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Prophetic Expositions, vol. 2

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    CHAPTER IV. BRIEF EXPOSITION OF THE TWENTY-FOURTH OF MATTHEW

    The 24th of Matthew is so great a stumbling-block in the way of many, that I cannot consent to close the present volume without a brief exposition of this important prophecy. Hitherto, I have not attempted a written exposition, and have rather felt a reluctance to attempt it. As a general thing, the chapter has been plain, but some few points have appeared obscure and intricate. For instance, the clause of the 29th verse has been rather difficult to reconcile with the idea that the great tribulation was at the destruction of Jerusalem; and yet the signs are predicted to be immediately after it, and introduce the second advent of Christ. I here acknowledge myself indebted to Mr. S. Bliss, author of “Review of Morris’s Modern Chiliasm” for some thoughts which have presented this subject more dearly than I have ever before seen it.PREX2 228.1

    In the third verse there are three questions asked:—PREX2 228.2

    1. “When shall these things be?” The destruction of Jerusalem and its temple.PREX2 228.3

    2. “What shall be the sign of thy coming?”PREX2 229.1

    3. “And of the end of the world?”PREX2 229.2

    From the 4th to the 14th verse is a general description of the persecutions of the church, the commotions in the national and political world; the false prophets which should arise to deceive the church and world, down to the end. But those who shall endure all the trials of their own age, and go to the end of their journey steadfast, shall be saved. This was St. Paul’s lot:—he fought a good fight, he finished his course and kept the faith, and there was laid up for him a crown of righteousness which the Lord will give him in that day. The 14th verse gives us the great sign by which we may understand the time of Christ’s appearing. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; then shall the end come.” This gives a general view of the course of events through all time; not particularly before the destruction of Jerusalem. The scenes predicted took place before, and so also they have since the destruction of the devoted city. It was not true of the time which preceded the destruction of that city any more than it has been since.PREX2 229.3

    Verse 15: “When ye, therefore, shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him, understand.”)PREX2 229.4

    The abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet, and referred to by our Lord, is Daniel 9:26, 27: “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come, shall destroy the city, and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”PREX2 229.5

    According to this prophecy, after the rejection of Messiah, the people were to come and “destroy the city and the sanctuary,” both the lower city, and even Mount Zion, the city of David itself. “And unto the end of the war” against the church and the holy city, desolations (in the plural) are determined. Jerusalem is to be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times (seven times) of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Luke 21:24. Then will be accomplished the prophecy of Isaiah 40:2: “Speak ye comfortably unto Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, and her iniquity pardoned. For she hath received at the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”PREX2 230.1

    God punishes nations, as such, by fire, sword, plague, earthquakes, captivity; and the desolation of their land and cities. So he has punished Jerusalem and his church; and so he will punish all the nations of the world which are upon the face of the whole earth. He punished the Jews once by sending them to Babylon; and he punished the kingdom of Babylon for exceeding their commission in afflicting the people of God. He has now given to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah the wine-cup of his fury; and he will give it to all the nations whither his people have been scattered. See Jeremiah 25:15-33. The reader will please turn to the passage if he wishes to have a clear view of God’s purpose of inflicting judgments on the nations of the earth. The individual and personal judgment will be inflicted in the second resurrection. But as all the national crimes of the church, or Jerusalem the metropolis of the church, were to come on the generation of the Jews then alive, when their national ruin came; so all the blood of the saints and righteous men put to death and afflicted by the Gentiles while they have dominion over the church, will come on the generation who live at the great day when God shall make inquisition for blood. Hence, the souls under the altar cried, “O Lord, how long, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them which dwell on the earth? And it was said unto them that they should rest yet for a little season, until their brethren who should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.” But the day of reckoning for the nations is coming. “Lo,” says the Lord, (Jeremiah 25.) “I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name, and shall ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished. For I will call for a sword upon all flesh.”PREX2 230.2

    “When ye, therefore, see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet;” or according to Luke 21., “When ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.” Know that the beginning of God’s national judgments has come. The war began then, and it still continues,-for Jerusalem is yet desolate.PREX2 231.1

