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The reader will bear in mind that a large proportion of the audience to whom this sermon was delivered, consists of students who are preparing for the ministry. As these are expected soon to exert an important influence in promoting the benevolent operations of the day, it seemed desirable to impress on their minds some general principles of caution, adapted to the times. At their request, the views especially designed for them are given to the public. Some of these views, the author is aware, from the intrinsic difficulty of the subject, may be liable to misapprehension ; but his hope is that many of the thoughts suggested will be found seasonable and useful.
MATTHEW XVI. 3.
O YE HYPOCRITES, YE CAN DISCERN THE FACE OF THE SKY ; BUT CAN
YE NOT DISCERN THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES ?
The Pharisees and Sadducees, alarmed at the progress which the gospel was making, came to Christ, “ and tempting him, desired that he would show them a sign from heaven,” proving himself to be the Messiah. To this demand he answered, “When it is evening, ye say it will be fair weather; for the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather to-day ; for the sky is red and lowering. Oye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky, but can ye not discern the signs of the times ?"
This pointed reproof from the Saviour amounts to a declaration that the evidences of his Messiahship were already too abundant to be questioned by men of common capacity and integrity. The descent of the Holy Ghost upon him, and the voice which declared him to be the Son of God, at his baptism, were signs from heaven. His doctrines, his miracles,
and the many prophecies that had their unquestiona.. ble fulfilment in him, were signs from heaven, furnishing most ample testimony to his divine character. To overlook all these proofs, and to demand others, denoted a criminal unbelief, deserving the censure which it received.
It was to be expected that the coming of the Saviour would be designated, in the language of prophe
and in the arrangements of providence, with marks of higher distinction than any other event in the history of our world. Next to this in importance, is the period when the gospel is to be preached to all people, and the knowledge of the Lord is to fill the earth. The most judicious expositors of the prophecies have expected this period to be ushered in by circumstances of a conspicuous character.
So far as the aspects of the present time accord with these prophetic intimations, they attach a special impor. tance to our privileges and obligations as Christians.
I am not about to enter into a minute inquiry how far the characteristics of this day are marked out by ancient prophecy. No advantage to the church has resulted from the taste for visionary and sanguine speculation, often indulged on this subject. Writers of this stamp have a thousand times applied the sublime predictions of the scriptures to events however transient or trivial, which happened to interest themselves. But there is a sober view of the
prophecies, which leads us to look for a mighty change in the moral condition of the world ; a change resulting from the universal prevalence of true religion. When this day of triumph to the church will come, and how long it will last, are points on which various opinions have been entertained by the ablest men. But the certainty that it will come, furnishes one of the most delightful, and one of the most general subjects of faith and prayer to Christians. The signs of the times, indeed, seem to indicate that we stand upon the confines of this day. The serious observer of events for the last twenty years, must have been impressed with a strong persuasion that a great moral revolution is approaching.
For a long period the energies and resources of Christendom were exhausted in war. The worst passions of men were let loose from restraint tions dashed one against another ; and the tempest, fraught with havoc and destruction, swept over the fairest portions of the globe. But he who “ rides in the whirlwind,” intended that this conflict of the elements should produce a purer atmosphere, and a serener sky.
Among the signs by which the present period is marked
may be mentioned, an unusual spirit of prayer; revivals of religion, uncommonly powerful and extensive; the increase of candour and fraternal feeling among different denominations of Christians; un
usual efforts to spread the Bible ; unusual efforts to . evangelize the heathen; unusual efforts to give religious instruction to the rising generation ; unusual efforts to increase the number of pious and able ministers.
These grand movements in the kingdom of grace, are rapidly acquiring an ascendency over the minds
In one form or another, they are becoming the general subject of interest, and of conversation. Christians are roused. The long slumber of the church is succeeded by a zeal that " attempts great things, expects great things ;” a zeal, which kindles to a brighter flame as it burns, and rises, amidst discouragements, to higher hopes, and bolder achievements. The majestic river, that swells with the accession of tributary streams, rolls onward, bearing away every thing that falls in with its current. So the great objects of Christian benevolence, at this day, seem destined to swallow up the thousand minor objects of regard, to harmonize the views of hostile sects, and to combine by a common impulse, the efforts of princes, statesmen, and peasants, to promote the interests of the church.
It would give me pleasure to pursue this train of reflection, and to present in a distinct review those signs of the times, which are adapted to encourage the faith and hope of Christians. It can hardly be necessary, however, to repeat what has been already