Precious Jesus

"Afresh, precious, precious Jesus, I resign this body to You, for doing or suffering, for living or dying. Will You accept it? Will You use me for Your glory more than heretofore, that You may have some little return for all the benefits You have done to me? Oh, do grant this request; my heart longs for it, my spirit pleads for it; and "if You will, You can." You know the hot temptation of which I am the subject. Bring Your glory out of it, and keep me from the evil, and it shall be well." - Ruth Bryan

Monday, December 28, 2015

SOME SIGNS OF A SAD EVENING‑TIME WITH THE CHURCH OF GOD

“But it shall come to pass, that at evening‑time it shall be light.” Zechariah 14:17

As the whole scriptures testify of Christ, so this text testifies con­cerning the tenor of his dispensations towards his church and people, both in his providence and grace.—There are two buts in the verse where our text lies; the one points at the wise disposure, the other at the joyful issue of God’s procedure towards his church and people.
In the words themselves we observed, 1. The saddest crosses and calamities that befall the church and people of God in this world, represented under the metaphor of an evening‑time. 2. The sweetest comforts and encouragements that take place in their lot, represented under the metaphor of light. 3. The season, or remarkable time, when their hope is giving up the ghost. 4. You have the infallible certainty of this happy issue. It shall come to pass, that at evening‑time it shall be light.
These things we have formerly opened up;1 our present purpose is to evince, that the present time we live in is an evening-time. We would have you attentively consider the signs of the time; and surely, if you do so, it will appear too evident, that it is an evening‑time, a dark time, an evil time with the church of God. And, to assist you herein, we would represent some of the Signs of an evening‑time in the church. And seeing the Spirit of God expresses the sad case of a people by an evening‑time, he hereby allows us to allude to the phrase in representing the same. The signs that we mention then shall be gathered from that illusion, so as they may be the better fixed upon your memories, when they are expressed by such things as are obvious to everybody, who can distinguish between evening and morning.
Now, of these Signs there are two sorts. 1. Some that may be called prognosticating signs, showing that a dark evening is approaching. 2. Some that may be called promulgating signs, showing that the present time is an evening‑time.
1st, There are prognosticating signs, that not only show forth much darkness present, but that a darker evening‑time is hastening on; such as these following.
1. It is a sign that bodes an evening‑time when the shadows are waging long. While the sun is high, the shadows are short; but the lower the sun is, the longer the shadows are.—So here, my friends, it is a sign of an evening‑time coming upon the church, when empty shadows are growing long, and of more account than substantial religion. When a man’s shadow is two or three times longer than himself, it says the sun is low, and the night is nigh. It is not so in a spiritual sense, when professors have much more of the form of godliness than of the power thereof: more of the shadow of religion than the substance of it? Some, indeed, have not so much as the form or shadow of religion either in their families or closets; which saith that it is quite dark with them, and that they are destitute of the light of the knowledge of Christ: for, where there is no light there is no shadow at all: all is black darkness there: or, they have a shadow of devotion, and no more, or little more; which with that the light they have is a declining light, and that a dark evening is coming on. When the church is in a thriving case, and the sun high in her firmament, the shadows of empty forms, superstitious ceremonies, and human inventions are cut short; yea, and cut off, as you know they were solemnly renounced and abjured among us, in our covenanting days: but when the shadows are turning long again, many standing up for them, and few appearing against them, but rather standing for nothing but mere shadows in the church of God, themselves have a name to live, but are dead; when this, I say, doth universally obtain, it bespeaks an evening-time.
2. It is a sign that bodes an evening‑time, when laborers are fast returning from their labor. If you see those who labor in the field returning home from their work, you conclude that the evening‑time is at hand. So, when in the church of God, many faithful laborers in God’s vineyard, are fast taken home to heaven, from their labor on earth, it is a sign that evening‑time is approaching. As the removal of the godly in general is a prognosticating sign of an evening of judgment coming, they being taken away from the evil to come; so the removal of eminent laborers in God’s vineyard in particular, bodes an evening‑time. When Lots are taken out of Sodom, it presages a shower of wrath. Methuselah was taken away the year before the flood; Ambrose was removed before the ruin of Italy; Luther before the wars of Germany; and many eminent laborers hath the Lord, of late, removed in this land, and from this countryside; we may only thence conclude, that when Noahs are taken into their arks, it betokens a deluge, and that God gathers his harvest before the winter storm, and calls home laborers before the dark night comes on.
