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The Scriptures Bearing Witness.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. I. Advent to Whitsuntide 

Rivingtons, London, 1875 [New Edition.]

Second part of Sermon II. for the Second Sunday in Advent.
 Rom. xv. 4-13.    St. Luke xxi. 25-33.
Whatsoever things were written aforetime, were written for our learning; that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.—ROM. xv. 4.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.
...And thus does the Epistle end as it begins with hope, as resting on the Scriptures, as strengthened by the fulfilment of them, as imparted by the God of all hope; and this hope is that “blessed hope” of seeing Christ soon return, and of being accepted in Him. 

And surely such hope we need, and all the strength with which the Scriptures and the God of all consolation can afford to support us, when from looking back to what has already bean fulfilled, we turn our eyes and look forward to those fearful things of which the Gospel for to-day speaks, and the coming on of which we may now expect.

It was a few days before our Lord’s death, when He was walking up the Mount of Olives, after teaching in the Temple for the last time, that He turned and looked on Jerusalem, and then sitting down there with four of His disciples, He spoke to them of its fall, and of the great end of all things, and His own return to judgment.

And there shall be signs, says our Lord, as St. Luke gives the account, in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of Heaven shall be shaken. Now what is signified by this description of the terrible signs which will mark the approach of the Great Day? Holy Scripture always, even unto the end, speaks of the sun, moon, and stars, the earth and the sea, thus shaking and being changed at its coming. But are these expressions to be understood literally? or are they intended as a figurative mode of describing something equally terrible of another kind? For it might be said that the first coming of Christ was represented by figures, such as mountains being made low, valleys exalted, and crooked ways being made straight; which signified the proud being humbled, the poor being raised up, and unrighteous dealings being corrected; so it might be said that the Sun might signify Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, Which is hidden from the world, from faith failing, and that the moon is the Church which shines by His Light; and the stars falling might well signify good men or Churches being let fall from Christ’s hand to the ground. Now it is not for us to decide in what way these prophecies will be fulfilled, we must wait and abide the time; when the time is come good men will see and understand. It may be that these things will take place literally; or it may be not literally, but spiritually: or it may be in both ways.  But of this we are assured from many passages throughout the Scriptures, that there will be a time unlike anything which yet has been; “the great tribulation,” as it is called; the great trial of men. After which these signs will be. It is spoken of as the time of the great enemy of God who is called Antichrist, that he will draw away almost the whole world from Christ; that he will come “with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish.” And not only this, but that he will have the power of outward signs and miracles, “lying wonders,” so as to deceive, if it were possible, even the elect. That Satan will then be unloosed for a short season to deceive the nations. Now it may be that all this falling away from God, which will bring down the vengeance of the last fire, may be accompanied with these fearful sights in the natural world— the sun, moon, and stars—nature itself being moved, and the whole visible universe giving signs; or it may be that these are only used as symbols to describe the Christian world falling away from God.. For this would be in fact in His eyes far more fearful than any visible shaking of the heavenly powers.. For the value of one soul is in God’s sight far greater than that of any material world. But this we know, that the words of Scripture never go beyond the truth, and that our conceptions always fall short of it; the great realities when fulfilled are mightier and more important than any figures which describe them. No man ever yet could understand in what way a prophecy of God would be fulfilled before it comes to pass; but when it does happen, then it is exact and wonderful in its accomplishment beyond all thought; and good men, taught by the Spirit, read in the events that come to pass the language of God. Let us therefore keep close to the very words and literal meaning of Scripture until time shall throw light upon them, and God shall enable us to interpret the writing.

And then, it is added, that is in the midst of these fearful commotions, then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When charity has grown cold, when faith is failing, when Christ seems to have deserted His Church and His faithful few, then shall He be suddenly seen in full manifestation. This is always our comfort and strength in a thousand lesser matters; that when things appear at the worst God is wont to intervene; and not only this, but they who in earnest faith and prayer look to Him in their trials are sure to find some tokens of His presence, so that they know they are not deserted, but feel assured that He will again appear as the Sun coming forth from behind the clouds. This seeing of Christ, this beholding Him with our eyes returning, is a point on which great stress is laid throughout the Scriptures.

And when these things, says our Lord, begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh. This is spoken more especially to those who shall be in the midst of that great trouble; they will be cast down, their heads hanging to the ground; and therefore He says to them, “Then look up, lift up your heads, your deliverance is at hand.” One of the greatest consolations to a humble Christian is this, that although the last day shall overtake men unawares throughout the whole world, yet it shall not be so with him. St. Paul says, “Ye are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” The Prophet Daniel, speaking of the same, says, “the wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand.” (Dan. xii. 10.) And here our Lord Himself says, that His faithful disciples even at the last shall know the signs of His coming, and shall be comforted thereby. The troubles so terrible shall be to them like death itself is to a good Christian, awful, indeed, but with tokens of Christ’s approach, and therefore full of consolation, Thus also when our Lord appears after His Ascension to St. John in the Revelation, He sends His promise to this faithful remnant which shall stand under the great temptation,—shall stand for the same reason which is given us in the Lesson of to-day, that they abide stedfast through “patience” of the Scriptures. To the humble Church of Philadelphia He says, “For thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My words, and hast not denied My Name. 

I will make them to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” (Rev. iii. 10.)

And this knowledge of the signs our Lord yet more distinctly describes. And He spake to them a parable, Behold the fig-tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. And by the same parable does our Lord speak to His Bride the Church in the Song of Solomon: “Lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” 

Many and various are the signs of approaching summer, and manifold in like manner will be the tokens of Christ’s last Advent which the good will notice; will notice with joy and comfort, as a sick man does the coming on of summer. O day of great joy! O day of great sorrow! when wilt thou appear? how many have looked and longed for thee, as they that wait for the dawn of the morning, and have been gathered in hope into the chambers of death, and the doors shut about them till the great tyranny be overpast? O day of great confusion! O day of great order and righteousness No light bath been as the light of that day will be: no darkness we know of will be like that which it brings. O day of great reality and truth! all things are shadows and dreams when compared to thee; and the falling of sun, moon, and stars, in the great tribulation, will be but as a light affliction which is but for a moment compared with thee, like clouds that break away when the sun appears. The world passes on and changes, but the Word of God still abides, pointing as with a finger immoveable unto that Day, that Day of Days. That “generation,” the Jews to whom our Lord spake, still go about the world as His witnesses, as if saying, that destruction which, He foretold came on us, and we continue to point out to the end that which He at the same time foretold will come on the Nations also in its appointed season. (St. Matt. xxiv. 34.)

Verily, I say unto you, said our Lord on this great occasion, when He sat on the Mount of Olives and looked on Jerusalem, and described its fall and the end of all things in the same discourse, Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled: heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away. Blessed is he who labours more and more to wean his heart from all things which we behold in Heaven and earth, and makes his rest and stay only on the Word of God, which abideth for ever. In that Word is “the God of hope,” “the God of patience and consolation ;“ “therefore will we not fear, though the earth be moved; and though the hills be carried into the midst of the sea.” “The Lord of Hosts is with us: the God of Jacob is our refuge.” (Psalm xlvi. 2. 7.)