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on this point should lead us to infer our own.—If we have not learned the season in question by these means, we have not learned it at all. It remains as true of Christians and of all men now, as though Christ had addressed himself to them originally : it is not for them to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.
But as if to leave no doubt on this matter—as if to include his apostles and all his followers, and even his own humanity, behind the same veil of uncertainty-Christ has lett us, along with the declaration in the text, another which must not here be overlooked. In the 24th chapter of Matthew, in reply to the question of his disciples, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world ?" after several predictions, he adds, “But of that day and hour knoweth no man; no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only;" and in the parallel passage in Mark's gospel (xiii., 32.) he adds again, “ Neither the Son.” Now, whatever may be the event referred to in that chapter, whether the destruction of Jerusalem, or the day of judgment, or the one as shadowing forth the other; its time or season the Father had determined, and the Father only knew. That we may understand here, by the word day, a season, and not literally a day, is rather warranted than forbidden by the preceding illustration of the fig tree; the summer, mentioned, corresponding to our whole warm season of spring and summer,* and giving signs of its nearness only as it came on, in the putting forth of the leaves. Now, even if the event which would come thus suddenly, was only the destruction of Jerusalem, which took place within forty years; can we suppose its date to have been so hidden from men and angels, and the man Christ Jesus, and at the same time suppose the humblest modern disciple to foreknow the date of an event far more remote and improbable ? If, on the other hand, his coming was the very event in question, who now has that knowledge of it which he disclaimed for all creatures and for himself? I can scarcely bear to notice the comment by which some would evade this passage—that “though we cannot know the hour or the day, we may know the
It is a childish play on words, unworthy alike of good sense and reverent piety. This declaration of our Lord, if there were no other, should be enough to show us that the time of the end is to us uncertain.
V. From the mistakes that have been made on this subject.
They could hardly be enumerated in a whole discourse. A just account of them would make an interesting and profitable volume. Besides the diversity that has existed, and still exists, in the confident opinions of good men as to the prophecies which are not yet fulfilled, many others have been no less confidently maintained till time demonstrated their falseness. The "fifth_monarchy men,” as they were called, in the reign of the Puritans in England, are only one well-known example of the delusion to which good men are exposed in the interpretation of
Robinson's Lex. | It might be a fair set-off against such a comment, if we were to take the same liberty with day in this passage, that some take with it in the prophecies, and argue that we cannot know in what thousand years the end will come.
prophecy. They believed the time indicated by Daniel was at hand, and they were the people of the saints of the Most High,” to whom “ the greatness of the kingdom” was about to be given; and nothing but time vanquished their delusion. Some similar delusions have flourished and faded away, in almost every age and country, if not all equally conspicuous. A strange sect is apt to plant itself on a mistaken interpretation of prophecy, till overturned by time. It has been a favorite weapon both of impostors and enthusiasts. And no application of prophecy has more often proved delusive than the attempt to ascertain the dates of predicted events, especially of the end of the world. It is no new thing for men to affirm, on the authority of the Bible, that the day of judgment is literally at hand; and it will be no new thing, if time compels them to confess their mistake and regret their presumption.
