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in the year of our Lord 1834, and in the year of the world, as we believe, 5838. Now let us consider time as a great chain, and every year a link. At this moment we are fastened to one link of this chain. If we look back, we can trace several links. First, and simplest; by the exercise of our own memory we can get into the link next behind us, (that is, last year,) and to the link next behind that; and there are probably persons here present, who in this way can retrace fifty, or sixty, or seventy links. So ends individual experience. But then, by means of authentic history we can get still further back.
For example, we can contemplate the year 1760, when George the III. ascended the throne of England; or tracing back a hundred links more through the restoration, we can go to the year 1660, when Cromwell usurped the government of this kingdom; or tracing another hundred links, we can go to the reign of Mary, in 1560, when the Protestant Reformers were persecuted and burned as heretics; or retracing above a thousand links more, and turning our attention to Italy instead of England, we may behold the imperial armies of Vespasian and Titus; and following them to the land of Judea, we may contemplate the execution of the predicted ruin upon the Jewish nation, and Jerusalem, the Holy City. Or looking still further back, we may reach the days of Cæsar Augustus, when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea. Or stretching backward again, through six hundred links, we may discern the magnificence of Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar, the king. And thus going back, we might find Moses upon the chain of time, and Abraham, and Noah, and Enoch, and Adam.
We perceive, then, how wide a field is open to our contemplation when we look backward, and thus we become prepared to appreciate an intelligent answer to the question, What is prophecy?
To prophesy is to look forward, and tell the events of years to come, even as history tells the events of years that are past. Who then can prophesy? Who on this day can enter into the next link of time, and tell us what shall be in 1835? Nay, who can trace even this expiring link to its close, arrive with precision at the 31st December, and tell us what shall be at its junction with the 1st of January? Nay, more--who can tell what a day, or an hour, may bring forth?
Here we stand! If we look back, we have a bright stream of light and knowledge: if we look forward, we look into darkness impenetrable by man. Who then can prophesy? Only the living God, with whom is no darkness at all,—the great Jehovah, the Ruler of heaven and earth, who knoweth the end from the beginning, and whose high prerogative it is to declare the things which shall be hereafter. Time is without progress before Him. Eternity past, and eternity to come, with all their teeming incidents, stand in his view as one great, fixed, unchanged, and unchangeable picture, inscribed with this one word,-Now!
With what infinite facility can God tell the future to us, as well as the past. He not only sees things in their order, in his foreknowledge of what is to be, but he sets them in their order, in his predestinating purpose of what shall be. He alone can prophesy, because he alone can predestinate.
Now suppose that God had revealed to one of his faithful servants, fifty years ago, and had caused him to write in a book the coming events of this or any other country for a hundred years; at this time, it is evident, the first half would be history, the other half prophecy. It was all prophecy fifty years ago;
; the events of those fifty years have turned one-half into history, the rest remains prophecy. But we have an advantage in reading it-an advantage of confidence and of interpretation; of confidence, because seeing that fifty years have fallen out according to its predictions, we have an assurance that the remainder speaks the coming events of the next fifty;-of interpretution, because by comparing the events of the past fifty years, with the language of the first half of the book, we should see how the prophetic statement was adapted to the event, and learn in that manner to interpret the remainder.
This communicates something of our position as regards the word of God; and amongst other passages the one I have just read. --Eighteen hundred years ago, the Lord speaking to his disciples concerning the Jewish nation, said: “They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations.” When he said this, it was prophecy, and it remained prophecy for some few years. Then it became history. While it was prophecy there was some little difficulty in the interpretation. An objector might have said, How is it, that if they are to fall by the edge of the sword, they are also to be led away captive? The event explained. Some of them-nay, a large proportion--did fall by the edge of the sword, and the remainder were driven away captives among all nations in a state of degradation and persecution, in which they yet remain. Thus both branches of the prophecy found their fulfilment. "And," he proceeds, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles." This, when spoken, was also prophecy, but has long since become history. Jerusalem has been trodden down. The Romans, the Saracens, the Turks, and now in our days the Egyptians, have, one after another, held the Holy City in a degrading bondage: but mark the language, “Jerusalem shall
be trodden down of the Gentiles, UNTIL the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” Now Jesusalem is still trodden down: here, therefore, we pass from history to prophecy, upon that word “until;"> for the times of the Gentiles are not yet fulfilled. Thus the period of the world in which we live is ascertained; it is the time of the Gentiles, during which Jerusalem is trodden down, —the days of Israel's tribulation. These days will end: and when the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled, then Jerusalem will no longer be trodden down; the Jews will be delivered from their captivity and tribulation, and the Holy City will rise and shine, for then her light shall have come, and the glory of her Lord shall have risen upon her.* Immediately upon the expiration of the times of the Gentiles, there will be signs in the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress of nations, and the Son of man shall be seen coming in a cloud, with power and great glory.
