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Never, perhaps, in the history of man, were the times more ominous, or pregnant with greater events than the present. The signs of them are in many respects set before the eyes of men, and need not to be told; and they strike the senses so forcibly, and come so closely to the apprehension of all, that they may be said to be felt, as well as to be seen. The face of the sky never indicated more clearly an approaching tempest, than the signs of the times betoken an approaching convulsion,—not partial, but universal. It is not a single cloud, surcharged with electricity, on the rending of which a momentary flash might appear, and the thunderbolt shiver a pine, or scathe a few lowly shrubs, that is now rising into view; but the whole atmosphere is lowering, a gathering storm is accumulating fearfully in every region, the lightning is already seen gleaming in the hea
vens, and passing in quick succession from one distant cloud to another, as if every tree in the forest would be enkindled, and the devastating tempest, before purifying the atmosphere, spread ruin on every side. Such is now the aspect of the political horizon. The whole world is in agitation. All kings on earth, whose words were wont to be laws, are troubled. The calm repose of ages, in which thrones and altars were held sacred, has been broken in a moment. Ancient monarchies, which seemed long to defy dissolution and to mock at time, pass away like a dream. And the question is not now of the death of a king, or even of the ceasing of one dynasty and the commencement of another; but the whole fabric of government is insecure, the whole frame of society is shaken. Every kingdom, instead of each being knit together and dreaded by surrounding states, is divided against itself, as if dissolution were the sure destiny of them all. A citizen king, the choice of the people and not a military usurper, sits on the throne of the Capets. And as if the signal had gone throughout the world quick as lightning, nations, instead of progressing slowly to regeneration, start at once into life. And from the banks of the Don to the Tagus, from the shores of the Bosphorus to Lapland, and, wide Europe being too narrow a field for the spirit of change that now ranges simultaneously throughout the world, from the new states of South America to the hitherto unchangeable China, skirting Africa and traversing Asia, to the extremity of the globe on the frozen north, there are signs of change in every country under heaven; and none can tell of what kingdom it may not be told in the news of to-morrow, that a revolution has been begun and perfected in a week. Every kingdom seems but to wait for its day of revolt or revival. And the only wonder now would be, that any nation should continue much longer what for ages it has been; or that the signs of the times should not everywhere alike be a striking contrast to those of the past.
Man, whatever expectations he may form, knoweth not what a day may bring forth. And never was the truth of the short-sightedness of mortals more clearly exemplified than it is now, when changes, of which none could recently have formed the conception, pass as common things before the eyes of all. Human wisdom is not in any thing more speedily set at nought than when it counts the chances, and attempts to define the issue, of international wars and intestine commotions. But though, in the evolution of ordinary events, the sagacity of man were equal to the task of marking their character before their time, there is no experience or analogy by which he could now be guided to a certain or even probable conclusion. For all history presents not any scale of reckoning for such times as these, when unparalleled events, which indicate an universal crisis, and betoken a war of opinions throughout the wide world, such as never existed to be chronicled before, are crowded together, and seem but the incidents of an hour.
It is not by a light issuing from the earth, nor by the meteor-gleam of high imaginations, that a page of future history can be read, or the dark recesses of futurity be disclosed. The Ruler among the nations, whose omniscient eye penetrates alike through space and through time, can alone show the things that are not as though they were. He hath the times and the seasons in his own power; and the signs of them can be known only from his word. From ancient times he hath declared, by his servants the prophets, the things that are now passing, and that are yet to come. And to the magnifying of the divine word, but in utter disparagement of human arrogancy, it is to the most ancient of records, in the Old Testament, and to the more recent but still remote revelations of the New, that, with all submissiveness, and child-like docility, a pious application must be made, and a patient investigation must be devoted, ir" by any means the ultimate consequences and final results of those existing events which agitate the world, may be ascertained with infinitely greater security and truth than belong to the daily fluctuating conjectures, which all the powers of reason, though vainly calling universal history to its aid, can deduce, as the final effect of those causes of which the partial operation is already seen.
These pages are addressed to professing Christians, and the inspiration of Scripture is here assumed as a certain and acknowledged truth. If it were doubted for a moment by any reader, we might not only refer him to the positive proofs which literal prophecies, already fulfilled, abundantly supply; but we might challenge him even now, at this late period, to the production of any such token of an insight into futurity, or any systematic view of the yet future history of the world, at all comparable to that which, of old, was unfolded by the prophets who testified of Jesus, and by the apostles who first preached the doctrine of the cross.
It is by reading and understanding what is written in the word of God, and by comparing things spiritual with spiritual, that, as the best means, scriptural truths may be known. And, while seekrag carefully to avoid the darkening of counsel by words without knowledge, and the profanely mingling of any vain imagination with the oracles of the living God, the object aimed at in the following essay is to note, so far as they can as yet be traced, from a variety of historical prophecies, already fulfilled, the signs of these times.
That such is a legitimate object of inquiry, may be inferred, from an admonition and rebuke given by the Lord Jesus Christ, to those Jews who sought of him a sign, but who did not discern the signs of the limes. If they had believed in Moses, in whom they trusted, they would have believed in Christ, of whom he testified. And except it be first clearly shown that none of the words of any of the prophets, nor of Christ, nor of his apostles, have, or can have the least possible reference to what is now passing, or may speedily be brought to pass in the world,—which it would require a fearless hardihood unmatched by that of the boldest interpreter to maintain,—it cannot of itself be an evil or unwise thing to endeavour to do what Jesus convieted the Jews of hypocrisy and folly for not doing; and if there be in the word of God any tokens of this critical era, or any indications of that to which it shall lead, it may still be asked of all—ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but can ye not discern the signs of these times? Surely, however often repeated by lips that ought never to be used to such mockery, the sneer of a blasphemer, who scoffed indiscriminately at all scripture, should never deter a believer from reverently inquiring from the written word, what is the mind of the Spirit; nor ought any man, who is not ashamed of Jesus and of his words, to quail before the scoff of the scorner, or to suffer so base a motive as that, the most contemptible of all fear, to deter him from seeking to understand "the revelation of Jesus Christ,'1 to which these words are prefixed, "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep these things that are written therein, for the time is at hand; and to which, also, these are added, And he said unto me, these sayings are faithful and true : and the Lord God of the holy prophets sent his angel to shew unto his seroants the things which must shortly be done. Behold I come quickly : blessed is he that keepeth the sayings