3. It is a sign that bodes an evening‑time, when men begin generally to be heavy and sleepy‑headed: for, as they that sleep, sleep in the night, saith the apostle: so, when men begin to fall a‑napping, it shows that the night is coming on.—Thus when universal security, and spiritual sleep and slothfulness begin to seize a church, it betokens a night of judgment approaching. We find all the virgins, both wise and foolish, to slumber and sleep before the midnight cry was made. When people are saying “Peace, peace; then sudden destruction cometh.” There are many symptoms of sleep and security about us; and we are not like to be awakened till the midnight cry of the Lord’s coming, in a way of judgment: neither will that cry awaken a secure generation, unless the Lord come powerfully with it.
4. It is a sign of an evening‑time a coming, when the dew beings to fall. We find the Lord speaking to his sleeping church in these terms, “Open to me, for my head is filled with the dew, and my locks with the drops of the night:” (Song 5:2). Intimating, what he suffered for her, even the dew and drops of the divine wrath and vengeance. Which, by the bye, is one of the grand motives why we ought to open our hearts to him, who exposed himself to the wrath of God for us. But now, I say, when the dew begins to fall, it betokens an evening‑time.—So, when the dew and drops of God’s judgments begin to fall upon a church, it bodes a darker evening‑time approaching; especially if these lesser drops of judg­ment have not the proper effect upon them, to awaken and quicken, but they rather remain incorrigible: for, as a physician, when lesser potions will not work, prescribes a stronger; so, small judgments contemned, are harbingers to usher in greater: “If by these ye will not be reformed, saith the Lord; then will I punish you seven times more for your iniquities.” How many drops of the night have been falling, for sometime bygone, upon us, is evident to all that have their eyes open; yea, to common observers: not only the death of many gracious men, but also the great departure of the divine glory; the wide rent and division of the church; besides many temporal judgments, intestine flames, insurrections, sword, poverty, slavery: and more especially spiritual judgments; blindness of mind, hard­ness of heart, barrenness under the gospel, and innumerable drops of dew that have fallen; do not these prognosticate an evening‑time?
5. It is a sign of an evening time approaching when the  air (that was warm with the sunbeams through the day) becomes exceeding cold: when the sun being away, the air grows cold, it says the dark night is coming on.—Even so, when iniquity abounds, the love of many waxeth cold, (Matt. 24:12). This coldness of Christian love to God and men, is a certain forerunner of a darker evening‑time of calamity. Ephesus fell from her first love, and the candlestick was taken out of its place, (Rev. 2:4,5). When Laodicea became lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, then God spued her out of his mouth; that is, rejected her with abhorrence. Perhaps there was never a colder air than that which the present generation breathes in; love to God and his people, zeal for God and his glory, that sometime ago warmed the breasts of Christians, is turned to such a cool in the evening, that the coldness of the air prognosti­cates a storm.
6. It is a sign of an evening‑time approaching when the clouds and sky begin to grow ruddy and bloody, as it were tinctured with scarlet; whatever fair days it may signify afterward, yet it is a sign of an evening, in the first place, to be at hand.—So, when dry clouds, by reflection of the sun beams, cast a dash and make a fair appearance, and no more: I mean, when hypocrisy is universal, and professors are nothing but clouds without water, (Jude 12), hav­ing a glittering, splendid outside, but empty and destitute of the Spirit; and when, at the same time, the great ones of the land, whether in church or state, that fly above others, like the clouds, instead of being useful for watering those that are below them, are turned to nothing but red sky, bright empty nothings, having no moisture in them, no grace: and indeed, when the great ones of a land are given up of God, and become generally graceless, and des­titute of religion, it is a symptom of an evening‑time of wrath. When king Saul is rejected of God, and runs to the devil, consult­ing with the witch of Endor; then he andIsrael falls upon the mountain of Gilboa. When Zadekiah is given up, with his nobles, to rebel against the king of Babylon, and break covenant; then he and his people are carried away captive toBabylon. When David was so far left destitute of the Spirit of God, that his heart was lifted up in pride to number the people; then a severe stroke from God lights upon Israel. Alas! when great men, nobility and gentry, are left of God, and turned sensual, not having the Spirit, what are they but so many ruddy glaring clouds, from whom God is withdrawn wholly: and so many bloody signs of a dark night coming on?
7. Another sign of an evening‑time is, when hills and moun­tains begin to interpose between the sun and us: when they begin to hide the body of the sun from us, then night comes on.—Even so, it is a symptom of an evening‑time hastening on a church, when mountains of sin and guilt, great mountains separate between God and us, between Christ, the Sun of righteousness, and his church. Who can study the circumstances of our day, and the abounding iniquities and profanities of all sorts, and among all ranks, without seeing good cause to justify the Lord’s withdrawing his presence, and taking with the charge, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God; and your sins have hid his face from you?” (Isa. 69:20). The hills are come between the sun and us, and night is approaching.