This view is confirmed in the 24th chapter of St. Matthew, where our Lord, having described the tribulation of the Jews, says, in the 29th verse, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days, shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give
her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken." This statement is somewhat more precise than the one in the text. St. Luke tells us, “There shall be signs in the sun,
and the stars.' St. Matthew says, “The sun shall be darkened, the moon shall not give her light, and ihe stars shall fall from heaven.” These signs are to be followed by the personal appearing of the Son of Man; “Then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” In the concluding verse of our text, the experience of the Christian Church is most touchingly connected with the gathering signs of her Lord's return. When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. Your redemption! your deliverance from all enemies, from all the evils which the craft or subtilty of the devil, or man, or both, have been working against you, your deliverance from the corruption and bondage of mortal flesh-your perfected deliverance from the last enemy that shall be destroyed-even Death; your transformation into the likeness of your Lord! This draweth nigh, when these things begin to come to pass, these awful things which shall make all around you to tremble with terror, but in the midst of which you may sing the 46th Psalm. O! what things? Let us examine what these signs are; and to do so in the
* Isaiah lx. See Sermon iv.
safest and best mode, let us endeavour to make the Bible its own interpreter.
First, then, on referring to the creation of the sun, moon, and stars, as recorded in the first chapter of Genesis, we have this account: “And God said, let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and for years. We see plainly how these lights serve for seasons, and for days, and for years, marking the progress of our duration by the alternation of seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night. But of what were they to be signs?
Of the way in which they were used as signs, we have a specimen in the 37th chapter of Genesis, at the 9th verse, where it is written that Joseph dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. (ver. 10.) And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? Here, then, the sun is used as a sign for the head of the patriarchal family,—the ruler, —the source of authority: he was both king and priest in his own house, and thus was a type of Christ, the head of all authorities. For this reason, the sun is used as an emblem of majesty,-supplying, indeed, in the natural world a sublime picture of dignity in the glory and splendour of his career, from day to day. All authority on earth is but a shadowing forth of that which is given to Christ. Christ is the sun of righteousness: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of his kingdom. The powers that be, are ordained of Christ in heaven and earth: rulers are appointed by him: they are his ministers, responsible to him for their exercise of his delegated authority. Constituted, established authority, is an ordinance of God in Christ, whether wielded according to the will of one man, or according to law, which is the result of the combined wisdom of many
Whatever has power to control, power to command, power to exact obedience on earth,to restrain offenders,-to take the position and aspect of God towards those below, is of Christ, and is imaged by the sun, which is set forth as the sign of constituted authority.
The moon was used as the sign of the patriarchal mother. She had a species of authority over the children-not in her own right, but by virtue of her connexion with her Lord. The symbol here is that of a witness for God on the earth.
The moon is a witness for the sun, shining with a light that is not her own; shedding much lustre indeed, but only by reflection, having received it all from him, that she may bear witness for him during his absence. In this the moon is a sign of the church of God,—the faithful witness for her absent, but ever-glorious Lord, who is her light, her priest, and king. For this reason the Jews had a special church holiday at the new moon,* in token of the light which the church is ever receiving from the source of light, the Sun of Righteousness.
The stars represented the immediate children of the family, —the eleven sons of the patriarch: and in harmony with this, we find them elsewhere distinctly interpreted to be the signs of the ministers of the church. Look to the 1st chapter of Revelations, the last verse: “The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks: the seven stars are the angels, (or messengers, or ministers) of the seven churches, and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.” So far, then, we have derived, from a comparison of Scripture with Scripture, the meaning of the expressions in the text, the sun, moon, and stars.
There remain, however, some expressions to be explained still, before we shall be prepared to understand the whole text. “The sea and the waves roaring.” The sea, in the raging of the storm, and roaring of the waves, presents an image of ungovernable fury. It is so used by Job, in a very remarkable passage: expostulating with God in his affliction, he says, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that thou so watchest over me?”+-Am I an ungovernable creature—a creature of blind, impetuous passions, that I require to be so specially watched? It will be familiar to the attentive reader of Scripture, that this expression is used to designate multitudes of people. In the 17th chapter of Isaiah, 12th verse, we have an instance of this: “Woe to the multitude of many people, which make a noise like the noise of the seas; and to the rushing of nations, that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters. The nations shall rush like the rushing of many waters; but God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off.” There is another example in Jeremiah, where, predicting the invasion of the Medes and Persians in vast numbers, to overthrow Babylon, it is said, in the 51st chapter, 42nd verse, “The sea is come up upon Babylon; she is covered with the multitudes of the waves thereof.” In the 26th chapter of Ezekiel, the third verse, the same figure occurs: “Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, Behold! I am against thee, 0 Tyrus, and will cause many nations to * Psalm lxxxi. 3.
+ Job vii. 12.