    Jerusalem was not the inheritance of the Jews only, but also of the Christians: indeed, the Christians are the true heirs since Christ. They, as well as the Jews, were scattered from the holy land and city. Their tribulation and dispersion, as well as the Jews, came then. True, Christians were, by following the directions of their Master, delivered from the terrors and miseries of the siege; but the calamities which have since been inflicted on the Christians, have been little less dreadful than those which came on the Jews, in the siege of Jerusalem. Nothing can exceed the scenes of cruelty which have been perpetrated against the people of God, both under pagan and papal Rome. Since the apostolic age, comparatively little progress was made in extending the triumphs of Christianity until since the reformation in the 16th century. And even then, the revival was more of an outward conversion from popery to a new form of faith and worship, than to vital Christianity. But a new era was introduced in the beginning of the 18th century, both in England and America, under the labors of Edwards, Wesley, Whitefield, and their coadjutors. Something like apostolic revivals then began to appear again in the church, and have continued ever since. Such was the broken and disordered condition of the church after the destruction of Jerusalem, from the persecutions under the Roman emperors, that scarcely an opportunity offered itself to extend Christianity beyond the bounds it had acquired in the apostolic age. On the contrary, the church lost territories which the apostles occupied. Until the time of Constantine, there was almost a continual war waged against the church of Christ, by the Roman emperors. Then, when delivered by Constantine, a flood of worldly aggrandizement flowed in upon her, and she lost the spirit of the gospel, until finally the dark ages came on, and the papal power waged a war of extermination against everything that looked like evangelical religion.PREX2 232.1

    The great tribulation concerned the Christians, therefore, as well as the Jews. The dispersion of the church, when they that hate her shall reign over her, as foretold by Moses, (Leviticus 26:17, 18.) was to continue seven times, or 2520 years. But except the tribulation of the church should be shortened; except the darkness which came over the church and world, and the terrible spirit of persecution which wore out the saints, should be shortened, and a day of light and tranquillity precede the second advent, when religion should revive, no flesh, comparatively, should be saved. But for the elect’s sake, those days shall be shortened. There was to be a time of tranquillity to the church before the end came, and an opportunity was to be given for the spread of the gospel. That period is what Daniel calls the time of the end. Or rather, first, that the church would be holpen with a little help; and afterwards the time of the end would come, and many be purified, made white, and tried. And by shortening the days of the church’s affliction, from the full period allotted for her dispersion and punishment, viz., seven times, or 2520 years, multitudes have been brought to Christ.PREX2 233.1

    Verses 23-28: “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christi 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. Behold, 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. For as the lightning cometh but of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For wheresoever the carcass is there will the eagles be gathered together.”PREX2 233.2

    “Then,“ when these days of affliction and distress ere on the church, “if any man say, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.” This has been applied to the age in which Jerusalem was destroyed. But it is no more true of that age, that false Christs and false prophets arose, than it has been of nearly every age since that time. But, say the Savior, “believe it not.”I have told you before.” “If they say he is in the secret chamber,” with or in the person of Ann Lee, “believe it not.” If they say he is in the desert, with Joseph Smith, Jr., “go not forth.” “For as the lightning that shineth out of the east even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” There will be neither time nor necessity for saying one to another,-see, here if Christ, or he has come yonder,-for his coming will be as sudden and visible to all as the lightning of heaven. Nor need any Christian think he will be forgotten at Christ’s coming, unless he goes in search of him; for all his people will most certainly be gathered to him, wherever he is. As certainly as the eagles know by instinct the place where they may find the carcass, so certainly will all my people be drawn to me; be caught up to meet me in the air, is the sentiment of the text.PREX2 234.1

    But it is objected, that “Christ would not use such a figure as an old carcass to represent himself and the attraction of the saints to him!” But I ask, is it any more revolting to use the figure of a carcass to represent Christ, than it is a snake? John 3:14: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” I know of nothing more revolting in the one idea than the other. Each figure conveys the idea it was intended to give us. The great tribulation is from the destruction of Jerusalem to the reformation.PREX2 235.1

    Verse 29: “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.”PREX2 235.2

    When the tribulation of the church is mitigated, and days of prosperity return, and Christianity again prospers as in the apostolic age,—PREX2 235.3

