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the Monday. Under the garb of the most ostentatious parade of religion men have in all ages, and will still more in these last times, cover up iniquitous character with the desecrated rites, and forms, and professions of religion. They make religion a passport to sin, and thereby they can do evil to an extent utterly impossible were they acting in their own character undisguised. They speak with the voice of Jacob, and act with the hands of Esau. They prostitute Christianity to the service of Satan as far as they can, and religion receives from numbers the discredit for which it is not responsible when the sins of the wearer of it come to be detected and exposed. It would appear from this that at least the profession of religion will be not unpopular in the last days; that it will, in fact, be one of the respectabilities of social life to go to church; that in its way the outward profession will be a presumptive evidence of moral worth in the subject of it. But it will be mainly a name to live by—not a life hiding conduct that would otherwise have come to light, and colouring character intrinsically destitute of all that is inherently good. The less of life the heavier the outward clothing required to keep it alive. The less religion in a man's heart often the more pretentious his manifestations. “Form” takes the place of “power” in Churches; vestments, of the robes of righteousness ; incense, of praise ; lifting up of hands, of elevation of heart; and show, and paint, and colours become the trappings of a dead religion lying in state, not the expressions of a living faith in a Divine Saviour and a living inspiration of a Divine Spirit.
The Redeemer will come at a time of trouble unprecedented—in an age of social and moral revolutions, amidst the shaking of nations, democratic upheavals and agitations. “There shall be upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring, men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things that are coming on the earth : for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the cloud with power and great glory.”
Such are the dark premonitory signs of His advent. It may be a question, Does the present age answer to the picture? Do existing events exhaust the prophecy ? May we reasonably infer that we are now in the midst of these phenomena ? If we read the columns of the daily press, reflecting as they do the varied phases and agitated condition of the times in which we live; if we take the sober, well-weighed, and deliberate descriptions of existing changes, and convulsions, and political turmoil and confusion which they delineate, we shall be strongly impressed with the belief “that the time is nigh, even at our doors,” that these lengthening shadows and this waning light indicate the nightfall, and that our moral and social world must be regenerated by some sublime interposition or resolve into chaos. Recent movements in the world have not been reformations, but revolutions ; not the repairing of what is wrong, but the recasting of what exists. No fact is more evident than this. Our schools, our colleges, our churches, our parliament, our offices of trust and power and sovereignty, are all more or less revised and revolutionized under the unfounded belief that they are thus regenerated, or more frequently the pretext that they must be adapted to the age.
On the European continent vast changes have taken place since 1848, the era of the beginning of the action of the seventh vial. Thrones have been cast down, sovereignties dissolved, kings have left their kingdoms fugitives upon the earth, and statesmen, unable to arrest the revolution, accept and acquiesce in its results under the new definition of “accomplished facts.” Insubordination and self-will, proud and contemptuous disregard of law, absorbing interest in one's own things and entire insensibility to the things of others, are rending asunder covenants and compacts, and reducing society to its very elements. It does look as if “ the stone cut out of the mountain without hands” was smiting the kingdoms of Europe, and “making them as the dust of the summer threshingfloor, and the wind shall carry them away, so that no place shall be found for them.”
The “ earthquakes in divers places” since 1855 have been unprecedentedly numerous, not only predicted signs in themselves, as we shall show, but expressive of that sympathy which has existed from the beginning between the material and moral worlds. In 1866 the metropolis was rocked by a commercial and monetary convulsion such as we never experienced. Houses, thought stable as the Bank of England, fell; banks, universally trusted, exploded; capital vanished into air, and the “rich were sent empty away.” The richest merchant and the humblest shopkeeper still feel the stroke. Like a sudden and unexpected paralysis it smote all commercial activity, exhausted all confidence, and left the nation in a state of depression from which many years will not recover it. “I will shake all nations, and the desire (i. e. Christ) of all nations will come.” Politically, socially, morally, and commercially the European nations have been shaken, and yet men will not see these significant signs. Disintegration is the feature of the age. Decomposition in the world, as in chemistry, precedes a recomposition under new forms. The broken-up present prepares the way for a new genesis. God “shakes the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land.”
The words have gone forth on their terrible mission, “I will overturn, overturn, overturn, and it shall be no more until he shall come whose right it is.”
National and European exhibitions serve to tide over a crisis, not to lay the foundations of lasting peace. They amuse for a season, they do not calm the passions which they arrest; armies are increased amid congratulations of peace.
The Redeemer shall return in a time of “wars
and rumours of wars, and nation rising up against nation.”
No doubt war has existed in a chronic state since the fall ; but during the last twenty years war has raged with a fury and a frequency too marked not to strike the most thoughtless observer. God seems to have “called for a sword.” Democracies war against despotisms, and coterminous nations, suspicious of each other, or jealous of one eclipsing the other, rush into war, forgetful of the inflammable condition of the air, and kindle conflagrations they never anticipated. Judicial infatuation alone can account for vast armies hurrying to battle on grounds utterly trivial. The more powerful a nation grows, not the more quiet and industrious, but the more aggressive it becomes. Enormous armies, restless in peace and thirsting for the excitements of war, face each other and provoke the spirit that delights in war. France is jealous of Germany, and both of England, and America of all three. A condition of national susceptibility, which is roused by a constructive menace or idle word, keeps the world continually on the brink of war.
So expectant are the nations of Europe that peace is impossible, and the evacuation and dismantling of a fortress only the adjournment for a little of a tremendous conflict, that they avail themselves of the brief respite to create more fearful engines of destruction, and increase their warlike preparations. A stranger visiting Europe from some far-distant orb