WHEN the Lord is about to accomplish any extraordinary dispensation among men, he often gives them those providential warnings which indicate its approach. By Christians, who have the direction of his word, those intimations of his sovereign designs ought to be carefully considered, and clearly understood. It is recorded to the honor of the men of Issachar, that they, on a very trying occasion, "had understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do:" 1 Chron. 12:32. When the Redeemer dwelt among men, it is stated to the disgrace of the Jews, that though they could discern the face of the sky, they were not able to discern the signs of the times. A proper attention to those signs, therefore, is an important duty, and a just view of them, is a great spiritual attainment. As God hath appointed many natural signs as premonitions of the approach of occurrences in nature, so he has established moral signs which no less clearly indicate to us, that some great spiritual change is at hand. When God exercises his condescension, by favoring us with those signs of his coming, it is most criminal to neglect or despise them, and most reasonable to observe and receive instruction from them. It becomes us, therefore, with deep humility, to investigate those Divine operations, and to cry to him, by fervent prayer, that he may enlighten our minds in the knowledge of his ways. When Christ informed his disciples of the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem, they said to him, "What shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?" To their inquiry, Jesus made a particular reply; and, as he often does to his people above what they can ask or think, he added a variety of important directions how they were to act at that interesting crisis. From those things it is evident, that the members of the Church are abundantly warranted to observe the events that are coming to pass in their day, that they may so understand and apply those signs, either of mercy or of judgment, as will enable them to know if their Lord is delaying his coming for their deliverance, or is on his way to bestow the kingdom on his chosen people.
AN INQUIRY INTO THE SIGNS WHICH INDICATE THE CHURCH'S HAPPY CONDITION TO BE AT HAND.1
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel."Mark 1:15.
Some of those times which shall be fulfilled at Antichrist's fall, and some of the parts of the Church's blessedness in her Millennial state, having been mentioned, that which was proposed next for consideration, is
III. To mention some of those signs which indicate this blessed condition of the Church to be at hand.
1. The exertions that are made to translate the Holy Scriptures into all languages, to print and to publish them throughout the world, are a sign that this kingdom of God is at hand. To the saints who have lived in the foregoing ages, and in the early part of this generation, it has often been a matter of wonder, what method Divine providence would employ, for sending his word to the darkened nations of the earth. Sensible of the indispensable necessity of their enjoying the Scriptures, in order to their spiritual illumination, and to their turning to God; and convinced of the difficulty of their obtaining the sacred oracles, they have often been disposed to say, How can this be accomplished? By bringing into operation the Bible Societies which have been established, both at home and abroad, God, in his overruling providence, has answered this perplexing question, and has overcome those seemingly insurmountable difficulties. If we consider the object, the exertions, the extent, the success, and the co-operation of Bible Societies, we will see in them a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. The object of those societies is to furnish Christians and Jews, Mahometans and Pagans, with the Holy Scriptures in their own language, without note or comment. May we not stand still and wonder at this object! Can any object be conceived, that has a tendency more directly to promote the glory of God, and the spiritual and eternal salvation of his rational creatures? To send to spiritually dead sinners the word of life; to give to the darkened nations that which God has revealed for a lamp to the feet and a light to the path of mankind, for guiding them infallibly to the knowledge, the service, and the enjoyment of God, must be an object of the highest importance. We may wonder also at the magnitude of this object. To furnish all nations with this precious word, is a work which is not more remarkable for its utility, than it is for its grandeur. The exertions that are made for effecting this object make a part of this sign. How many are now actively employed in translating the Scriptures, in printing them, and dispersing the sacred volume among the nations? We have every reason to believe that their number is great; that their diligence is unwearied; that their faithfulness is conscientious, and their labor is unremitting. The assiduous study, the fatiguing travail, and the daily labor of many persons, are employed to accomplish this object. The extent of those exertions is truly astonishing. In Europe, Asia, Africa and America, these societies have greatly increased, and are still increasing. They have been erected in all parts of the earth, excepting those which are so remote that they have not yet heard of them, or so ignorant as not to understand their object, or so interested in keeping men in ignorance, idolatry and error, and in a state of corporeal and mental slavery to the power of men, as to give this grand object, the illumination of mankind, a most malignant opposition. The success of those societies is also most encouraging. How many thousands and tens of thousands of copies of God's word, either in whole or in part, have been distributed among the nations! Into a very great number of languages, and dialects of the same language, the Holy Scriptures have been translated, printed and published in the earth, since the erection of the radical Bible Society at London, in 1804. The co-operation of those societies is also worthy of our notice. Though they are established in parts of the earth which are very distant from one another, and among people of very different dispositions, yet there is such an unity of object among them all; such friendly communications maintained among them, and such mutual assistance given to one another, as to cause their exertions to bear as directly on the same grand design, as if all their operations were guided by the wisdom and energy of one mind. Now, since it is the word of God that must enlighten men in the knowledge of the way of salvation; since it is the mean by which the systems of darkness shall be removed from the earth; since it is the instrument of erecting Christ's kingdom in the world; and since God, in his wise and powerful providence, has begun and so far carried on this blessed scheme, have we not reason to conclude that the kingdom of God, which this word is appointed to promote, is at hand? Can we suppose that the Lord will withhold his blessing from those means which are so eminently calculated to promote his glory, and the salvation of men? We may, therefore, believe, that as the morning dawn indicates the approach of the ruler of the day, so the spreading of the Divine word among the nations, is a harbinger of the rise of the Sun of Righteousness on them, with healing in his wings, and that the kingdom of God is at hand.
