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SIGNS AND THEIR INTERPRETATION.
In the Gospel according to St Matthew, xvi. 1-3, we read, “The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, 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 : for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times ?”
Here we learn from the highest authority in the universe, that the same careful observation of the signs of approaching events which men then living showed in their prognostications of the weather, would enable them to discern the signs of “the seasons” enumerated by the prophets, and their proximate bearing on events.
Prophecy leads us continually into investigations thus authorized. The expectation of cosmical signs, concurrent with and premonitory of the fulfilment of prophecy, is in perfect accord with the history of
God's dealings with mankind. Paradise on the infant earth was synchronous with paradise in man's heart. The fall of man was accompanied by the distemperature of the earth. Earth heaved and trembled at the resurrection of Jesus, and the sun hid his rays when Jesus died.
Nature is not a dead body. In relation to man she is full of mystic but living sympathy. Earthquakes, pestilences, and famines are the phænomena of progress as well as specified signs of the exhaustion of great prophetic epochs.
Sun, moon, and stars are in sympathy with our world. We are led by the word of God to expect toward the end increasing cosmical derangements of the powers of nature, of the laws of gravitation, and of the condition of the air; great storms, the sea and the dry land shaken; physical disease; moral confusion and national upheavals, more full and frequent as the great terminus ad quod draws near. “Hence,” says the Redeemer, "when these things begin to come to pass look up and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” “When ye shall see these things as they come to pass know that it is near, even at your doors.”
These words denote that Christians are not only to wait, but to watch; that is, look out for the appearance of the predicted signs, and infer from their appearance where we are on the great current of time. We have on our side, in these interpretations of signs, the analogies of the outer world.
The purple and golden tints of morning are the prophecies of sunrise; the lengthening shadows are the signs of approaching sunset; the green buds are the harbingers of spring; and the deepening tints, and the falling leaves, are the precursors of autumn. The banks of dark clouds in the sky, and the falling barometer in our homes, are sure foretellers of what we may expect. To interpret the signs of the times is not to assume to be prophets, but to obey the Redeemer's word, and to infer rationally and well. Not to regard such signs is disobedience to the Divine Master, is unworthy of sensible men, and injurious to that sense of quiet, and peace, and hope, which, as Christians, it is our privilege to possess.
The buds of spring are eloquent prophets—they tell us that winter is passing away, that the dry and withered branches which have too long rattled like skeletons in the winter winds, covered with the snowdrifts, are about to take heart and to blossom again. When we see present events coming to pass, however sad they seem, they are nevertheless tokens that the dreary winter of a heartless orthodoxy in the Church, and stagnant apathy in the world, is passing away, and that the breath of spring, even of the Spirit of God, begins to waken up the life and to call forth the sap and vital forces of every branch of the true Vine—the Lord Jesus Christ. The buds, however bitter, intimate to us that the flowers and the fruits will come. The blossom in spring is the sure prophecy of the fruits of summer. The things that Jesus enumerates as signs are the first beams of the nearing sunrise. Ever as we see them sprinkling the sky and the earth, we are not to be cast down and disquieted. As the spring buds swell and increase in size, they indicate the nearing approach of summer, and the Christian's heart, instead of feeling sorrowful, is summoned to rejoice in the hope of the everlasting summer, with joy unspeakable, because full of glory. The future that is before us is our summer-time. We shall not care for the bleak winds of March, and the drenching showers of April, when we bear in mind that those winds are not singing the dirge of what is gone, nor those showers the tokens that there will be no more sunshine, but, in reality, the foretokens of the approaching summer. We are blameworthy if we do not take notice of these things. Our Saviour blamed the Pharisees for knowing the signs of good weather and bad weather, and not noticing moral signs of greater value. We shall be yet more criminal if we will not see the events on earth that are the prophets of the return of the heavenly summer, the light and warmth of that kingdom which never shall be moved. God is imminent in history just as much as inspiration in the gospel. God is in every fact of history as truly as in every text of the Bible. All providence is a daily commentary upon all inspiration.
In Old Testament history we find the same lesson taught on many occasions. Noah in his preaching, and working, and building, was a living sign to his generation of what was coming on the earth.
Before the hail-plague descended on Egypt, warning of its approach was distinctly given : “And he that regarded the word of the Lord made his servants and cattle flee into the house. But he that regarded not the word of the Lord left his servants and cattle in the field; and the hail smote all that was in the field, both man and beast.”
Notice was also given of the approach of the angel of death in Egypt; and they that believed made the appointed preparations, and their first-born escaped.
Jesus enumerated a series of definite signs by which believers would recognize the nearing fall of Jerusalem : “When ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.”
These facts in the past dispensation of God warrant our attention to analogous facts in our present world's history. If the winding up of this present dispensation, and the coming of the Son of man, be of all events the most stupendous and pregnant, we may be sure that, in accordance with this acting in the prospect of lesser events, he will give intimations which the blind may not see, and the unbelieving will despise, but which the thoughtful watcher will take cognizance of as most suggestive; the signs will grow clearer and more intelligible as the day draws