But let it be more particularly noticed, that they who now predict the precise time of the end, are already proved to be mistaken as to the events which they say are to precede it. The papal power, in their scheme, was to be broken in A.D. 1798, but the papacy was not broken then; to break it, requires more than the imprisonment of the pope; and not only is it still a persecuting power, but in many respects stronger since the French Revolution than before, and on the increase, we are told, in such Protestant strongholds as England and this country. Again : they say the Turkish power was to be broken in the summer of A.D. 1840, and for the result they refer to the interference of the Allied Powers, at that time, in the political affairs of Turkey. But Turkish independence no more ceased then, than French independence ceased, when the same Allied Powers did more violence to France, invading her capital, and giving her one monarch in the place of another. And when our missionaries are quoted as saying that the Ottoman strength is waning, it is no doubt true, but as much has been true for many years, especially since the Greek Revolution. Once more: according to the same scheme, the gospel would have been by this time published among all nations, unless that work is to be done in a few months, which I believe is not expected. But in the looser sense of this language, as long ago as the days of Paul the gospel was preached " in all the world,” “to every creature which is under heaven,” (Col. i. 6, 23.); and in that sense it was not the siga supposed; while in the stricter construction, the prediction is not yet fulfilled, and in that sense the supposed sign fails. Not to dwell on other instances : if time already disproves a theory, as to these preliminary events, can the same theory be trusted as to the end? And how can men be instructed, if in spite of mistakes already demonstrated, they will have it that they are " the wise,” who “understand ?” Even if the Providence of God should teach us nothing more, let us learn from it at least our present ignorance of the time of the end.
I leave the subject before you with two reflections.
If it is not for us to know the times or the seasons, we shall do well not to agitate questions of this nature. If such knowledge does not belong to us, neither is it our business to seek such know
ledge. The search is not, in every sense, fruitless ; for, in attempting to learn what is not revealed, we can easily form opinions, we are likely to embrace theories, which must only take their place sooner or later with the exploded errors of the past. Nor should such a theory be reckoned harmless. This specification of the particular time, especially as being literally near, attracts more attention, and produces a more positive present effect, than all the other doctrines propagated with it. When it fails of fulfilment, the failure must be felt accordingly. A vain expectation, once shown to be such, recoils on him who holds it, and when held in the name of the Bible, it tends to dishonor that book. Precise predictions on this subject cannot be proved true, because the Bible does not authorize them, and therefore they ought not to be encouraged. Nor ought they to be encouraged if they happen to be true : for we cannot know their truth; God has not communicated such information commonly in other instances, nor yet in this; and so far as we can judge, it is not desirable for mankind. On this subject, perhaps more than most others, theories confidently maintained, and turning out mistaken, cannot but tend to mischief. Not only their advocates suffer from defeat, but even their opponents from success; and both suffer from the feverish excitement of such a conflict. Every unauthorized prediction, in proportion to the credit it obtains, wearies and perplexes good men, diverts attention from the fundamental and evident truths of the Gospel to doubtful speculations, encourages restless curiosity in the place of active benevolence, tampers with the credit of all prophecy, and gives a new weapon to the scoffer. If now there are any who would so connect their schemes with the Bible as to make its authority stand or fall with them in the eyes of others, let all who study and revere this book protest against the presumption. If, on the other hand, any are disheartened, as though in these days, under the assaults of misguided zeal, and the fluctuations to which human judgment is ever liable, the faith of the church on this and many other topics, were loosened from all its foundations; let them remember that this faith has survived fluctuations and assaults greater than all these; let them “ both hope, and quietly wait, for the salvation of the Lord.” Amidst moral as well as physical commotions, remember that he knows how to bring good out of evil; that in regard to the prophecies, as well as other portions of the Bible, “ there must be heresies," “ that they which are approved may be made manifest;" that mistakes which are otherwise pernicious, may yet serve to establish sounder principles of interpretation; that as one prediction after another, concerning the time of the end, is proved to be mistaken, we have new proof that it is not for us to know that time. This divine superintendence we do well to remember, when we witness the haste and confidence of others, crying, “Lo, here !" and “Lo, there!” as though the kingdom of God were coming now “with observation;" yet let us not join with them in the evil of their experiments, nor wait to be convinced by the result, but rather obey the lesson we have learned from our Lord himself, the lesson con
firmed by so many experiments already, that it is not for us to know the times or the seasons which the Father hath put in his own power.