2. The extraordinary endeavors that are now made to publish the glad tidings of salvation to the nations, by preaching the Gospel to them, are also a sign that the Millennial state of the Church is at hand. It is long, since Christians in different nations attempted to spread the knowledge of the Gospel among some of the heathens; but the endeavours that have been made for this purpose, during the last twenty years, are truly extraordinary. A great number of powerful societies have been established in these lands, and in other nations, which have it as their object to send forth evangelical missions to the most distant parts of the earth, that they may preach the Gospel to the benighted inhabitants. These societies occupy different fields, and some of them send their laborers to different parts of the earth. Societies have also been formed, and have been for some time, in active operation, for sending persons, duly qualified, to preach the Gospel to the darkened parts of the nations to which we belong. Many men who appear to be actuated by a concern for the glory of God, the honor of Christ, the propagation of the Gospel, and the salvation of immortal souls, are now actively employed in almost every nation of the earth, in preaching the Gospel to the heathen world. The word of God is not only given to the nations, but persons are sent to preach its doctrines, to explain and to apply that word to the consciences of men. As Jesus, at one time, sent forth the twelve Apostles, and at another time, sent forth seventy disciples to preach in Judea, the doctrines of the kingdom of God; as the Church of Jerusalem sent Barnabas to visit the Gentiles who had received the word of God; and as the Church at Antioch, by the command of the Spirit, sent forth Paul and Barnabas to go to the Gentiles, who had not yet heard of Christ's name; so the duty of sending forth persons who are properly qualified, to preach the Gospel to the heathen, must be of indispensable obligation on Christians. Those men who from a conscientious regard to the glory of God, and the good of immortal souls, forsake their relations, endure privations, encounter difficulties and danger, and suffer fatigue and trouble, that they may publish the doctrines of salvation to a perishing world, ought to be esteemed among the most useful servants of Jesus Christ. As great success attended the first publication of the Gospel to the nations, so we are encouraged to hope, that if these endeavors are conscientiously made and continued, that the same success shall attend them, till, by the blessing of the Spirit, the knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. Since God in his holy Providence, has excited Christians to form societies for this important purpose; since so many who appear, in some good degree, to be qualified for this work, have devoted themselves to it, and have voluntarily engaged in it; and since some comfortable effects have been produced in many parts of the earth, we may consider this as a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. Can we suppose that God's own ordinance, for the conversion of the heathen, will be put in operation among them, and that he will refuse to work with it, and with them who dispense it? May we not rather conclude, that in his own time, as well as by his own power, he will make it effectual for completely evangelizing the darkened parts of the earth? As this is one of the means of accomplishing this change, and as it is now applied in a far more remarkable manner, than at any former period, we may contemplate it as one of the signs that the kingdom of God is approaching.
3. The efforts that are now made to promote the rapid and universal education of mankind, and to circulate among them evangelic catechisms and tracts, are a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. The education of men is an object of the highest importance. Those nations whose population are blessed with education, excel other nations in knowledge, in religion, in morality, in wealth, in liberty, and in the useful arts, to an inconceivable degree. Those nations, therefore, who make the most extensive and wise provision for the education of their population, do best promote the honor of God, the happiness of posterity, and their own good. Those parents and guardians of youth who neglect the education of the children who are under their care, manifest little concern either for their temporal or spiritual welfare. Those who have obtained a common education, such as is given in our parochial schools, have it in their power, by a right improvement of that blessing, to acquire such treasures of knowledge in every thing that is truly valuable, as almost places them on a level with those who have enjoyed a liberal education. By an ability merely to read the Scriptures, persons are enabled to promote both their own spiritual good and the conversion and salvation of others. As the blessing of education is very great, it is no wonder to see religious and philanthropic men engaged in devising and executing schemes for effecting it. Since the prevalence among men, of ignorance and brutality, is favorable to the kingdom of Satan and of darkness, the advancement of knowledge and information in the world must be advantageous to the kingdom of Christ and of light. Extraordinary efforts, therefore, to spread education among men, must be a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. In our times, these efforts are strenuously made. On the evening of the Lord's day, schools, which, in some circumstances of places and of persons, and when properly conducted, are both lawful and expedient, have been erected and carried on in many parts, greatly to the advantage of those who have attended them. Most useful and efficient societies have been formed, and are in active operation, whose object it is gratuitously to educate the young and the old, in the highlands of Scotland, in the kingdom of Ireland, in the principality of Wales, and in other places. By the invention and improvement of new methods of teaching, the instruction of youth has been facilitated greatly, and one person is enabled, in the same time, to instruct a much greater number. By the exertions of the British and Foreign School Society, in patronizing this method of teaching at home and promoting it in other nations, it is likely to be the mean of bestowing the blessing of education more expeditiously, upon uninstructed places of the earth. Besides all this, the evangelical missions to the heathen, having catechism and teachers attached to them, set up schools among them for the instruction of the young and the old; and those who preach the Gospel, either superintend those schools, or labor in them as teachers; so that many are instructed wherever those missions are established. With those laudable endeavors, the exertions of the Tract Societies are closely connected. To print in different languages catechisms and tracts, which exhibit a summary view of Gospel doctrines and Christian duties, or illustrate and apply important parts of revealed truth, and to circulate them at home and in foreign nations gratis, or at a very low price, are the principal objects of those societies. By these means, the reading of vain and immoral ballads and tracts is counteracted; the minds of youth, and of others, are directed to the things which belong to their everlasting peace; a mean is used to convince the erroneous and immoral of the sin and danger of their principles and conduct; an opportunity is furnished to those who have acquired the habit of reading, to exercise it for the instruction of themselves and others; and to those who have obtained the Holy Scriptures, an help is administered to understand their contents. By all those different and extended exertions, we may hope that many have been plucked as brands out of the burning; have been delivered from ignorance, profanity, idleness, and immorality, and have been brought to the knowledge both of the Gospel as the object of their faith, and of the law as the rule of their obedience. Since God has put it into the hearts of men to exert themselves in this extraordinary way, to promote the education, the religious and moral instruction of men far and near, we must conclude, that by those means, he will work among the nations that change, which will prepare them for the glory of the latter-day.
