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last Sunday, and the call which it makes to all ministers of Christ's gospel to prepare His way before Him, as John the Baptist did at His first appearing? And lastly, what but the day of judgment is intended in that announcement of St. Paul, taken from the Epistle of to-day, "The Lord is at hand?"
I have dwelt thus long upon the various parts of the service appointed for this present season, because I consider the matter they contain, to be of all things most profitable for our learning, most calculated to create in our hearts feelings and affections suited to our christian profession; and more especially so at this solemn time. What they teach us are principally these two truths. First, that the Lord Jesus Christ, Who as at this time was born into the world, and made man for us, but Who is now at the right hand of the Majesty on high, will return again once more at the end of the world, to judge the living and the dead. Farther, they teach us, that His coming is not distant; that "the day of the Lord is at hand."
Of these two points it is to the second that I would chiefly call your attention, for the first admits of no question. It is a truth revealed, not only by the prophets of the Old Testament, but by the mouth of the Lord Himself. "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." Yes,
my brethren, and we and all,—the most careless as well as the most religious, agree in receiving this truth. There is no one present here, who does not at least with his lips profess to believe, that Jesus. Christ, Who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, for our sins, and for our salvation, will come again to be the Judge of quick and dead.
But on the second point, upon the fact announced in the text, of the nearness of Christ's coming, there is more difference of opinion. From one cause or another; from weakness, or from want of faith, or from too closely minding of earthly things, our hearts grow cold, and will not readily consider how near may be the approach of the Lord's day.
This has been from the beginning a cause of reproach to the Church of Christ. There have always been, as St. Peter prophesied there would be, "men walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming, for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were?” And indeed here we may find the true cause of our indifference; because " things continue as they were;" because we see no immediate sign of the end of the world, we are satisfied it will not be yet. It were well that we should bear in mind the continuation of St. Peter's words in that same third chapter of his second epistle. "But,
beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
This, if reflected on, will put a stop to all vain questioning respecting the fulfilment of Christ's promise. A thousand years in the sight of the Almighty are but as yesterday, seeing that is past as a watch in the night. The time that was already gone by since the first coming of our Lord, and the time that has yet to transpire ere He returns, is absolutely insignificant; a mere speck, a single moment in comparison with that age which never has an end, which we call eternity; and into which, for good or for evil, our lot must be cast. When time shall be no more, eternity will be fresh and young; and so shall they be, who are the inhabitants of eternity; so shall we be, every one of us, in that future world, towards which we are daily drawing nigh. We shall never grow old, nor die any more. Being raised up by the operation of God out of our graves, we shall put on incorruption, and so be fitted for what at present we can but feebly conceive, either for everlasting happiness or for everlasting woe.
If this be so; if, in comparison with the future, the present is as nothing; if our years at the most are but a span long; if, out of that allotted span, by far the greater portion of mankind attain not to
its limit; if death be, as we all allow, for any purpose of change, the same with the day of judgment: then is not the language of St. Paul most strictly true," that the day of the Lord is at hand?" It may be, that for some of us the Judge standeth immediately at the door. Certain it is that there can be no contradiction to this revealed truth; no denial of Himself. If He delay, it is because "He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great pity." It is because He knows that we are not ready. "The Lord," writes the same Apostle quoted before," is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
And now, my brethren, let us shortly collect the practical instruction to be derived from the subject we have been considering. If, as I trust has been clearly proved to you," the Lord is at hand," what should be our conduct now? What manner of men ought we to be, who look for the revelation of the Lord from heaven? Surely we ought to be about our Master's business, lest, coming suddenly, He find us sleeping, This, I think, is the first and most evident conclusion to be drawn,-the necessity of occupying ourselves with our Lord's work, till He come.
And what, you will perhaps ask, is the Lord's
work? What is the business He has given us to do? We need not be at a loss to discover this. It lies close at hand, and is immediately before us. It is our every day task and duty; no natter how humble in itself that task may be. Be it labour in the field, or service in the house; be it work of mind or body, it comes to us by God's appointment, and in it we may serve Him as acceptably as in the highest office of power, we may serve Him by doing our work heartily and faithfully,-by doing it in a religious spirit, in the faith and fear of God,-by doing it, not because we are watched by our employer, not because, if negligent, we shall suffer loss,-but because we have a Master in heaven, a Master whose eyes are always over us; One who has respect unto the faithful, but will by no means spare the guilty.
Admirable is the advice which St, Paul gives us on this point: advice which puts before us in the clearest way how we may work the work of the Lord, without going one step beyond our allotted stations. Servants," says he, in the sixth chapter of his Epistle to the Ephesians, "be subject to them that are your masters according to the flesh;" "not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that whatsoever good