Finally: It becomes us to live in habitual readiness for the end of our probation. Whenever the present dispensation may terminate, and however the glorious reign of Christ may be ushered in, there is a temper of heart and a way of life which may prepare the living for that day, while yet they cannot learn its date; just as there is a preparation for death, which depends not on any knowledge of its approach. And since, for every individual, probation ends with life, as truly as with the present world's existence, he who is prepared for the end of his own life, is prepared for the end of the world. To live as seeing God, under the influence of things unseen and eternal, in repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, doing good as we have opportunity,--this is the urgent business of us all. To lead us by his Spirit thus to live, is the plan of God, both in what he discloses and in what he conceals. Thus let us be “ looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” Then, if the day of judgment be ushered in to-morrow, will it come for us too soon? But without this preparation, though that day should be deferred a thousand years, who among you can be safe? For aught that appears, all that is left of your probation may not reach to that event whose date you are curious to learn. The trump of the archangel, if it were soon to sound, might reach your ear only in the dust. For you, time, if not near its own end, may yet be measured, not by years, but by months and days. While many have been inquiring when probation will cease, with a great multitude it has ceased already. If I were to tell you who make
up this assembly, that death is at your door, according to the common course of God's providence I should speak a momentous truth to some here present. If the same thing had been said, a few weeks since, to the congregations in this city, it would have been a truth not merely to an aged man here and there, already stooping to his grave, but to a group of young men, of whom it was scarcely thought that they could die. Oh, let us be affected, not only by the opening graves, and the rising dead, and the descending Judge, that are yet in prospect, but by the graves now sealed and silent, by their young, unexpected tenants, and by that world of spirits which is already thronged from ours, and seems to overshadow us with their awful presence. My hearer, whatever may be the times or the seasons which the Father hath determined, prepare to meet thy God, in death, in judgment! Be ready for the bidding, for the presence, of thy Savior and thy Judge!
THE SPIRITUAL SEEDTIME.
“Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you."Hosea
“ ANOTHER Season has just passed away, if we speak in reference to the fruits of the earth; but if we have in view the supply of food for the mind and soul, it is more proper to say that the season has just commenced. The summer brings forward the harvest of the field, but the late autumn and the winter bring the months of reflection, and the richest harvests of the intellect and the soul. Now, therefore, that the sultry days of summer are over, and autumn has come, with its cool and bracing air, its falling leaves, its fading verdure, and the serious and contemplative influence which it breathes over the soul, the question ought to arise with every one, What progress is the Redeemer's kingdom to make in my heart, and in the circle in which I move, during the months which are to come? As the family gathers together once more from the green fields and out-door occupations of summer, to the duties and pleasures of the home and fire-side, what influence, what feelings, whai enjoyments are to reign in the re-united circle? Is our community to go on, pervaded by a cold, worldly, irreligious spirit, or is an influence from above to descend, awakening holy joy and peace in these hearts, bringing penitence for sin, ardent love for God, the glow of benevolence, and the delights of prayer and praise? Is the church to remain as it is, or is it to be doubled and trebled during the approaching winter? Is religious feeling in the hearts of its members to continue cold, and formal, and meagre, or is it to be awakened to a warmer glow of gratitude and love, and deeper desire for spiritual blessings, and for more complete and happy union with God?
And you hath he quickened, [that is, brought to life], who were dead in trespasses and sins. Read Eph. i., 1–10.
“ The truth here taught is this :-Man, in his natural state of sin, is morally helpless and dead. When in this condition, God, sometimes, from pure unmerited mercy, takes compassion upon him, and awakens within him, by what is actually called creation, a new life,-i. e., new feelings, new desires, new motives of action,-and so directly are these new principles the results of God's agency in the human heart, that the being who possesses them is, with special reference to these holy principles, the very workmanship of God, created unto good works, in consequence of a previous determination on the part of his Maker that he should be the subject of such a change. “The mind which really understands and grasps
this passage is overwhelmed with the solemn reflections which cluster around it. What? Is man really, in his natural state, helpless and dead, in trespasses and sins? Is there nothing within him which can originate life, no seed in his heart which may, by his own cultivation, spring up and clothe the desert of the natural character with verdure? Is the heart given up