4. The establishment of Christian societies for the instruction and conversion of the Jews, is a sign that the kingdom of God, in its Millennial state, is at hand. The deliverance of God's ancient people from their infidelity, their embracing Christianity, and their restoration to their own land, will be a very distinguished part of that Divine operation by which God will introduce and establish the reign of righteousness in the earth. The illumination of the nations will be accomplished, when the Lord shall bind up the breach of his people, and heal the stroke of their wound. On this account, the existence and operation of those societies for convincing and converting the Jews, is also a sign that the Millennial day is drawing near. The object of those societies is to use every eligible mean in their power to convince the Jews that the Messiah is come, that it is vain for them to look for another, and that Jesus of Nazareth is the very Christ. By giving Christian instruction to as many of themselves, and their children, as will receive it; by endeavoring to present before them the arguments which prove that the Messiah is come, and that all the predictions of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus, the Christian Savior; by furnishing them with the New Testament in the Hebrew language, and by endeavoring to induce them carefully to peruse those sacred oracles, Christians are now applying their mercy to the Jews, that they also may obtain mercy. This is the ordinance of God for the Jews' conversion; and this, christians are warranted and encouraged to use for that end. When the Jews shall obtain mercy, it shall be accomplished by the instrumentality of the mercy which is now enjoyed by the Gentiles. The word and Spirit of God are the great substance of the Gentiles' mercy. The former is in the Church's hands, and the latter is the gift of God. Let the Church, therefore, use the instrument which God has given her, and cry to him for the Holy Spirit to accompany the means with power, for turning the seed of Abraham to the knowledge of the truth; and then, though the success at the beginning of their endeavors may be small, their latter end shall greatly increase.
5. The attention which seems to be given to the word of God, and to public religious instruction, by Pagans, Mahometans, and Jews, is a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. For information on these matters, we are indebted to the reports of those societies which are employed on those objects, and to the accounts which they receive from those whom they have sent to execute their work. In them are found encouraging accounts of that attention which is given to the Scriptures and to the Gospel, when it is preached among them. An extraordinary desire after the Divine word has been manifested wherever it has been distributed; and a diligent improvement has been made of it by those who have received it. They do not reject it; they are not indifferent unto it; but they show an earnest concern to obtain it. They crowd around the persons who are employed to distribute the Scriptures; they express much joy when they receive the Bible, and discover much grief when their applications cannot be answered; so that the only distress of those who distribute the Scriptures, has often been the fewness of the copies which they had to give away. The use they make of the Bible when they have obtained it, is also sufficiently attested. They read it both for their own benefit, and for the instruction of others. They read it at home; they read it in public; by which one copy becomes a common good, and a mean of instruction to many. They converse about its sacred contents among themselves, and in many instances, apply for explanation to those from whom they have received it. They are also very attentive to the preaching of the Gospel. The accounts which have been received, of their concern to hear the word in many places, and of the effects which have been produced on their minds and their conduct in life, are highly encouraging. Many of them also show a concern to obtain education by attending the schools that have been erected among them, for bestowing on them this inestimable blessing. There is reason to believe, that the success is fully proportioned to the means which are employed; and that if the latter were increased, the former would be much more abundant. Some Mahometans and Jews are also showing a concern for the word of God. The scriptures, in the Turkish language, are beginning to enter among the former; and the New Testament in Hebrew is beginning to attract the attention of the latter. To bring those things to any desirable perfection, must be a work of time; but when the ordinary means are used, and some good effects produced on a few, we may hope that the Lord, when his time is come, will pour out his Spirit on all flesh, so that the earth shall be made to bring forth in one day, and nations shall be born at once. A religious observation of those Divine providences, and a trust in the promise and power of God, will constrain us to consider such extensive operations, with their effects, as a token that all the ends of the world shall soon remember and turn to the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before him.
6. The prevalence of public opinion in favor of true rational Christian liberty, and in opposition to every species of thralldom, is a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. When the dark system of Popery prevailed universally in Europe, and when the court of Rome, consisting of the Pope and his Cardinals, exerted its power over men, the human mind was subdued under a most degrading and unnatural bondage, in matters of religion, and of politics, and even of philosophy. No liberty was given to discuss articles of faith, or modes of worship, in opposition to their blasphemous doctrines, their unscriptural decrees, their unholy traditions, or their abominable idolatry. No permission was granted to animadvert on the science of government, or to canvass the measures of the political administrations. No allowance was made for the improvement of the philosophy of those ages. The human understanding and will were completely kept in bondage, to the dominion of civil and ecclesiastic despotism. The Roman Antichrist, aware that the word of God was directly against his system, took it entirely from the people, removed the key of knowledge, and left his votaries to wander in gross spiritual darkness. Fearful also of the exercise of human reason, this spiritual despot made war with it, and forbade its exertions on all subjects that were any way connected with the religion or government of the nations. The Christian world was in this dismal condition when God, in his holy providence, employed those men, who were the instruments in his hand to introduce that happy reformation, which commenced three hundred years ago. Then men found themselves at liberty to think, to speak, and to write on all those important subjects which promote the glory of God and the good of men. Then the human mind, liberated from its prison, began to exercise itself on matters of religion, politics and philosophy, and filled the nations with light. The Holy Scriptures were again put into the hands of the Christian people, who, from wandering in ignorance, were now conducted into the paths of faith and holiness. Since those days, great alterations have taken place in the sentiments of men, both with respect to religion and civil liberty. There have been particular times in which the human mind has been greatly enlarged in the knowledge of the one, or the other, or of both. The second religious reformation in Britain, the memorable revolution, the first American war, and the revolution in France, have been the chief of those periods. To produce this beneficial change on the sentiments of men, in favor of religion, of true liberty and human rights, and in opposition to tyranny and slavery, each of these important events has greatly contributed. For discovering to men the difference between true liberty, civil and religious, on the one hand, and licentiousness, impiety, and profligacy on the other, the last of those events has been also eminently useful. This alteration in the opinions of men is a great blessing to the nations. They are objects of vast importance, about which the change of opinion is made. The prevalency of them among mankind, is necessary to raise them from that state of degradation in which they have existed during the reign of the Roman beast and his little horn. The providential prevalence among men, of right sentiments on these things, is also a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. However inimical the exercise of human reason may be to the Popish system, which is full of absurdity, it never can be detrimental to the kingdom of Christ. The age of true reason will be the age of pure religion; and the prosperity of religion will raise human reason to its most exalted exercise.
