Second part of Sermon XVII for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany.
1 St. John iii. 1-8. St. Matthew xxiv.
And now, little children, abide in Him; that, when He shall
appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.—1
(for the first part, on the Epistle.)
...And now, after the Epistle has exhorted us to that strength and
light which may be within, the Gospel informs us of those dangers which
will be without, ill this our time of waiting; such as will be the forerunners
of that great and last appearing,—meteor lights before the dawn, which
will imitate the bright and Morning Star.
Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there,
believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets,
and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible,
they shall deceive the very elect. Therefore, “signs and wonders”
are not to he trusted, not to be relied upon or looked to, for they will
come with all deceivableness and power of seduction, so that it will not
be possible for any to escape their influence, except the elect of God.
And, therefore, holiness of life can alone afford safety or ensure knowledge
of the truth. They that obey the truth shall love it, and they that love
it shall understand. They that seek shall find; and if aught be wanting,
God shall reveal even this unto them, if they wait on Him in watching and
prayer. There shall be “false Christs and false prophets;” a woman shall
sit with a golden cup of bewitching power, of which the nations shall drink;
“seducing spirits” shall go forth, many and manifold as the ways of error.
But there is One Mediator once revealed, one way of salvation, one faith
once delivered to the saints.
Behold, says He, Whose words are life, I have told you before.
Wherefore, if they shall say unto you, Behold, He is in the desert; go
not forth: behold, He is in the secret chambers; believe it not. Unholy
curiosity was in the fall of our first parents, and is since mingled with
most temptations. Many will say, “Who will show us any good ?" but our
answer will be to God in prayer, beseeching Him to lift up on us the light
of His countenance. It will not be “Search and look;” nor will it be “Come
and see,” as it was when Christ appeared of old, on the mountain with the
multitudes, or with His disciples in the house. But where there is great
pretension, the warning is, “Go not forth;” and “Believe it not.” In every
place may there be patient waiting for Christ; in every place may His Presence
be found preparing the heart for the great manifestation of Himself; in
every place may the gracious lesson of this day’s Epistle be fulfilled
in those who, by patient well-doing, seek for immortality. For His coming
shall not he local, circumscribed, or partial. For as the lightning
cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west, so shall the coming
of the Son of Man be. Marvellous was the speed in the first spread
of His Gospel, when its light and its sound went forth into all lands.
But far more marvellous shall be His final manifestation of Himself,—sudden,
swift, all-pervading, all-penetrating, and ubiquitous. For wheresoever
the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together. He that
hath bade the eagle to be present “where the slain are,” (Job xxxix. 29,
30) and “her eyes to behold afar off;” He that hath made His ministering
spirits to be at hand when Lazarus dies; He Himself, with all His angels,
will be at hand when the earth shall be corrupt and dead, and call down
the vengeance of the last fire; and the angel shall say to the reaper that
sitteth on the cloud, “Thrust in thy sickle,” "for the harvest of the earth
is ripe.” (Rev. xiv. 15)
For the earth shall again appear “without form and void,” “darkness
on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God” moving "on the face of
the waters.” It shall be as one dead after the great agony of her last
struggle shall have passed; and then shall His appearing be as of the eagle
which from afar off hath seen the slain. 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. That is, all things shall be worthy
of that coming, of awe and magnitude suited to it, on a scale and with
terrors adequate to the occasion so vast, when Christ, God and Man, shall
appear in His own glory, and that of His Father, and of the holy angels,
to assign to all men that have lived an everlasting portion of Heaven or
Hell; but to each individual soul its own interest and concern on that
day will be so great, that the consternation and shaking of the heavenly
bodies, and the extinction of their light, will be as nothing to him,—unnoticed,
unthought of, uncared for. And therefore, even now, it were folly to speculate
on the mode of such fulfilments; rather let us labour in. the preparation
of the heart and life to meet that unavoidable and approaching hour.
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in Heaven; then
shall there be some full and clear indication of who it is that comes,
in distinction and contrast to every former occasion of His coming, of
which the Epiphany has been in some sense and in some degree in secret;
but now it shall be the sign visible and unmistakeable in unquestioned
manifestation, and that in Heaven, as visible and extensive as the sky
over our heads. And then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; not
Jerusalem only, (Zech. xii. 12.) but all nations shall acknowledge Him
that was crucified, with feelings suited to the Cross and Passion of God
and Man suffering to save mankind. Oh, Cross of Christ, the savour
of life and of death, some shall mourn at beholding thee with a godly sorrow,
some in confusion of face.
And they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of Heaven,
with power and great glory. They shall “see” Him, each individual for
himself, with a close and particular manifestation, according to that mysterious
vision of the bodily sight of which Job speaks. “In my flesh shall I see
God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.”
(Job xix. 26, 27) They shall see Him in power, in distinction from that
weakness in which He was crucified; and in glory, as contrasted with His
former humiliation. They shall see Him, but with feelings how utterly different
! some with delight and joy inexpressible shall come to know the life-giving
and beatific vision of God; but others in shame and amazement shall behold
in Him the wrath of the Lamb.
And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and
they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end
of Heaven to the other. Some ask what is the nature of these angels,
and what is this trumpet which is to sound, and what shall this gathering
be? Trifling and unworthy inquiries; for hew are they all swallowed up
in that one great overwhelming concern,—shall we be of that number which
shall then be gathered in? Shall I be, O my soul? Shall I,—when
I come indeed to know what that trumpet-sound is of which the Truth hath
spoken, and what those angels are,—shall I then find myself numbered in
that in-gathering? Or shall I find myself, O sad and terrible thought!
shall I then find myself for the first time omitted among the saints? left
out, left behind ! and ask by surprise why it is? The more thou art
now affected by the possibility of this, by the consequence of it, by the
certainty that it shall be either this way or that, either gathered in
or omitted, the more safe wilt thou he from that last terrible alternative.
O my soul, what art thou about, what art thou doing at this present time,
which will have a bearing upon that? Are the thoughts of thine heart and
the works of thine hands such as day by day make thee less likely to be
“ashamed before Him at His coming”? Are thy prayers as deep and earnest,
as fervent and frequent as the occasion requires? O my soul, art
thou pure? art thou purifying thyself, as He is pure, with the hope of
that His appearing? or does this exhortation sound unto thee as some strange
thing which concerneth the saints, but not thyself? O my soul, what
art thou? as a little drop of dew sparkling in the morning sun, but soon
to vanish away, such is thy stay below,—one drop, like thyself, another
little drop, and then again another about thee, yea, thousands on every
side, have got up and gone; and thou art going even yet, even yet art going,
yet trembling for a moment on the edge of that unutterable change!
O my soul, what art thou doing?