« PreviousContinue »
stone and the loftiest roof-tree, convulsing all things, wasting many, yet sweeping away the corrupting drift-weed of centuries, and destined, we believe, in the purposes of God, to baptize rather than overwhelm and bury the earth.
Another remarkable sign of the times, and, in its place, significant of our impression of the nearness of the end of the age, is the intensity that is concentrated in almost every sphere and department of life. The object may be great, or the pursuit may be in itself worthless; but everywhere you perceive that energy, and vigour, and great force are in it. Let it be the manufacture of a pin, or the enlightenment of a soul, — let it be the service of a master behind the counter, or of our gracious Queen in the cabinet,—there is condensed in it evident, and palpable, and untiring energy. For evil or for good, the age of apathy is gone. Men are in earnest in all they do; they are doing what they undertake with all their might. All seem to feel as if the time for their mission were preternaturally short, and the force they have extremely inadequate, and the night of time, or the night of death, too near to allow of respite from their toils, or a relaxation of their energies.
What is Tractarianism but old High Churchism in earnest? Ignorant of vital and evangelical truth, it is occupied about robes, and candles, and genuflexions, and crosses, and phylacteries. Better however earnest anything than dead everything. We pray that their earnestness may be directed by the Spirit of God to objects worthy of it!
This intensity is a prophetic instinct, a sign of the times, an omen of the retiring sun and the gathering darkness, the termination of the groans of humanity, the travail of nature, and the winding up of a drama of which angels have been for six thousand years the spectators, and men the solemn actors. If this be a sign of the times, and the character of the men of this world, let us Christians excel, not fall behind them. “Work while it is called To-day.” “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” The warning cry is ringing loud and clear from every quarter of the compass—“ The Bridegroom cometh !” Are our lamps burning? Are our loins girt? Are our hands in the shop, in the counting-house, the senate, but our hearts, and our hopes, and our treasure in heaven, where Christ is, and from whence we look for the Lord ?
Another very pregnant and remarkable sign of the times, and peculiarly suggestive, is the disintegration and disorganization of all things. Where reformation is refused, revolution begins. Whether there be or be not the hope of improvement, there is all but a universal determination to have change. Age is no defence; past services to generations gathered to their rest is no apology. Some who were in former days the strenuous champions of things that be, have now become the earnest advocates of new creations. Some may be factious, others restless, but all seem to be unanimous in their desire to alter the existing economy. This is a feature of the day — a sign of the times. And what means it? It is the disorganization of the old, that is ready to pass away, preparatory to the emergence from beneath the horizon of a new and more glorious order of things, which God has promised, and man vainly expects he can himself create. In chemistry and in the moral arrangements of the world, the disintegration of existing combinations is always preparatory to new and frequently more beautiful revelations of the glory of the Maker, and the beauty of the things He has made. Chaos grew into genesis six thousand years ago. The fall will issue in the regeneration and restoration of all things. Designedly or undesignedly, we are breaking up the present, in order to make way for the construction of the future; and the speed, and energy, and universal consent with which we enter on the work, is one of the signs that the new heaven and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness is at our doors, and that presentiments, which are prophecies, are within us. The solemn prophecy of Ezekiel seems the very type and spirit of the age :-“I will overturn, overturn, overturn; and it shall be no more, until He shall come whose right it is.” “Thus saith the Lord, Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with my glory, saith the Lord of hosts."
Another sign of the close of this dispensation is one that is exciting disputes and suggesting difficulties among many- the expectation of supernatural, or rather infra-natural manifestations of the wicked one. I cannot shut my eyes to the predictions of Scripture as to the character of the last days. Feats above the level of the human are ascribed to the Antichrist-assumed and exercised by the Church of Rome - and in intenser degree, and with yet more appalling emphasis, will in all probability be displayed, before Rome sinks into the fiery gulf, and Antichrist is destroyed by the brightness of the Redeemer's advent. Let us hear such predictions as these : (2 Thess. ii. 9)—“Whose coming is after (or according to) the working (or energy) of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders.” The phrase, “ lying wonders,” does not here mean lying miracles, but miracles that profess to prove what is a lie. Now, the Church of Rome is at the present moment radiating · miracles she calls so in all directions. Many of them, as given by Dr. Newman, are exceedingly absurd, and proofs of the Oratorian's wonderful credulity; but I am not sure that the priests of the Church of Rome have not done supernatural, or rather infra-natural deeds, above the reach of human power, by the inspiration and the aid of the wicked one. I remember one day,—and I related the circumstance once before, in a Lecture in Exeter hall,-sitting in my study, when the servant came in, and said, “ A strange-looking gentleman wants to see you.” The gentleman was ushered in. The moment he appeared, I scanned him from top to toe, with all a Scotchman's penetration and watchfulness. As I looked at him, I saw that he had a hat, which he politely took off, so broad that it would have been an admirable parasol in sunshine, and a splendid umbrella in a heavy shower. I noticed that he had a dingy cloak all over him, reaching down nearly to his very ankles, with a large cross, and a heart pierced by a dagger on his left breast, and written round it, “ Passio Jesu Christi Domini." I looked at his feet, but instead of seeing those very vulgar and secular things called boots or shoes, I noticed that he had no stockings and no shoes, and, instead, a sole of leather below each foot, each string coming between each toe, and all tied round his ankles; and the knot or bow, I think you call it, was so exquisitely tied, that, if he were not a monk, I should have said a lady must have tied it, for no man's fingers could have done it. Though I had seen him only once in my life before, in a railway carriage, I knew him at once, and said, “I believe I have the honour of addressing the Hon. and Rev. George Spencer ?" (brother of the Earl Spencer.) He said, “That was my name; but my name now is Father Ignatius, the Passionist.” I said, “I am very glad to see you.” He said he had called upon Lord John Russell, and Dr. Hook, and Mr. Villiers,