7. The measures which the court of Rome and its clergy have adopted, with a view to counteract that system of means which the God of the whole earth is employing for the illumination of mankind, are a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. Their opposition is principally directed against Bible Societies, and the Schools for the education of youth. To some of their dignified clergy, who have countenanced Bible Societies and encouraged the circulation of the Scriptures among their people, the head of that council has sent bulls, prohibiting them from assisting those Societies, and from giving the Scriptures to the people; branding the publication of the word of God by those Societies, with the most odious names; commanding them to condemn what they have done; endeavoring to flatter and cajole them into obedience; and intimating, not obscurely, what punishment he is able to inflict on them, if they continue in those practices. Their clergy have prohibited the people from receiving the Scriptures, which some Societies, from pity to their perishing souls, have gratuitously offered to them. They would not even allow their people to receive the Scriptures, printed according to their own approved translation, which was generously offered to them gratis, if the clergy would suffer it to be done. They have forbidden their people to send their children to those Schools which were opened, in the places of their residence, for the free education of youth. Some of those who continued to send their children to the Schools, contrary to their command, they have excommunicated in the most frightful forms. To what extent this opposition may be carried, and what effects it may produce, time only can declare; but in it we may see a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. It is such a sign, as it discovers the Popish church to be a kingdom of darkness, supported by ignorance; a kingdom of impiety, being enemies to the Holy Scriptures; a kingdom of cruelty, managed with tyranny; and a miserable kingdom, which is supported by the sufferings of men. It is also such a sign, because it proves, that bestowing education on men, and placing in their hands the word of God, are the means which are well calculated to destroy that perversion of Christianity which is the essence of their religion. A conviction of this must have induced them to venture upon such a public, unreasonable, and shameful opposition to an object, which must recommend itself to the approbation of every other rational creature. This opposition is a sign of the coming of Christ's kingdom, because it demonstrates the suitableness and efficacy of those means for introducing the reign of light, of truth and of righteousness, on the earth. We are, therefore, encouraged to hope that God will overrule this opposition, and use it as a mean for giving such discoveries to the nations of the evil of that idolatrous system, as will in due time constrain the people to forsake it, and induce their rulers to make it desolate and naked, to eat its flesh, and to burn it with fire.
8. The judgments which God has executed, and is still executing on the nations, are a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. Divine predictions assure us, that the nations must suffer the effects of the Lord's anger on account of their sin, before they can enjoy that peaceful and prosperous state which is contained in the promise. Before the conversion of the Jews, "there must be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that same time:" Dan. 12:1. It is Jehovah's determination to gather the nations, that he may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them his indignation, even all his fierce anger; and all the earth must be devoured with the fire of his jealousy, before he will turn to the people a pure language, that they may call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent. Zeph. 3:8,9. The judgments that are contained in the third wo must be executed on men, before the kingdom of this world shall become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ. Rev. 11:14,15. The seven vials of Divine wrath must be poured out upon the earth, before the Church shall be delivered completely from her Wilderness condition, or bring to an end her sackcloth prophecy:Rev. 16. The terrible war, which is signified by the slaughter of Armageddon, must be accomplished among men, before the Church can sing on the lovely heights of her Millennial Sion. These judgments are necessary for vindicating God's government; for fulfilling his holy word; for destroying his implacable enemies, and for trying and purifying his Church. A time of judgments has often been, by the Divine blessing, a season of good to mankind. As a time of private correction from the Divine hand, is frequently to believers a season of great spiritual good, so is it with the children of men in a day of public calamity. "When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness:" Isaiah 26:9. Since the Divine judgments must be poured out before the kingdom of God shall come, we may conclude that the execution of them will be a sign of its approach. All the nations that are principally concerned in the vials of wrath, have suffered in the most extraordinary manner, by the judgment of war and its various attendants, for more than twenty years. If we review in our minds the way in which this war commencedthe objects for which it was undertakenthe incessant and violent nature of the struggleits wide spreading circuit from nation to nationthe length of time in which it continuedthe desolations it brought on the earththe character of the nations and persons who were the greatest sufferersthe dreadful destruction of human lives which it accomplishedthe uncommon waste of national wealth which it occasionedthe manner in which it has terminatedand the effects it has produced on the nations that were involved in it, we will clearly see, that this season of war has been a time of recompenses for the controversy of Sion. As the Church is not yet delivered, as the Jews are not yet brought in, and as the Antichristian Church and her secular supporters, are not yet removed, we may be certain that the storm of judgments has not passed away. The greater and more dreadful part of the scene, remains yet to be acted. Since the Lord prefaces the account of the seventh vial with those remarkable words,"Behold I come as a thief,"there is reason to apprehend that it will approach suddenly, and when men are secure. This season of judgments that has passed over us, is another sign that the Millennial kingdom is near.
