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But it shall come to pass, that at evening-time it shall be light.--ZECH. xiv, 7.
As the whole scriptures testify of Christ, so this text testifies concerning the tenour 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 disposal, the other at the joyful issue of God's procedure towards his church and people.
In the words themselves we observe, 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; our present purpose is to evince, that the time in which we live is an eveningtime. 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 in this, we would represent some of
* The following Sermon, and poetical extract, from the Works of the Rev. Ralph Erskine, have been annexed to the present edition of E. Erskine's Works, chiefly with the view of rendering it conformable to the terms of the Prospectus issued for the work.-AM. ED.
the signs of an evening-time in the church. -And, seeing the Spirit of God expresses the sad case of a people by an eveningtime, he thus allows us to allude to the phrase in representing the same. The signs that we mention, then, shall be gathered from that allusion, so as they may be the better fixed upon your memories, when they are expressed by such things as are obvious to every body, 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, bụt 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 becoming 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. Is it 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 says 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 As, 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, universally obtains, it bespeaks an eveningtime.
2. It is a sign that bodes an evening-time, when labourers are fast returning from their labour. If you see those who labour 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 labourers in God's vineyard are fast taken home to heaven, from their labour on earth, it is a sign that an 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 labourers, in God's vineyard in particular, bodes an eveningtime. When Lots are taken out of Sodom, it presages a shower of wrath. Methuselah was taken away
before the flood; Ambrose was removed before the ruin of Italy; Luther beforer the wars of Germany; and many eminent labourers has the Lord, of late, removed in this land, and from this country-side: we may from 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 labourers before the dark night
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, says the apostle, so, when men begin 'to slumber, 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 coming, when the dew begins to fall. We find the Lord speaking to his sleeping church in these terms, Song v.
Open to me, for
head is filled with the dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.” Intimating, what he suffered for her, even the dew' and drops of the night of divine wrath and vengeance. Which, by the by, is
one of the grand notives why we ought to open our hearts to him, who exposed himself to the wrath of God for us. 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 smaller drops of judgment have not the proper effect upon them, to awaken and quicken, but they rather remain incorrigible: for, as a physician, when less 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
some time by-gone, 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; beside 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 sun-beams through the day) becomes exceedingly 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, Matth. xxiv. 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. ii. 4, 5. When Laodicea became lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, then God spewed her out of his mouth; that is, rejected her with abhorrence. Perhaps there was never a colder air than that in which the present generation breathes; love to God and his people, zeal for God and his glory, that some time ago warmed the breasts of Christians, is turned to such a cool of 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 afterwards, 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, ver. 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 and Israel fall upon the mountain of Gilboa. . When Zedekiah 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 to Babylon. 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 withdrawing 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, Isa. lix. 20: “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God; and your sins have hid his face from you?” 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 eveningtime coming on a church, when there is a gradual departure of God's glory. We read of the gradual removes of the glory of