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now on the prophetic outline deals with events leading down to the end of the age.
First the Saviour utters a warning against false ideas concerning His second coming. That no theories of a secret coming or of a mystic coming might deceive the unwary, He says in plain words:
"If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, 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 out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." Matt. 24: 23-27.
Today we see the need of this warning. Some of the most subtle deceptions are found in the teaching that Christ has already come, secretly, or that He comes in the chamber of death, or in the spiritualistic séance. Against all these errors we are forewarned, as well as against any agencies that may come showing marvelous signs and wonders. The close of human probation, the coming of the day of God, will be as a thief in the night; and Christ's coming itself will overtake the unwatchful all unprepared. Nevertheless, when He comes, "every eye shall see Him," and all the glory of heaven will burst upon a quaking world.
Signs in the Heavens and the Earth
Now the Saviour's outline of prophecy presents the signs which were to show when the coming of the Lord was near. Referring again to the days of tribulation foretold by the prophet Daniel, Christ says:
"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: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven." Matt. 24: 29, 30.
In Luke's record of the same prophetic discourse, additional signs are given, describing conditions in the earth as Christ's coming draws near. His account reads:
"There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and 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 which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Luke 21:25-28.
Yet again, the prophet John, in the Revelation, foretells these signs in the sun and moon and stars, as they were presented to him in a vision of the last days. But his record shows that this series of signs was to be preceded by a great earthquake. He describes the order of events as follows:
"I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." Rev. 6:12, 13.
In these scriptures four great signs of Christ's approaching advent are listed for our study, as follows:
1. The great earthquake.
2. The darkening of the sun and moon.
3. The falling of the stars.
4. Distress of nations, and other signs.
The Time When the Signs Begin
Christ's prophecy points out approximately the time when the first of the signs that He gave, the darkening of the sun, should appear,-"immediately after the tribulation
of those days." And the "great earthquake" of John's vision was to precede this sign in the heavens.
The Reformation of the sixteenth century began to cut short the days of tribulation; but some countries shut out the liberalizing influences of the Word of God, and there the persecution continued.
Even as late as near the end of the seventeenth century, in 1685, France revoked the Edict of Nantes, that had granted toleration, and persecution raged as of old. The church was driven again to the desert. Speaking of the early decades of the eighteenth century, Kurtz says:
"In France the persecution of the IIuguenots continued. . . . The 'pastors of the desert' performed their duties at the risk of their lives." -"Church History," Vol. III, p. 88.
There was severe persecution of the Moravians in Austria, in these times, many of the persecuted finding refuge in Saxony. It was in 1722 that Christian David led the first band of Moravian refugees to settle on the estates of Count Zinzendorf, who organized through them the great pioneer movement of modern missions.
But by the middle of the century, the era of enlightenment and the force of world opinion, in the good providence of God, had so permeated the Catholic states of Europe that general violent persecution had ceased. One incident will suffice as evidence of this.
The scene was in France, where alone, of all the Catholic states, there were any great numbers of Protestants. In 1762 a Huguenot of Toulouse, unjustly charged with crime, was put to torture and to death, under the pressure of the old persecuting spirit. Many Huguenots thought the persecutions of former times were reviving, and prepared to flee to Switzerland. But Voltaire took up the matter, and so wrought upon public opinion that the Paris parliament reviewed the case, and the king paid the man's family a large indemnity.
This shows that by the middle of that century the days of any general persecution had ceased. In the nature of the
case, we may not point to the exact year and say, Here the days of tribulation ended.
From these times, then, we are to scan the record of history to learn if the appointed signs began to appear. As we look, we find the events recorded, following on in the order predicted:
1. The Lisbon earthquake, of 1755.
2. The dark day, of 1780.
3. The falling stars, of 1833.
4. General conditions and movements betokening the end. "There shall be signs," the Saviour said. We are to study the record of events, watching to catch the signs of the approaching end as earnestly as the mariner watches the beacon lights when he nears the longed-for haven on a dark and stormy night.