9. The tottering state of the throne of Antichrist, and of the thrones of some of the Antichristian princes, is a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. The Pope of Rome was lately dethroned, and was obliged to live as a wandering man, in solitude and degradation. The greater part of the kings who ruled in the Roman earth, were also driven from their thrones, and forced to seek shelter and protection in foreign lands. In these dispensations of Providence, He, by whom kings reign and princes decree justice, has given his Church an earnest, an emblem, and a presage of what he will finally accomplish on them, when the kingdom of God shall come. The Pope has now been restored to his civil power, to his ecclesiastic authority, and to his seat at Rome. For their exertions in order to his restoration and establishment, Protestant princes must give an account to Him who hath said,"Be ye not partakers of her sins, that ye receive not of her plagues." The less efficient exertions of Catholic princes for accomplishing this end, will no doubt procure their ruin, when they shall fall with him. The restored dynasties, civil and ecclesiastic, do not appear to have much stability; and this we are bound to consider as a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. With respect to the Pope, his power is weakenedhis revenues are impairedhis authority is despisedhis exertions are feeblehis spiritual kingdom is dividedand there is no very great security for his retaining his seat, or the exercise of his power. On him these words must soon have their accomplishment: "Whom God shall consume with the spirit of his month, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming." With violence shall he be thrown down, and shall be cast alive into destruction. With reference to the restored civil dynasties, as little stability seems to belong to them. Two of them, for the security of their thrones, seem to depend on the troops of foreign nations which occupy their territory. A third appears to be in danger of a revolt among his subjects at home, and is overwhelmed with a rebellion in a distant part of his dominions. A fourth is still in a distant part of his states, to which he was obliged to go for safety. There is as much difference between the present power of the Pope and of those Popish princes, and the power which they formerly were able to exert, as there is between the vigor of a person in the prime of his life, and that of a man, to whom, by age and debility, the grasshopper is a burden. In all those dispensations of Providence, by which God has weakened the power of his Church's enemies, we may see a sign that her deliverance and prosperity are drawing near.
10. The uncommon exertions which have lately been made to turn the attention of men to the Scripture predictions which relate to the Church's deliverance and to the fall of Antichrist, and to those Divine providences which seem to be a fulfillment of those predictions, are a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. This is mentioned as a sign of the time when all those things shall be fulfilled: "Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased:'' Dan. 12:4. It is a certain mark of the time of their end, when many persons are excited, in the providence of God, to employ their time and abilities in the investigation of Divine predictions, in the observation of Divine providences, and in the application of the one to the other, that they may know and declare to the church, how far inspired prophecy is accomplished, by the things that have come to pass in our days. During the last twenty-five years, many books of this description have been published, and several of them have been republished, with corrections and additions. Many of them have been very generally read, their contents have been carefully considered, and by their means, a great degree of knowledge on those important matters, has been extensively diffused. Though these publications do not possess equal merit, yet few or none of them have altogether failed in contributing something to our stock of knowledge on those interesting subjects. Some of them indeed have been excellent, and have, in a very high degree, attracted the public attention. The differences of opinion, on some important articles, which have been entertained by the authors, and the calm and manly discussions which those differences have occasioned, operated as a mean, to render our knowledge on those points more certain and correct. The progress of Divine Providence has contributed greatly to explain the predictions, and has enabled those authors to discern and to correct some mistakes, and to add some new and important discoveries. We are bound to consider those things as a sign that this happy season will soon arrive. Since God in his providence has employed so many, and has enabled some of them so well to accomplish the difficult work of explaining the predictions of his holy word, he is favoring Christians with suitable means to excite them to a proper concern for the coming of his kingdom; to give them an understanding of the nature and fulfillment of prophecy; to animate them to those duties which this state of things requires, and to stir them up to preparation and watchfulness, that those days of trial and deliverance may not come upon them unawares. As nothing similar to this, of the same extent, in the same variety, and with the same perspicuity of application to the operations of Divine Providence, has ever happened in the Christian Church, we will not be attentive to the Lord's tokens that he is setting in the midst of us, if we refuse to consider these occurrences as a sign of the coming of his kingdom.
11. The very general expectation which has been entertained by Christian professors, of the speedy coming of Christ's kingdom in its Millennial glory, is also a sign that it is at hand. When any signal mercy is bestowed on the Church, an expectation of it is often produced in the hearts of those who fear and serve the Lord. This is demonstrated by the exercise of the saints, both at the coming of Christ into the world, and at the deliverance of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon. When Christ was, for the first time, brought into the temple, it is said of Simeon,"That the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Ghost was upon him." Of Anna the prophetess, on the same occasion, it is said, that "she spake of Christ to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem." Besides these two eminent persons, there were others who expected Messiah's appearance at that time, and who looked for the Redeemer's coming. Luke 2:25-38. Concerning Joseph of Arimathea, that honorable counsellor, it is recorded, that "he waited for the kingdom of God:"Mark 15:44. He had an expectation raised in his soul, that Christ's kingdom, in its New Testament form, should be immediately setup. When the seventy years of the Jews' bondage were coming to an end, an expectation of deliverance, at that time, was entertained in the minds of the religious captives. As this is attested of Daniel, we may conclude that it was the hope of many others; as we must not suppose that he would keep to himself the discovery he had made, or conceal from his brethren the hope he had founded on it. "In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and with sackcloth and ashes:" Dan. 9:2,3. As there was an expectation of deliverance from their captivity excited in some of the Jewish captives, which hope was a sign that their liberation was drawing near; and as there were many pious Jews at the day of Christ's incarnation, and in the time of his public ministry, who looked for redemption in Israel, and waited for the kingdom of God, as a sign that the Redeemer was come to accomplish the work of our redemption, and to establish the Gospel kingdom in the earth; so when there is a very general expectation existing in the minds of those who fear God, that Christ's kingdom, in her Millennial glory, is soon to be established in the earth, we may consider it as a sign that this blessed deliverance is at hand. If the nature of this expectation, its extent among Christians, and the ground on which they rest their hope, are duly considered, it will appear to be an unquestionable sign, that the desired object is near. It is not a mere speculative opinion, or a bare conjecture; but it is a religious hope, founded on the Divine promises, creating in them an earnest desire that God, for the glory of his name, and in mercy to immortal souls, would speedily send his Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth. This hope is also become very general among Christians, and multitudes of them are now looking for redemption to the Church, and waiting for the kingdom of God. The ground of their hope is the same with that of Daniel. Like that holy prophet, they understand by the books of inspired prophecy, that the number of the years which God would accomplish in the desolations of his Church, is now coming to an end. The existence, therefore, of such an expectation in those who are truly religious and well informed, is a sign that the Millennial day is at hand.