8. Another sign of an evening‑time is, when the light is gra­dually declining and departing.—So it is a symptom of an evening­-time coming on a church, when there is a gradual departure of God’s glory. We read of the gradual removes of the glory of the Lord from the cherub to the threshold of the house, and there it stood; from thence to the midst of the city; and from thence to the mountain, (Ezek. 10:4,18; 11:23). Showing us, by how many steps and paces the Lord departs from a sinful people, as loathe to go away: and waiting to see if any will intercede with him to return. The gradual departure of God’s glory is a sign of a gradual approach of a sad evening‑time.
9. Another sign of an evening‑time approaching is, when singing birds are silent, and give over their melodious notes.—Now, you know, a lightsome time of the church is represented by a time of singing of birds, (Song 2:12). So we say, it is a sign of a dark evening‑time at hand, when the singing birds begin to cease: I mean, when the sweet singers of Israel have lost their melody, and are out of court: being so far discourted, that they are no more useful in the courts of Zion. When God discourted old Eli, and would not speak to him but to young Samuel: then a night of wrath was near to Eli’s family, to Hophni and Phinehas; yea, to the church of God: for presently the ark of God was taken, and left in the hands of the Philistines. When Solomon was discourted, then a multitude of enemies brake in upon him and his people. When old professors are discourted, singing birds silenced, and eminent servants, who have been useful through the day, are dis­missed, as if there were no more use for them, it says that evening­-time is coming on. When God is saying, in his providence, to his old friends and favorites, that he hath no more to do with them in this world, their singing time on earth being over: when useful in­struments are become unsavory salt, having lost their usefulness, their savor, and their melody, it is a symptom that night is coming on, that the day‑birds are drooping.
10. It is a sign that the evening‑time is coming, when, as the day‑birds are either flying to their nests, or drooping and putting their bills under their wings, so the night birds are appearing and flying abroad; when the morning birds are disappearing, and the evening birds, such as the bat and the owl, that cannot endure the light of day, are discovering themselves, it is a sign that night is approaching.—So, sirs, it is a sad symptom of a very dark night coming on a church, when not only, on the one hand, the day‑birds, that sing sweetly in publishing the joyful sound, are either flying away to their heavenly nest; or, if any of them are left, as I hope many are, yet they are generally under some silencing kind of dark cloud or vail, that mars their melody and usefulness: but also, on the other hand, when the night birds, such as heretics and errone­ous teachers, are flying about, and discovering themselves. If it were a clear day in the church, such evening bird, that delight in the darkness of error, would not peep out of their holes; but their appearing prognosticates a dark evening‑time; for a deluge of errors brings on a deluge of wrath, (2 Thess. 2:10-12; 2 Pet. 2:1-2). Surely no error is more damnable and pernicious, than that of deny­ing the Lord that bought them; and casting a cloud upon the Su­preme Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ; this black cloud of Arianism, is one of the blackest that ever covered the gospel church; and yet, besides this, many other clouds of error have darkened our sky. However, errors and heresies must needs be, saith the Spirit of God, that those that are approved may be made manifest: and they must be also, that approven truth may shine forth the more brightly, when it breaks out from beneath the dark cloud of error.
11. It is a sign of an evening‑time at hand, when men are generally tired with the toil, and wearied with the work of the day. So, it is a sign of an evening upon the church, when the generality therein are saying of the service of God, and work of the day, “What a weariness is it?” When people are weary of Christ and his yoke, weary of the true religion, &c., it shows that God is weary of them; that God and they are not to keep company long to­gether; or that some heavier yoke is to be laid upon their neck, to make them long for, and take the better with his light and easy yoke.—This weariness of God’s service is evident from the general atheism and infidelity of the day; men saying to the Almighty, “Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of thy ways—What is the Almighty that we should serve him?” (Job. 21:14‑15).—It is evident from the stop that is put to reformation, which proves but an abortive child, it sticks in the birth, or rather goes backward, and draws in its hand; which says that the child of wrath is to be brought forth before the child of mercy; I allude to that history, (Gen. 38:27).—It is evident from this, that there is none to stand in the gap, at which wrath enters in, (Ezek. 22:30,31). When men are generally weary of prayer, the gap is open, and judgments ready to come in. And sometimes people are so weary of God, and so ripe for a stroke, that though they were a praying and wrestling remnant busy in their behalf, it would not avail. Sin may be come to such a height, and the rectitude of God’s equity and justice may be so much concerned to punish it, in a church or nation, that the most powerful intercession of men cannot prevail, (Jer. 14:1). There is a time when prayers and pleadings will not profit a people; yea, when there is no physic operative, (Ezek. 24:13,14).
