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HOW IS IT THAT YE DO NOT DISCERN THIS TIME?
LUKE xii. 56.
GOD never calls upon us to discern the ways of bis Providence, without giving us some signs, to direct and assist us in our judgment; who can no more comprehend the Divine counsels, without the Divine light, than we can behold the sun, without the assistance of
his own rays.
When our blessed Lord required the people to examine, and judge for themselves, from the signs which attended his coming, he called them to a pleasant as well as a profitable enquiry : for as he then came to save the world, all the signs given to confirm his mission, explained the end of it, and were signs of salvation. The blind received their sight, the ears of the deaf were opened, the sick were healed, the dead were raised. Even the heathen poets, according to the expectation they had of so desirable an event, represent it under the most beautiful imagery, as the restoration of a golden age, in which man should recover that purity and happiness, of which he had so long been deprived by the corruption of his nature. And when these things were about to be fulfilled, we
hear the servants of God, who were better informed, côngratulating each other on the times they had lived to see; Blessed art thou among women, said Elizabeth to the holy Virgin : Blessed are your eyes, said the Lord to his disciples : maný prophets and kings have desired to see the things which ye see, and have not seen them. The wise men of the east rejoiced with exceeding great joy, when they saw the star which directed them : the shepherds glorified and praised God for all the things which they had seen and heard : even the heavenly host uttered a song of triumph: the heavens rejoiced, and the earth was glad, when the Saviour was ushered into the world : all the signs of his birth, and of his ministry, were favourable and salutary, and inspired with hope and gladness all those who were wise enough to understand them.
Such were the sentiments of men and angels at his first appearance. His second coming, to judge the world, hath also its signs; but none of them are pleasant: they are all alarming, all terrible ; all partaking of the nature of that tremendous event in which they are to terminate : earthquakes, famines, pestilences, distress of nations : insurrections and tumalts ; disturbing the world, as storms agitate the wide waters of the sea : these are the things we are to look for. As bodily death is preceded by symptoms of a deadly sort; by terrors and faintings, and pangs, and convulsions; we have every reason to expect, that the world's death will be brought on by sins and disorders, upon a great scale, and of a new species. And here it is worth observing, that while men, by their perverseness, are making the miseries of the time, they are marking its characters : but, in ignorance; they know not what they do.
Herod and Pontius Pilate, and the rulers of the Jews, were all busy in bringing to pass what the hand and counsel of God had deterinined to be done; but without knowing it: they had ends and objects of their own, at which they were aiming for themselves, while they were fulfilling the purposes of God; and had they received any friendly' bint of what they were doing, they would have rejected it with disdain, and probably have put the monitor to death.
The case is the same now. A considerable part of mankind are vehemently pursuing their own imaginations: and while they themselves are blind to the nature and consequences of their own actions, they are giving instruction to us : their darkness is our light; and I mean, with God's help, to use it as such upon the present occasion
I am very sensible, that the attention of the public hath heen nearly exhausted, and their curiosity satiated, with the many fearful accounts transmitted to us, and the pious and penitent reflections made upon them by goodand learned men. But still, there is a certain view of the subject, so edifying, that we can scarcely dwell too much upon it. As políticians, we enquire how far government may suffer froin dangerous innovations : as a commercial nation, we consider how trade may be affected': as a military people, we consult how war is to be carried on ; with what resources; and what will be its probable issue. All this is very proper : but, as Christians, it is our duty to compare the signs of the time with what the Alınighty Ruler of the world hath been pleased to. open, concerning his own purposes, and the events to be expected as the world draws nearer to its end. I enter here upon nó diffuse investigation; but mean to confine myself to one remarkable sign of the last
days, which I think hath never yet received an adequate interpretation; not through the unskilfulness of interpreters; but, because it seeins to be one of those mysterious predictions, which nothing but the event can enable us to understand ; and which a succession of future events may still be opening to us farther than we can see at present.
It seems there was a persuasion very early in the Christian church, that the coming of Jesus Christ, to judge the world, was then near at hand. His judgment of the jewish nation had been foretold, in terms so applicable to his Snal judgment, that a mistake might thence arise, even among wise and pious Chris. tians: of which St. Panl having heard, gives them proper information, in that remarkable passage of the second chapter of the second epistle to the Thessalonians; wherein he warns them of a very extraordinary fact, which would precede the final destruction of this world ; and that the end of all things was not to be expected, till this should have come to pass. The passage is this, - Let no man deceive you by any means : for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away (an apostacy) first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition ; who opposeth und exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped ; so that he as God, sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. It may be proper, that the words, in which a prophecy is delivered, should have a certain degree of obscurity, that they may not open too much before the time : and the same happens partly from the necessity of the case; because the thing which hath not as yet been known to the world, will be conceived with difficulty even from a plain description of it. This is applicable to the passage now before us; on which volumes
have been written, with great uncertainty of interpretation; depending on facts, which however bad in their
way, did certainly never come up to this description. But when the event brings its own interpretation with it, a child may see farther than the most learned could before: and if the whole passage be taken in its obvious sense, and with all its circumstances, it will apply itself so directly to a case in hand, that little doubt can remain in the mind of any reader, who has no reason for shutting his eyes against the truth.
We observe, then, first, that a falling away should happen before the end of the world. The original calls it an apostacy; which term, in the mouth of a Christian apostle, can mean nothing but an apostacy from the Christian faith and worship. And this is more particularly said to consist in a revelation of a man of sin, the son of perdition. It is not necessary here to suppose, that this man of sin is only one individual person. In the tenth Psalm, when we read of the man of the earth, we do not understand a single person but a character, a sort of ungodly people, whose whole confidence is in this world. In like manner, the man of sin may very properly denote a particular sort of sinful character, or even the race of mankind, when become sinful in the extreme, according to that state of depravity, which is described in the words that follow. For, it seems, this man of sin opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped. Here the terms are less difficult in the original than in the English. All that is ealled God is literally every person, every man, who is called God: and the word we translate worshipped expresses most properly that sort of worship, which is given to venerable or august persons, whatever the office may be that makes them such.