12. The prayers and thanksgivings that are offered to God for success to the means of accomplishing this great work, and the very liberal contributions which have been made for supporting them, by Christians of every denomination and of every land, are a sign that this kingdom of God is at hand. As it is the duty, we ought to believe it has been the exercise of Christians, to offer to God fervent prayers for the progress of this great work, in time to come, and to give him thanks for the success of it in time that is past. Something of great importance has already been done. An opening has been made into the kingdom of darkness. Light has begun to shine among men. Great exertions have been made, and much success has attended them. For these, let us bring our sacrifices of praise into the house of the Lord. There is reason to hope that Christians are not negligent in this important duty. Every degree of success that has attended the endeavors which have been employed to circulate the Scriptures, to preach the Gospel, or to promote education among men, is entirely of God; for it is He alone who gives the increase. But as this great work is only at its beginning, there is much need also for prayer. When the Lord intends to bestow a blessing on the church, he usually pours out his Spirit on her members, constraining them to cry mightily at the throne of grace for that blessing. Respecting this important concern, such, we hope, is the dispensation of God to his people, and such is their exercise before him.Prayers in secret, in private, and in public; prayer by concert,2 and without it; prayers stated and occasional, we have reason to believe, are offered to God by Christians everywhere, and of every profession, for the advancement of his kingdom in the world. This may be considered as a sign that the day of the Redeemer's triumph is near. Oh that Christians would abound more and more in these duties! The extraordinary contributions which have been made for supporting this wonderful work, are a sign of the same thing. On no former occasion, was there ever so much of the property of man devoted to purposes of this kind, as there has been during the last twenty years. Multitudes of persons of both sexespersons in every stationpersons of every agepersons of every religious professionand persons in almost every nation, have contributed of their substance for those purposes, and have consecrated part of their gain to the God of the whole earth. Contemplating the various plans which have been adopted for the religious instruction of men; considering the labors that have been undergone in executing them, and calculating the vast sums which the liberality of Christians has provided for supporting them, we may say, with wonder and praise, it is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. However numerous and grand their objects have been, and however expensive, they have still been supported by those free contributions; and, it is hoped, they will continue to receive efficient support, till, through their instrumentality, the world shall be enlightened, and the Millennial day shall dawn.
Some reflections from what has been said on this part of the subject, must be subjoined.
1. The wants of the unenlightened nations are many and great. They want the word of Godthe preaching of the Gospel, and the other ordinances of Divine grace. They want the knowledge of the God of salvation, of Christ who is the purchaser, and of the Spirit who is the applier of that salvation. They want the knowledge of the covenant of works, by the breach of which the human family have been brought into a state of sin and misery, and the covenant of grace, of which Jesus is the Mediator and Surety; and which is all the salvation and desire of them who believe. They want regenerating and converting grace; justification into the favor, adoption into the family, and sanctification into the moral image of God. Without these, their condition must be deplorable, their lives immoral, and their end misery forever. They want faith in Jesus Christ, and repentance of sin, unto spiritual and eternal life.These blessings, according to the ordinary and appointed dispensation of Divine grace, are bestowed upon men, only by means of the word and ordinances. As their wants are many, so they are exceeding great. What human wants are to be compared with those which are spiritual and eternal? "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or, what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" To those who are Christians indeed, but not to those who are such only in profession, will the wants of the darkened nations appear in all their magnitude and variety. Though the unconverted persons among the enlightened nations, labor under numerous and important wants, yet enjoying the revelation of grace, the offers of Christ, the promise of the Spirit, and the command to believe, they are not without hope in the world; but the heathen are destitute of these. Let their situation impress our minds, and fill our souls with pity.
2. The means that are now used for supplying the wants of the darkened nations, possess a suitableness and a fullness for answering that end. The word of Godthe preaching of the Gospelthe schools for educationthe circulation of evangelic catechisms and tractsand the various opportunities for their improvement which necessarily accompany their enjoyment of them, constitute that system of means which is now employed for accomplishing this great end. The human mind cannot conceive any means that are better adapted to their religious improvement. How suited are they to enlighten their minds, to renew their hearts, to rectify their conduct, and to train up the youth in the ways of the Lord! There is also a fullness, or perfection, in those means. If this system is considered, it will not be easy to conceive of any thing that can render it more complete. Reading and hearing the word, meditation, conversation and prayer, are connected with their enjoying the Scriptures, and evangelic catechisms and religious tracts. Public preaching and hearing the gospel, prayer, praise, and other ordinances of worship, accompany their enjoyment of the Christian ministry. Reading, hearing, catechising, occasional explanations, exhortation and prayer, belong to the exercises in the schools. Besides, the private intercourse that must subsist between the preachers and their people, the teachers and their scholars, and the people who are privileged with those means, among themselves and with others, must be of vast advantage to their religious and moral improvement. All these things taken together, form a most complete system of means for supplying the wants of the darkened parts of the earth. Who would not desire, that since it is so perfect in its nature, it were more perfect in its extent? These constitute the grand engine which God hath instituted, and which Christians are now employing, for the illumination of the benighted world.