    “The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light.”PREX2 235.4

    This was fulfilled to the letter, in 1780, when, on the 19th of May, the sun was supernaturally darkened from morning till night, and even into the night; so that although there was at the time a full moon, (the moon having fulled the 18th,) “it was so dark that a sheet of the whitest of paper was equally invisible, six or eight inches from the eye, with the blackest of velvet.” The sun was darkened, and the moon did not give her light.PREX2 235.5

    The stars also have fallen from heaven. The following is the record of a scene which occurred on the night of Nov. 13, 1833, copied from the Connecticut Observer of Nov. 25th, 1833:—PREX2 235.6

    “The Falling Stars.—The editor of the Old Countryman makes a very serious matter of the ‘Falling Stars.’ He says:—PREX2 236.1

    “‘We pronounce the raining fire which we saw on Wednesday morning last, an awful type-a sure forerunner-a merciful sign of that great and dreadful day which the inhabitants of the earth will witness when the sixth seal shall be opened.PREX2 236.2

    “‘The time is just at hand-described not only in the New Testament, but in the Old; and a more correct picture of a fig-tree casting its leaves when blown by a mighty wind, it was not possible to behold.’PREX2 236.3

    “And again:—PREX2 236.4

    “‘Many things now occurring upon the earth tend to convince us that we are in the “LATTER DAYS.” This exhibition we deem to be a type of an awful day fast hurrying upon us. This is our sincere opinion; and what we think, we are not ashamed to tell.PREX2 236.5

    “‘Men may, and have, called us enthusiastic. We care not if they call us fanatic and mad, so that we feel that they are mistaken. Fearing neither the face of human clay, man’s arm, nor man’s voice, while we obey human laws, and love and fear God, and have the evidence within that we are believed in return, we WILL go on our way rejoicing. Nor would we go on alone. Hence we WARN all to turn to the Lord while YET he is near.’”PREX2 236.6

    The following extracts from “Observations on Meteors,” by Prof. Olmstead, of Yale College will show the nature and extent of this wonderful phenomenon:—PREX2 236.7

    “The extent of the shower of 1833 was such as to cover no inconsiderable part of the earth’s surface, from the middle of the Atlantic on the east, to the Pacific on the west; and from the northern coast of South America, to undefined regions among the British possessions on the north, the exhibition of shooting stars was not only visible, but everywhere presented nearly one and the same appearance.PREX2 237.1

    “The duration and maximum, or period of greatest display, were characterized by a similar uniformity. In nearly all places, the meteors began to attract notice by their unusual frequency as early as eleven o’clock, and increased in numbers and splendor until about four o’clock, from which time they gradually declined, but were visible until lost in the light of day. The meteors did not fly at random over all parts of the sky, but appeared to emanate from a point in the constellation Leo, near a star called Gamma Leonis, in the bend of the sickle.PREX2 237.2

    “A similar phenomenon was witnessed on the 12th of Nov. 1799, and at the same season of the year in 1830, 1831, and 1832. The meteoric shower was repeated on the morning of Nov. 13th or 14th, for several years, but on a scale constantly diminishing until 1838, since which period the exhibitions have been too little remarkable to be worthy of particular notice.PREX2 237.3

    “I feel assured that this is no atmospheric or terrestrial phenomenon, but that these fiery meteors come to us from the regions of space and reveal to us the existence of worlds of a nebulous or cometary nature, existing in the solar system, and forming constituent parts of that system. Nor are these conclusions built on mere hypothesis, but are necessary inferences from certain facts.PREX2 237.4

    “The present generation may consider itself privileged in having witnessed grander displays of fiery meteors, than are to be found recorded on the pages of history.” “In displays of the Aurora Borealis, also, we have been similarly favored. Such visitations of this spectacle, as we have enjoyed since Aug. 1827, to the present time, are by no means of constant occurrence.”PREX2 238.1

    “Those who were so fortunate as to witness the exhibition of shooting stars on the morning of Nov. 13th, 1833, probably saw the greatest display of celestial fire-works that has ever been seen since the creation of the world, or at least within the annals covered by the pages of history.”PREX2 238.2