12. It is a sign of an evening‑time approaching when the light becomes uneasy, and windows become useless for letting in the light; and when men close the window‑shutters to exclude any light that is shining: this, you know, is ordinary, when the night is coming on.—Even so, sirs, it is a sad sign of an approaching dark night in the church of God when the light of the gospel becomes uneasy to men, when they prefer the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge, and the darkness of error to the light of truth; the darkness of legal knowledge to the light of gospel mysteries, (John 3:19). Gospel ordinances are compared to windows for letting in the light, (Song 2:9). Now, when these become useless for this end, and the gospel becomes under a general contempt, it is a sad symptom of night coming on, (2 Chron. 36:15,19). Jeru­salem had a signal day of the gospel; but she fell a stoning the prophets, and did not know the time of her merciful visitation; therefore wrath came upon them to the uttermost; and, “Behold, her house is left unto her desolate.” We have our gospel‑day; and the time has been when the gospel was highly prized and valued: but possibly thirty or forty years’ possession of the gospel has given many people a fill of it, so as they loathe the heavenly manna; it is become light food, and unsavory to the most part; anything in the world tastes better in their mouth than the waters of the sanctuary. “The light shineth in darkness, and the dark­ness comprehendeth it not;” yea, the darkness shuts out the light, or, at the same time, “Holds the truth in unrighteousness,” (Rom. 1:18).
2dly, There are promulgating signs, showing that the present time is an evening‑time. Many of these things that I have men­tioned not only declare that it is an evening‑time, but they are also prognostications of a darker evening approaching. And, as I have not gone out of my Bible to prophesy of what is to come; so neither need I go far off to find signs and evidences that the time we live in is, indeed, an evening‑time, in many respects: and, while I offer these marks of an evening‑time, you may, and ought to try yourself whether it be a dark night with you, as well as with the church of God in general, that so you may the more deeply regret the dark­ness of your condition, and more vigorously apply to Christ, the fountain of light, that at evening‑time he would make light to shine.—The signs of an evening‑time at present are many: we shall mention these following, still alluding to the metaphor that the spirit of God makes use of.
1. It is a sad sign of a present evening‑time when the stars only appear, and the sun disappears; when nothing but stars appear in the firmament. Now, ministers of the gospel are com­pared to stars, that borrow their light from the sun; they are called stars in his right hand; but Christ himself is the Sun of Righteous­ness.—Now, is it not an evidence that it is evening‑time when the light of the sun, the glory of Christ, cannot be seen, and only the star‑light appears? And when there is no more but an outward objective light of a gospel‑ministry, without an internal subjective light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ? And when people are gazing only upon the stars; look­ing merely to instruments, and taken up with them, without looking to Christ himself?
2. It is a sad sign of an evening‑time, when that which is called the falling of stars is discernable.—And is it not an evening they that, like the Jews, have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, and not submitting themselves to the righteousness of God, (Rom. 10:2,3). Where you see the darkness of ignorance they were compassed with, was the cause of their stumbling. They were not ignorant of God’s law; nay, they were zealous for that: but they were ignorant of God’s righteousness, revealed in the gospel, that is, of Christ as the end of the law for righteousness: and hence they stumbled in the dark. Many are much enlightened in the knowledge of the law, and heated also with a zeal for the law of God; and yet are in the dark night of gross ignorance of Christ and God’s righteousness: and so they stumble in the dark, and fall into perdition.
9. It is a sad sign of an evening‑time, when all is hushed in silence, and the house kept in profound peace: for, in the daytime there is still some noise about the house; but in the nighttime there is nothing, for ordinary, but undisturbed peace and tranquility.—Even so, it is a sign that it is the dark and dead hour of the night with people, when their hearts are resting in the beds of carnal ease and peace: it says, that the devil is lulling them asleep in the bed of security; “When the strong man armed keeps his palace, his goods are in peace,” (Luke 11:21). Some are ready to think, God be thanked I was never disturbed by the devil: Yea, but man, why doth he not disturb you? The reason is, because he is sure enough of you: but if you were resisting him, he would give you little peace; he would set all the powers of hell on your top. But when all is hushed into a hellish peace, it is a black evening‑time: thus many say, “We shall have peace though we add drunkenness to thirst.”