3. The success that has attended the application of those means, is sufficient to encourage Christians to persevere in the use of them. Their attempts have not been fruitlessthe means have not been blastednor has their labor been in vain. They have been instrumental already of much good. They have had great success, both in providing and in applying the means. They have had this success in the publication of the Scripturesin the evangelic missionsin the circulation of tractsand in the schools. In those operations, this success has attended them both at home and in foreign nations. What a multitude of Bibles, in many languages, have now been printed and circulated in the world! They have the prospect, as certain as human contrivance and exertion can make it, of publishing a much greater quantity in the space of a few years. The evangelic missions are prospering, their number is increasing, and their success is great in the Lord. The schools are also prospering exceedingly; and they will soon be brought into operation in places where they have not formerly existed, and where their salutary effects have never been enjoyed. These are promising appearances, (the particular facts I cannot here detail,) and they should stimulate Christians to the most vigorous exertions, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of their God.
4. The object that Christians are endeavoring to accomplish among the nations, by their extraordinary and united exertions, is great and glorious. The excellency of an object adds dignity to the means, and spreads a lustre over the exertions that are made, by the use of the means for accomplishing it. To no other object can this truth more truly apply, than to that which is now before us. To deliver mankind from their present state of darkness, idolatry, alienation from God, gross immorality, and at last, from everlasting misery; and to bring them to the knowledge of the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent. May I not express it in the Redeemer's own words to Paul? "To open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive the forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me:" Acts 26:18. Their object contains something which is still higher than this. The object in view is to promote the glory of the God of salvation in the earth; to exalt the Savior's honor among men; to be instrumental in accomplishing God's gracious purposes, and in fulfilling the predictions of his word; and to give occasion to the holy angels to raise the celestial song, and an opportunity to contemplate those objects among men which they desire, with holy delight, to took into. The object to be attained by those means, is the demolition of the kingdom of Satan in the world, and the erection and establishment of Christ's kingdom on its ruin; that God may be glorified, and that sinners may be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation. Such is the object that Christians have in view, and such shall be the effects of its accomplishment. It is, therefore, great and glorious. Who would not desire to have some concern in effecting it?
5. When the Lord is working, in his Providence, for the illumination of the Gentiles, he is not unmindful of his ancient and peculiar people, the Jews. He is also making provision for them. Among their dry bones are begun a noise and shaking, which will terminate in their spiritual resurrection. Some of them are active members in some Bible Societies. Some of them are searching the New Testament in their original language, so far as it has advanced. Not a few of them have turned to Christianity in other nations, and hopes are entertained of many more. The present exertions of Christians in printing the Scriptures, have excited in some of them the hope of their Messiah's speedy appearance. In this hope they will not be disappointed; though he may come in a way that they do not expect. In all these things, it is evident that God is remembering them in their low estate, for his mercy endureth forever; and that he will deliver them from the hand of their enemies, for his mercy endureth forever.
6. The Divine government is truly wonderful, and his agency is brightly displayed in those new and strange operations. "All things are of God," not in creation only, but also in Providence and grace. This agency of God the prophet describesHag. 1:14: "And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Josedech the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God." In the existence, operations and success of the Bible Societies, the evangelic missions, the school societies, the tract societies, and the attempts to awaken the Jews, He has exerted the same supernatural influence on the spirits of men. By turning the attention of men to those great objects; enabling them to devise schemes for accomplishing them; putting it into the hearts of multitudes to contribute of their substance for their support; disposing the minds of many to engage in laborious services for bringing those plans into operation, encouraging and assisting them in their arduous work, and by giving to those schemes extraordinary increase, he has stirred up the spirits of men to come, and to work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God. Some have thought it wonderful that these schemes have not been devised, and those attempts made, at a more early period; and viewing them in one light, it may be true; but, considering them as the fruit of Divine agency, and as the ordering of Divine wisdom, we may be assured that they have been brought into existence at the most seasonable, because at the appointed time. They are all the execution of his decree, the fulfillment of his word, and the effects of his special providence concerning the Redeemer's Church. Let us ascribe to the Lord the glory of their being, activity, and success; and trust in him for their continuance and prosperity, till all nations shall submit to the sceptre of Christ.
7. There is a duty incumbent on Christians with respect to those endeavors that are now made to enlighten and convert to true Christianity, the nations of the earth. As this is a work for the accomplishment of which the Lord must make bare his arm, or exert his power, prayer to him for this blessing, must be our indispensable duty. The first three petitions in our Lord's prayer, all bear upon this most important object: "Hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." O, therefore, let us cry to the Lord, in every prayer of ours, that he would enlighten the world, erect his kingdom on the earth, and bless the means that are, or may be employed to promote those ends. As great labor must be performed in carrying on this work, much expense must be incurred: it is, therefore, the duty of Christians to contribute cheerfully for defraying it. Our lot is fallen in a time when Christians are called, according to their religious attainments and worldly substance, to contribute, by fervent prayers and liberal donations, for promoting this great work of God. Some persons may incline to support one, some another, some more than one, and some even all of those societies. Of his duty in this matter, let every Christian be fully persuaded in his own mind, and perform it faithfully as in the sight of God. On a particular occasion, Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast in money into it, and many who were rich cast in much. He beheld a certain poor widow deposit her two mites in the Lord's treasury, and gave her a peculiar commendation. The omniscient Jesus still sits over against the treasury to observe who contribute, and if their contributions for the relief of the poor, and for the promotion of his kingdom in the world, are proportioned to his providential bounty to them, and are made from proper motives. Since God has assured us his kingdom shall come; since he is giving us signs that it is at hand; since so many means are applied in our day to promote its increase and establishment among men, and since we have calls and opportunities to glorify God with our substance, "let all that be round about him, bring presents to him, that ought to be feared."