    “This is no longer to be regarded as a terrestrial, but as a celestial phenomenon; and shooting stars are now to be no more viewed as casual productions of the upper regions of the atmosphere, but as visitants from other worlds, or from the planetary voids.”PREX2 238.3

    “Subsequent inquiries have led me to the belief, that the body was so distant as hardly to exhibit any apparent parallax, but was projected on very nearly the same part of the sky by all observers. This fact at once shows that the source of the meteors was far beyond the atmosphere, and confirms the preceding conclusion that it was wholly independent of the earth.”PREX2 238.4

    That this shower of falling stars was just such a display, as ancient writers expected to witness, in the fulfilment of this prophecy, is proved by the following quotations from Thomas Burnet’s “Theory of the earth,” printed in London, A. D. 1697. Speaking of the signs which will precede the coming of Christ, he quotes Matthew 24:29, and after speaking of the darkening of the sun and moon, he says, “the last sign we shall take notice of, is that of the falling stars. ‘And the stars shall fall from heaven,’ says our Savior.” He then shows that the fixed stars can never fall, neither the planets; and that the only stars which will ever fall, will be meteoric, or shooting stars, and adds, “No doubt there will be all sorts of fiery meteors at that time; and amongst others those called falling stars, which, though they are not considerable, singly, yet if they were multiplied in great numbers, falling, as the prophet says, as leaves from the vine, or figs from the fig-tree, they would make an astonishing sight.” He says that “we need not look upon these things as hyperbolical and poetic strains, but as barefaced prophecies, and things that will literally come to pass;” and that “we are not to recede from the literal sense without necessity, or where the nature of the subject will admit of a literal interpretation.”PREX2 238.5

    If it be objected that meteors are not stars, I ask whether the objector thinks that the star which went before the wise men of the east to the place where the infant Savior lay, was a fixed star? Or does he, think that when the “stars fall from heaven to the earth, as the fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when shaken of a mighty wind,” (Revelation 6.,) they will be those fixed stars; one of which would drown our globe in a sea of fire? If not, they must be just what we have witnessed; and the text has been fulfilled.PREX2 239.1

    “The powers of heaven shall be shaken.” This, as also the appearing of the sign of the Son of man in heaven, mentioned in verse 31,I apprehend to be yet future, and that it will take place in immediate connection with the second appearing of Christ. So that when it comes, although the tribes of the earth will mourn, they will be unable to obtain mercy, for they shall see at the same time “the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send forth his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds from the one end of heaven to the other.” It will be a day of glory for the saints, but of wrath to the enemies of Christ.PREX2 240.1

    Verses 32-36: “Now learn a parable of the fig-tree; when his branch is yet tender, and put teth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels in heaven, but my Father only.”PREX2 240.2

    The budding fig-tree is to be a no more certain sign of approaching summer, than the signs in the sun, moon, and stars, are, of the day of Christ being at hand, near, even at the doors. “KNOW,” said the Savior, “KNOW, that it is near, even at the door.” This generation, who see these signs, begin, shall not pass away until all be fulfilled. They began in 1780, 62 years ago. But 70 years, the age of man, shall not pass, until all be fulfilled. Many are now alive who saw the beginning, and they will not all be gone when the end comes.PREX2 240.3

    But of that day and hour knoweth (in the present tense) no man, no not the angels of heaven but my Father only. Christ did not say it never should be known, but it was not then. But he had just told them, that when the signs took place they should know, who saw them, that it was near, even at the doors. It was not always to remain a secret, but according to Daniel it was sealed to the time of the end. The time of the end has come, and the wise shall understand.PREX2 241.1

    The suddenness of that day will be as it was when the flood came; it will take the world by surprise, because they will not believe God’s testimony. The old world were warned, but did not know because they did not believe. The world is now warned, but will be taken by surprise for the same reason.PREX2 241.2

    “Two shall be in the field,“ one a Christian, the other a sinner; in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, the saint will be gone to meet the Lord in the air.PREX2 241.3

    “Two grinding at the mill,“ or at work in the cotton mill; one will be taken and the other left. Left? Yes, sinner, left forever! O what a separation will then come!!PREX2 241.4

