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1. The tendencies of the age. There must be marked and striking, not obscure and insignificant; and they must be wide-spread, not narrow and provincial, especially not merely local.
2. The facts of the times. There must be certain and indubitable, not doubtful and impeachable; and, further, they must be extensive in their scope, not circumscribed as to the sphere of their occurrence.
Our observation must sweep the horizon all around, and must read the whole face of the sky.
3. Our study must be directed to these tendencies and facts alike in the world and in the church.
Such are at least some of the leading qualifications which constitute a condition precedent to a correct discernment of the signs of the times, the materials for forming a judgment, and the scope of our observation.
III. Something must be said in answer to the questions—what is the future event to which these signs are believed to point? What are their relations and bearings? What is our standard of judgment in our effort to discern them? and, What is the precise end aimed at in this discourse?
1. The great future event to which the signs of the times are believed to point is the beginning of the Millennium,—a period to be characterized by certain distinctive features, such as the extrusion of the Devil' from this world for a thousand years, and the reintroduction of his influence at the close of that period; the cessation of war and the universal prevalence of peace; the general outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the nations; the restoration of the Jews and the Israelites to their own land, and their conversion to Christianity and incorporation into the Christian Chuch as the true and full development of their own ancient church; the
overthrow of Mohammedanism and its elimination from the world; the downfall and utter destruction and passing away of the Papal apostasy; the obliteration of Paganism with all its hydra-headed idolatry; the banishment from the world of all false forms of Christianity and all manifestations of infidelity in its protean shapes; the suppression of all that can be called Antichrist, either organized or personal; and the universal reign of Christ with the subjection of all kings, organizations and nations to Him. This is the future period, the introduction of which is the event to which the signs of the present time are pointing.
Its beginning, however, will, the Scriptures inform us, be preceded by a great tribulation to the world involving revolutions, disorganizations and conflicts on a gigantic scale, culminating in “the battle of that great day of God Almighty”—the battle of Armageddon. When one period is passing into another, it does not lapse gently into it by a process of assimilation, as a river peacefully flows into a calm, bright ocean; but as a ship crossing a stormy bar in order to reach the blue harbor beyond, it effects the change with a catastrophe of dislocation which the Scriptures characterize as a shaking. Thus the Ante-diluvian period made its transition to the Noachian through a cataclysm which nearly destroyed the race. The pre-Jewish period passed into the Jewish with a mighty shaking of the Egyptian and other opposing powers. The Jewish gave way to the Christian with throes which shook down the Jewish church-state and polity. The Reformation was introduced with convulsions which shook Europe, and shook down the Papal church in several parts of that continent. And so, the present period of the Christian dispensation will accomplish
the change to the Millennial with a prodigious shaking —through unprecedented conflicts, the toppling down of hoary systems, and the crash of “thrones, principalities and powers.” It is a law that changes from one great dispensation or period to another are accompanied by upheavals that unhinge the customary order of things. The signs of our times point ultimately to the introduction of the Millennium, proximately to the period of great trouble which will forerun it.
2. What are the relations and bearings of the signs of the times as here considered? The answer is, that they are contemplated as relating to and bearing upon the cause and kingdom of Christ, the Mediatorial Sovereign, the Saviour and Monarch of Zion, and the King of kings and Lord of lords. They are not viewed in their merely secular relations and bearings.
3. What is our standard of judgment in our effort to discern them? The reply is, the Word of God, and more especially the prophetical Scriptures. There is no other standard possible. Our appeal is to the Law and the Testimony. Here Christ himself gives us the history, past and future, of His own kingdom on this earth which he purchased and marked with His blood. Men pompously talk of the philosophy of history. They do but babble. The only philosophy of history worth the name is that found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. History apart from this key is a mere set of chronicles. "So Tibni died, and Omri reigned.” So Babylon died, and Greece reigned. So Greece died, and Rome reigned. So Rome Pagan died, and Rome ecclesiastical reigned. What does it all amount to? Nothing, but a long series of failures due to sin, unless the kingdom of Christ be the end. All has been but a preparation for the dominion of Him
who is destined to reign-as no mortal has yet reigned
- from sea to sea and from pole to pole. Wearing upon his brow a manifold crown blazing with the blended lustre of every gem, and seated upon the throne of world-wide empire, Jesus shall gather up into the hands that were nailed to the tree the threads of universal history. Here history will meet its unity. The Bible is the statute-book of His kingdom and the history of its development. This is our standard of judgment.
4. What is the end aimed at in this discourse? It scarcely needs remark that it is to show, that the signs of the times indicate the approach of those critical changes which will usher in the period of Christ's Millennial reign.
IV. Let us begin with the signs of the times in the world at large.
1. Notice the status of the great Eastern and Western apostasies from Christianity-Mohammedanism and Popery. And let it be remembered that our standard of comparison is the prophecies of Scripture. To each of these systems these prophecies assign a living period of 1260 years. It must here be assumed—what is wellnigh universally conceded, and what could easily be proved, did time permit—that 1260 “days” of prophecy are 1260 years. It must also be assumed-for the time allotted to this discourse is limited—what is also generally admitted, that the 1260 years apply both to the career of Mohammedanism and that of the Papacy. Let one study the book of Revelation and he will probably be convinced of this.1
For a fuller discussion of this interesting subject see "Appendix to the Discussion of Romanism” in Discussions of Theological Questions by the author, page 228.
The forty and two months of Daniel are 1260 years. Multiply forty-two by thirty-the average number of days to a month, and you have 1260. Daniel's time, times and a half are probably also 1260 years.
The great difficulty experienced in regard to this period of 1260 years has been in fixing the date from which it began to run. On the supposition that Mohammedanism and Popery commenced their ascendency at about the same time this difficulty vanishes. For profane history definitely informs us that Mohammed was born in 570, that he retired into the cave of Hera in 606, and that the Hegira or his removal from Mecca to Medina occurred in 622. Taking this latest date of 622 as the point of departure, the 1260 years expired in 1882, and that is now nearly 10 years past.
How does this bear upon the times of the Papacy? Not alone because of the assumption that the beginnings of the careers of the two systems were synchronous, but chiefly because of the fact, that the fifth vial of Revelation poured out on the seat of the beast precedes in time the sixth vial discharged upon the Euphrates and effecting its drying up. It is significant that, according to that representation in the Apocalypse, Rome is fatally damaged before Mohammedanism.
Now what are the facts which constitute, in this relation, impressive signs of the times! The first is, that in 1866 the temporal power of the Pope was destroyed. How? Victor Emmanuel and his great prime minister the Count di Cavour had been laboring to secure the unification of the states of Italy into one kingdom. This the Pope opposed and he was powerfully supported by Austria. But in 1866 the eventful