The Time Appointed by the Lord - A "Believing and Confessing" Meditation
Reformed Free Publishing Association
The following meditation was written by Martyn McGeown, in the book Believing and Confessing: 365 Meditations on the Belgic Confession (Jenison, MI: Reformed Free Publishing, 2023). The full devotional is available for purchase at the office of the Reformed Free Publishing Association in Jenison, MI, or you can call 616-457-5970 for details (Note: this book is not currently available through the online store.)
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
and as a watch in the night. —Psalm 90:4
In our day, men and women are interested in eschatology, or the doctrine of the last things. Surprisingly, the Belgic Confession devotes only one article—the last—to this subject. This is because, apart from the error of purgatory, there was little difference among the Reformed, Lutherans, and Roman Catholics on the last things. There was also very little doctrinal development in the area of eschatology.
The Apostles’ Creed was concise: “From thence he [Christ] shall come to judge the quick [living] and the dead.” All of Christendom believed in a future, personal, visible, glorious coming of Jesus Christ to resurrect and then judge all the living and the dead. However, we shall see why on one hand, the Reformed derived great comfort from the coming of Christ as judge, whereas on the other, the medieval Roman Catholics were terrified by the prospect. What a comfort the gospel is! What a difference the gospel makes!
Although the Belgic Confession devotes only one article to the second coming, what it teaches us is significant and beautiful. The Reformed understand the second coming of Christ as the glorious day which will bring history and all of God’s purposes with this present creation to a close. Just as history and creation had a beginning in God’s counsel, so they have a determined ending. That ending is known only to God, and its exact moment is hidden from all creatures—even from Christ himself according to his limited human soul (Mark 13:32). If the Son of God himself according to the flesh did not know, we can be sure that God has not revealed that day to any creature—not even foolish doomsday preachers such as Harold Camping!
It must be of great comfort to us as we see the unfolding of history around us—a history which is often chaotic, confused, and frightening—that the future is not in the hands of men and nations, or even in the hands of the devil. The future is in the hands of God. “Known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world” (Acts 15:18). Therefore, history cannot either end one moment before God has determined or continue one moment longer than he has planned. Article 37 calls this “the time appointed by the Lord.”
We might wonder why history must last so long. Why has the church had to wait for some two thousand years since the ascension of Christ? Peter answered that question in his second epistle. Scoffers arise who question this: “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Pet 3:4). The answer is that God “is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (v. 9). This does not mean that God desires the salvation of all humans. That would not give a reason for the seeming delay in Christ’s return. It does not mean that God is giving as many as possible a chance to be saved. It means that God is longsuffering (which “is salvation,” v. 15) to us (not to everyone, but to us) because he is not willing that any (of us) should perish, but that all (of us) should come to repentance.
In other words, Christ shall come when “the number of the elect [is] complete” (Article 37).
Believing and Confessing is not currently available for purchase via the rfpa.org site, but can be purchased at the RFPA office in Jenison, MI, or ordered by calling 616-457-5970.