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ing with respect to the time of our great Lord's second coming
2. Secondly, what may most affect us relating to the persons that are then to appear before him, and be judged by him ; and,
3. Thirdly, what may leave the most lasting good impressions upon us as to the manner of proceeding at that terrible day, and the several sentences that will then be past, and their execution.
1. As for the first particular, the time of our great Lord's second coming, three things are to be taken notice of: 1. that it is utterly unknown to us when that time will be ; 2. that in all probability it is not now far off; 3. that when it does come, it will be sudden and surprising, and ushered in with affrighting signs and forerunners, and very strange and amazing appearances.
1. First, it is utterly unknown to any created being when that time will be. This is evident from our Lord's express words quoted before, Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only; and here in the parable, Ye know not when the master of the house cometh, whether at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning : watch ye therefore: as much as to say, In what age of the world, or in what part of any man's life, the day of judgment shall be, or the day of death, which will consign every particular person to it, is perfectly in the dark to all but God himself; and therefore it is fit every man should live in a serious, awful expectation of it, and endeavour to be ready for it by a truly pious course of life, that whenever it shall come, it may be to his advantage.
And indeed the uncertain time of a certain event, upon which depends a man's whole, greatest interest, must needs be an irresistible motive, to any considering man, to a constant, careful preparation for it, lest at length he be caught in such ill circumstances as will inevitably be his ruin. And I do not question but it was for this reason that our good God, who so truly desires our happiness, hath made this matter so great a secret as he has. For the known time of an event makes men too apt to defer their provision for it till it is too late; and the further off it is, the less notice they take of it, and very frequently it is quite forgot; and because it is not likely to fall out in their time, they are too prone, with those St. Peter mentions h, to flatter themselves that it will never be. And the wicked servant, in another parable spoken to this purpose, when he thought that his lord delayed his coming, run riot presently, as if he would never return at all, and began to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunkeni. Wherefore, to engage us all to a watchful preparation, he hath concealed the time of his coming, and intrusted no creature with it, no not the humanity even of the Judge himself: and may we be such faithful and wise servants, as to make that good use of his secresy which he designed we should; and as St. Luke expresses it, have our loins girded about, and our lights burning k, that in what watch soever our great Master shall come, we may be found ready, waiting for him, and busied in a conscientious performance of our proper duty! and for ever blessed
will be those servants, whom their Lord when he cometh shall find so doing!
2. But secondly, as it is uncertain when this time of Christ's return will be, so in all probability it is not now far off: I am sure it is almost seventeen hundred years since St. Peter said, the end of all thing's was at handl; and if the computation of the Jews deserves any regard, who tell us that six thousand years at most shall be the measure of this world's continuance, that number is so near completed, that it cannot be long before it will have an end ; and we, making such great haste to fill up the measure of our iniquities, do proportionably hasten our Lord's coming to the final judgment. And indeed the affairs of the world at this time are such fair advances towards the completion of what Christ said should come before the end was m, that that alone would induce me to think that it is even now nigh at hand. When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh. And learn a parable of the fig tree; When her branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is near : so in like manner, when ye shall see these things come to pass, know that it is nigh, even at the doors 1. And shall we be in the near neighbourhood of such a fiery trial, and make it no part of our care to refine and purify ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, that we may be found vessels of honour fit for our great Master's use ? Shall we lavish away our opportunity in vanity and folly, and the service of our lusts, when very shortly we must give a strict account of all that we have either thought, or said, or done, before an infinitely just and holy Judge ; and be for ever rewarded according to our deservings? Now God forbid ! Rather let us be sober, and watch unto prayer, and be so much the more careful to redeem our time, as we see that day approaching. For,
i Pet. iv. 7. m Matt. xxiv. Mark xiji. Luke xxi. 28. n Mark xiii. 28, 29.
3. Thirdly, when this dreadful day does come, it will be sudden and surprising, and ushered in with affrighting signs and forerunners, and very strange and amazing appearances. Thus, in Matt. xxiv. 27, the coming of the Son of man is compared to the sudden flashings of lightning; in verses 37, 38, 39, to the deluge in the days of Noah, which was so far from being expected by that wicked generation, (notwithstanding the warnings given them by that good man, and the preparation which for many years he himself was making for it in building the ark,) that they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the very day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not, were in no apprehension of it, until the flood came and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be. And, Matt. xxv. 5, 6, it is likened to a cry made at midnight, when all slumbered and slept. And, 1 Thess. v. 2,3, St. Paul tells us, that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night, (and St. Peter says the same, 2 Pet. iii. 10,) for when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon the secure wicked world, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
As for the forerunners of his coming, which shall alarm the drowsy world, and be the last warning and call to repentance that ever shall be given, our Saviour hath given us a terrible description of them, where he says, there shall be wars and commotions, nation rising up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom : and great earthquakes in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights, and great signs shall there be from heaven; and upon earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaringo: all which, though prophesied of, and fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, yet looked still forward to the final doom of the world, the ruin of that part being a type of the destruction of the whole.
Good God! How great will be the terror and confusion of such times as these! and how inexpressible the horror and amazement, when after such forerunners the dreadful scene shall be opened, and the last day begin! When the softnesses of luxury shall be broken off by the sudden shrieks of terrified wretches from every quarter, and the splendours and gaieties of the world in a moment covered with thick darkness P, (as Joel prophetically speaks of that day of the Lord,) accompanied with a stinking vapour, and frequent irruptions of flame, as if in every place there was an Ætna or a Vesuvius : when the revels of the night shall be disturbed with dreadful convulsions of the trembling earth, and flashes of strange fire, that look like streams of blood rather than light 9, break in upon the beds of uncleanness: when dire prodigies shall fill the heavens, and distress all around upon the face of the earth, and the sea at the same time swelling to an amazing height, a hideous noise proceeding from the rolling • Luke xxi, 9, 10.
p Joel ii. 30. iii. 15.
9 Joel ii. 31.