and professor. He wants His servants not only to receive His wages and eat His bread, and to dwell in His house, and belong to His family – but also to do His work. You are to “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.” Have you faith? It must not be a dead faith, but a faith that works by love. Are you redeemed! You are redeemed that you may be a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Do you love Christ? Prove the reality of your love by keeping His commandments. Beware of an idle, gossiping, sentimental, do-nothing religion. Think not because your works cannot justify you, nor cleanse you from a single sin, that therefore it matters not whether you do anything at all. Away with such a delusion. Cast it behind you as an invention of the devil. Think of the house built upon the sand and of its miserable end. If you would “make your calling and election sure” be an active working Christian.
But the Lord Jesus bids you occupy your pound. By this He means that He has given each one of His believing people the ability and the opportunity to glorify Him. He would have you understand that every one has His own sphere of action – the poorest as well as the richest; – that every one has an open door before him, and may, if he will, show forth his Master’s praise. Your bodily health and strength, – your mental gifts and capacities – your money and earthly possessions – your example and influence with others – your liberty to read the Bible and hear the Gospel – your plentiful supply of the means of grace – all these are your pounds. All these are to be used and employed with a continual reference to the glory of Christ. Of Him come riches and honor. His is the silver and His is the gold. His is your body and His your spirit. He appoints your habitation. He gives you life and health. You are not your own. You are bought with a price. Surely it is no great matter if He bid you honor and serve Him with all that you have. Breathes there a man or woman before me, who has received nothing from the Lord? Not one I am sure. See to it that you lay out your Lord’s pounds well and honestly. Take heed that you do not bury them.
But your Lord bids you occupy till He comes. By this He means that you are to do His work on earth, like one who continually looks for His return. You are to be like the faithful servant who knows not what hour his Master may come home, but keeps all things in readiness and is always prepared. You are not to suppose that you have any freehold in this world, nor even a lease. The greatest and richest of mankind is only God’s tenant-at-will. You are not to neglect any social duty or relation in life because of your Lord’s return. You are to fill the station to which God has called you in a godly and Christian way; and you are to be ready to go from your place of business to meet Christ in the air, if the Lord shall think fit. You are to rise and go forth in the morning, ready, if need be, to meet Christ at noon. You are to lie down in bed at night ready, if need be, to be awakened by the midnight cry, “Behold the Bridegroom cometh.” You are to keep your spiritual accounts in a state of constant preparation for inspection, for the day of Christ’s coming is the great reckoning day. You are to measure all your ways by the measure of Christ’s appearing, and to do nothing in which you would not like Jesus to find you engaged. How condemning are these words to thousands of professing Christians. What an utter absence of preparation appears in their daily walk and conversation. They give no sign of readiness for the second advent. They live as if they would never have to give an account of the use they have made of their pounds. They live as if there was no reckoning day before the bar of Christ. They live as if Christ had never said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Think again how instructive these words are to all who are troubled with doubts about mingling with the world and taking part in its amusements. Here is a true test by which to try all your daily occupations and employments and recreations. Would we do this thing if we thought Jesus was coming to-night? Would we go to such and such a place if we thought Jesus would come and find us there! If not, then we ought not to do that thing or go to that place. Oh! that men would live as in the sight of Christ.
How encouraging these words are to all who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and love the Lord Jesus in sincerity. What though the children of the world regard them as righteous overmuch, and call them rigid and bigoted and say they require too much. They may well reply, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down; I am striving so to live as to be ready when Christ comes.”
“Selection of Sermons by Samuel Laird”. 1914. Introduction. ↩︎