10. It is a plain sign of an evening‑time; yea, that it is mid­night with them, when all their doors are bared and bolted, and when no knocks are heard or answered, so as to procure an opening of the door: this is the case that frequently occurs in the nighttime. And now, is it not a sad evidence, that it is an evening‑time; yea, a midnight time with a multitude in the visible church, when the doors of their hearts are fast shut against Christ; and though he stand at the door and knock, (Rev. 3:20), yet they do not hear, answer, and open to him? When sinners knock at his door, he is still ready to open, according to his word, “To him that knocketh it shall be opened;” but when he knocks at the sinner’s door, he may knock a thousand times, and never be heard or answered. Many a knock hath he given, and still is giving, at the door of this generation.—He knocks by his word of command, (Heb. 3:7,8; Eph. 5:14; 1 John 3:23), by his word of threatening, (John 8:24; Luke 13:3; Mark 16:16), by his word of promise and kindly invitation, (Matt. 11:28; John 6:35; 8:38); by his word of expostulation, reasoning the matter, (Ezek. 30:11); by his word of complaint, (John 5:4); and by his word of counsel, (Rev. 3:18).­ Again, he knocks by his Spirit, by conscience, by afflictions, by common mercies, by judgments, by the good examples and counsels of others, and foretastes of love.
11. It is a sign that it is an evening-time, when the moon is risen, and risen high: for, you know, as it is a sign the sun is setting, when the moon is risen; so, for ordinary, the higher the moon is risen, the farther on is the night, and the farther off is the sun. When the moon is up, the sun is down.—Now, as Christ is compared to the sun, and this world to the moon, so, when it is daylight with the church of God, their splendor is descried by their being clothed with the sun, and having the moon under their feet, (Rev. 12:1). And as it is a day time of spiritual light with a person or people, when they have the sun above their head, and the moon under their feet; so it is a nighttime of spiritual darkness with a person or people, when they have the moon above their head, and the sun under their feet; when men’s affections are set wholly upon this changeable world, this mutable moon: when the world is uppermost in their heart, Christ is down-most. Are not then the worldly hearts, worldly affections, worldly mindedness of people, who only mind earthly things, an evidence that they are darkness? Some by the moon in Revelation 12:1, understand the moon of self‑righteousness; and it holds thus also, that when men, instead of being clothed with the Sun of righteousness, and having the moon of self‑righteousness under their feet, are clothed with the moon, the spotted moon, of their own righteousness; then they have the Sun of righteousness under their feet. They are trampling on Christ and his righteousness while they are exalting themselves and their own righteousness, extolling the law of works, and not knowing that they are thus crying down Christ, the end of the law for righteousness, in whom only we have righteousness and strength.
12. It is a sign that it is an evening‑time, when looking‑glasses are of no use; and when, by reason of darkness, men can make no use or improvement either of a mirror, for seeing themselves; or of a prospect, for seeing other things.—So, it is a sign of a very dark night, an evening‑time of gross darkness, when God’s two glasses are of no use; I mean, neither law nor gospel: when people can neither see themselves in the glass of the law, as Paul did, (Rom. 7:8); and also whey they cannot see Christ, and the glory of God in him, in the glass of the gospel, as Paul and others did, (2 Cor. 3:18). But it is a time of darkness with the church, and with particular souls, and a sad evidence, a certain sign of their total want of saving light, when the law is unserviceable for discovering their sinful nature, hearts, and lives; and the gospel unserviceable for discovering the glory of God, in the method of salvation through Christ: when they are neither convinced of sin and misery, by the Spirit opening the command, and applying the threatening of the law; nor convinced of righteousness and judgment, by the Spirit coming as a Spirit of wisdom, and revelation in the knowledge of Christ, as the Lord our righteousness.
Now, tell me, after you have heard these signs of an evening-­time, if there be not much matter and ground of deep regret and lamentation over the present time? Are not the generality in the visible church, yea, the most part here, under gross darkness? Is it not a black evening with you, man: with you woman? If God would convince you by these signs of it, you would see that you are enveloped and surrounded with the clouds and thick darkness of hell; and see your need to cry, Lord, enlighten; Lord, send forth thy light and truth.

Ralph Erskine

Footnotes:
1These and other topics of discourse, were handled by our Author, in several excellent Sermons, at sacramental occasions, in the year 1723. The Publishers of the present edition (1819) would have been very happy to have been able to have favored the public with the whole of these Sermons on this text; and used every means in their power, with the relations of the Author to effect their design; but they are very sorry their endeavors were unsuccessful.—This one being formerly published in the folio edition, as apposite to the then present times, it was judged proper still to continue it, as now still suitable.

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