8. Time, sufferings, and the increase of knowledge in the world, have not produced any favorable alteration in the system of Popery, or in the principles and conduct of its supporters. When God gives men space to repent, and they do not turn from their evil ways, but still persist in their iniquity, their sin is greatly aggravated, and their condemnation will be more awful. When he corrects men for their iniquity, and they still continue in their rebellion, peculiar criminality attaches to their disobedience.When men enjoy the means of improvement, and harden themselves in their opposition to God, they render their sin exceeding sinful, and expose themselves to the righteous judgments of God. All these things may be applied to Antichrist and his votaries. They have enjoyed much time to consider their ways, they have been sorely chastised, and means of information have been administered to them abundantly; "but they repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood, which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk. Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornications, nor of their thefts." They are still mad upon their idol worship, and adhere to all their Antichristian errors. Cruelty, tyranny, and persecution, still characterize their administrations. The most wicked decrees of their former councils are still the rule of their government, and their abominable traditions, equally with the Scriptures, if not above them, are the rule of their faith. That most cruel and wicked court, the Inquisition, is again in full operation in many Popish countries. That most destructive order of their clergy, the Jesuits, have been again restored to existence in that church.Their enmity at the Holy Scriptures is still manifested clearly. The bulls of the Pope against Bible Societies, are a proof of this. Besides, that Popish power which is the image of the Roman Empire, has prohibited the entrance and sale of Bibles from foreign Societies, in some parts of his dominions. In these ways they are increasing their guilt, and hastening their terrible fall.
9. For accomplishing his merciful and righteous purposes, the great God performs very different works among men, at the same time. Of this, the providences of God to the nations, during the last twenty-five years, are a satisfactory demonstration. Those years have been a season of Divine judgments unto men. The cup of God's anger has gone round among the nations, and has produced such effects as should cause our souls to remember the wormwood and the gall of those calamities, and be humbled in us. But in those very years, that glorious and Divine work, of which we have been speaking, has had its origin and a part of its progress. When the councils of the nations were deliberating about war and conquest, many bodies of Christians were consulting about the means of sending the word of God and the Gospel of Christ through the world. When the armies of the nations were attacking one another, and the confused noise of the warrior was heard, and garments rolled in blood were seen, the societies of Christians were "wrestling against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." When the Lord was threshing the nations in his anger, He was at the same time giving birth and energy to a complete work, by which spiritual darkness shall be dispelled, and the whole earth shall be lightened with his glory. These two dispensations of God shall contribute in different ways, to accomplish the same end. This simultaneous movement of Divine providence stamps both dispensations with peculiar grandeur and significancy. It hath pleased him, at the very time when he poured the vials of his wrath upon the earth, to send forth his word and Gospel, the rod of the Redeemer's strength, into all the earth, that his people may be made willing in the day of his power. Since God has put the means for enlightening the world into activity at that time, when he seems to be pouring out on the nations the vials of wrath, it encourages our hope, that these means shall introduce the glory of the latter-day. Since he has brought those sad calamities on the earth, at the very time when he stirred up the minds of Christians to exert themselves, in an extraordinary way, for the conversion of the world, it strengthens our belief that those judgments are destined for the destruction of Antichrist. As there was a long preparation for the rise of Popery, in the Church's gradual defection from the truth and purity of Christianity; so there shall be a long preparation for the Millennial day, in the continued use of the means which are now in operation. As the Church still grew worse and worse till the man of sin was placed in his seat, so those means shall become more and more efficient, and our signs shall brighten, till the Millennial day shall break upon the world. Let Christians then work, and wait, and pray, and hope; let them cast out their anchors, and wish for the day; for God's combined operations of mercy and judgment may assure them, that his kingdom, in her Millennial glory, is at hand.
1. Although it is now evident that our author was incorrect in his application of certain scriptural predictions to the events of his day, the following discourse may yet be found useful to those interested in eschatological studies. As he himself indicates, Mason's day was one of intense interest in this subject, accompanied with a real expectation of the fulfillment of the events herein contemplated, and that by many of those who were theologically orthodox. His high praise of the endeavors of Bible societies and other institutions are indeed most liberal and flow from a sincere desire to see their end accomplished in the enlightening of those parts of the earth that then remained in darkness. It is, however, frightening to consider how wrong Mason was with regard to these institutions and the missionary efforts of his day, and the end to which they would come. Today, 170 years later, we find those nations once enlightened to be themselves again covered in darkness, and those institutions then useful in the promotion of the Gospel, now the ministers of ignorance and unbelief through the promotion of the false gospel of Arminianism. When once a Christian might have hoped of these societies and the Presbyterian missionary efforts of the 1800's, that their strengthening would necessarily increase the reign of Truth in this world, we find today that the attempt to strengthen modern missionary endeavours will, for the most part, be found nothing but a lending of the hand to those who "compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, make him twofold more the child of hell than themselves" (Matt. 23.15.), by deceptively cloaking the Covenant of Works under which he already stands, with the Arminian gospel of salvation by "grace" conditioned upon his free-will or something else to be contributed by himself;thus puffing him up in a vain confidence in the flesh. (Phil. 3.3.) This false gospel, coupled with the false worship of human and satanic invention so prominent even among modern "Presbyterians" may actually be in some way owing to these and the like societies, who, disobedient to Christ, yoked Gospel-Believers with those of other faiths, as Methodists, Episcopalians, and Baptists, to attain their own ends at the expense of the Truth of that Bible they so heartily sought to promote. Mason was, however, correct in looking upon the spread of Bibles and Evangelic literature as a preparatory means of enlightening the nations; and his observations of this nature are an example to us today who should both watch for and pray to God that he would provide Preachers of His Gospel and Ministers of His Truth to carry the Testimony of Jesusthe power of God unto salvationthroughout the nations; by which Antichrist shall be consumed (2 Thess. 2.8.) and the Church of Jesus Christ shall be brought to that condition contemplated in these three discourses.
2. By "prayer by concert," Mr. Mason is referring to the practice of orderly praying in turn during the meeting of religious fellowships;not to be confused with the modern "prayer concerts" of those babblers who seek to impress God with vain repetitions and the disorderly offering of many prayers at once upon the altars of the high places.