    Verses 42-51: “Watch, therefore; for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore, be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing. Verily, I say unto you, that he shall make him ruler over all his goods. But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smile his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”PREX2 241.5

    One would hardly think it possible for those ministers of the gospel who say, not in their hearts only, but with their lips, “My Lord delayeth his coming,” to read this terrible warning, and not tremble as did Belshazzar when the Divine hand wrote his doom on his palace wall. Will not ministers see that they are literally joining hands with the drunken and vicious of all degrees, while they say My Lord delayeth his coming? Why is the doctrine of the second advent shut from the church, and from the prayer and conference meeting? If this is not a suitable theme for Christians to dwell upon in meditation, prayer, praise, conversation and exhortation, what is? I ask again, what is a suitable theme, if this is not? Are not those who do not love to hear of the Savior’s coming clearly where they ought not to be? Can they claim that crown for theirs, which is laid up for all who love his appearing? It is in vain for any man, to say he loves it, if he is disturbed whenever he hears it named. “Where your treasure is,” said the Savior, “there will your heart be also.” If Christ is to us the chief, we shall certainly delight to think him near. But, says one, I don’t care so much about its being introduced into prayer and conference meetings on my own account, as on others; it makes a division of feeling. Whose feelings are hurt by it, I ask? Those who love the Savior as they should? If they are so destitute of the Savior’s love as to be disturbed by the very sound of the idea of his coming, I ask if they are in a state of preparation to meet him, if he should come personally at the time? “But we ought to be always ready.” True, but are you always ready, with such feelings of hostility to the theme? “We ought to be always watching.” True, but are you always watching, while you believe the day a great way off? “But I do not know but it may come to night.” The very reason, then, why you should bestir yourself to look at the subject, and get all the light on it which the word of God affords. “But I do not believe the Bible teaches anything about it.” Then how do you know he will ever come? “O, it tells us he will come some time, but nothing about the time.” Then I ask if the Lord Jesus meant to deceive the church, when he told her, when you see the signs, then KNOW that it is even at the doors? He either meant so, or he did not. If he did not mean so, then he was a deceiver. If he did mean what he said, then we may know something about it, and are guilty if we do not. “But I mean, I do not believe we can know anything about the definite time.” Why, then, not talk about all that can be known, and search the Bible to learn everything that is revealed on the subject? Why refuse to do it yourself, and be displeased if others do it? Do you not fear that by refusing to receive the light, God will withdraw what you now have, and leave you to believe a lie, to harden yourself against the appearing of the Savior, and that he will come and find you beating your fellow-servants for their faith in and love for his appearing? “But you have a hard spirit, and are censorious, and think no one is a Christian who does not think as you do.” Nay, nay, my brother, my sister! you wrong me. If you saw, or thought you saw, your neighbor’s house on fire, I ask, would you not think it your duty to arouse them and tell them the worst you feared? Would you let them sleep on, lest, by trying to awake, you should offend them by your earnestness, and importunity? I believe the Lord Jesus requires of all his ministers and people to look into this subject and look out for his coming. I do not believe it can be neglected with impunity; and hence, I must cry aloud to my fellow travellers. I should be guilty if I did not tell them all I fear will come upon them. Let them show me that my fears are ungrounded, and I will desist from my importunity. I cannot until then. I believe there are a great many good Christians who are yet in the dark on this subject, but will be waked up to it and believe it before the Lord comes. But if any fight against it until that day arrives, and it finds them in that hostile, and consequently unexpecting attitude, they cannot go in to the marriage feast. “But on what are your fears grounded?” I answer, in part, on the quotation from the last of the 24th of Matthew, and from a multitude of other such passages.PREX2 242.1

    “In all the Bible I have never found one text that pronounces a wo for the faithful warning of the world, of danger, whether real or apprehended. But the Bible abounds with warnings and threatenings against those who neglect to warn the wicked, or who in any way soothe the fears of the guilty and the impenitent. I had rather give ten thousand false alarms, and have the consciousness of having done my duty, than that one soul should perish through my neglect.”PREX2 245.1

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