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CHRIST'S THREE COMINGS.
ST. LUKE, xviii. 8.
When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth ?
The Church celebrates this day the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, or in other words, His first coming upon earth. But when He came He declared that He should come once again, not to save the world, but to judge the world. We stand between these two comings, the first past, the second to come: nor is it possible for any man to dwell seriously upon the first without having his thoughts carried on to the second. For whether our thoughts of our Lord's coming in the flesh lead our minds to dwell chiefly upon our own sins or upon God's goodness, it is to Christ's second coming that we must look for receiving or escaping from the punishment of the one, and for experiencing the perfect fulfilment of the other. And it is to Christ's second coming that I would wish to direct your thoughts to-day; the more so, as there are three several meanings of this expression, all of them scriptural, and all, I think, concerning us very nearly.
Christ will come again after his resurrection in three different senses. First of all, He will come again finally, and in the highest sense, when this world shall end, and we shall all rise to judgment. Secondly, He will come to each one of us finally, and in the highest sense, when we each of us receive his call to die. Thirdly, He has come more than once, and I believe He will come more than once again, not finally nor in the highest sense either to all mankind or to each individual; but in a lower sense, and affording a sort of type or image of the higher : I mean, when He comes to bring upon the whole earth, or on some one or more nations, a great season of suffering; in which the loftiness of men shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low; when He sends forth one or more of His sore judgments, famine, pestilence, or war, foreign or civil, to bring down the pride of earthly greatness. In this sense, He is said to have come when He destroyed Jerusalem; in this sense, also, He came more than three hundred years afterwards, when He destroyed the empire of Rome. And thus His words to His disciples, “ this generation shall not pass till all these things be done,” as they were then fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, within forty years of the time when they were spoken; so they have been fulfilled at other periods of the world, and may be fulfilled to us now, even though hundreds or thousands of years may pass before His coming in the last and greatest sense of all. In truth, to all of us now living in this country, it may be said with regard to Christ's coming, that in the highest sense of all, He may come in this generation, for we know not the times and the seasons which the Father has put in His own power ;--that in the highest sense to each one of us He surely will come, inasmuch as we shall all die; and in that third sense, in which He comes to execute judgment upon some one nation or nations, He may come to us in this generation, nor are there wanting signs which make it probable that He will come.
Now, then, let us mark His own question, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith upon the earth ?" And let us see what would be the answer to it, supposing that His coming in each one of the three senses which I have spoken of, should be near, even at the doors.
May we for a moment be allowed to conceive the unspeakable awfulness of His coming in the highest sense of all ? There are many now living who have seen and felt the earth shake under
their feet, and be rent asunder, and have seen houses, and churches, and palaces, and men, and women, and children with them, swallowed up in an instant. There are those living who have seen and heard the eruptions of a volcano; when the mountain sends forth a fearful voice like thunder, when the air is darkened by the thick clouds of dust thrown up into the sky, and when the fiery stream, like the molten metal which we may have seen running red hot in the iron furnaces, comes pouring down like a broad and deep river in flood, and sweeps every thing away before it. Persons who have witnessed these scenes have always, I believe, been led to think of the great day of Christ's last coming. But the earthquake and the eruption of a volcano must be very faint images of that fearful hour when heaven and earth shall pass away; nor can any tongue of man attempt to describe what will then be witnessed. Only, if amidst darkness and storm, and earthquake and fire, we should really-we now living, we now in this place assembled-if we with our bodily eyes were to see the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and were to hear that trumpet call, at which the dead shall arise, can we, can our consciences tell us, what would be our feelings at that sight and sound ? Should we be filled with fear to our inmost souls, as if certain death were coming upon us, or should we look up to Him whom we beheld
amidst the blessed company of His saints and angels, as to one whom we had long known, long loved, long desired to see, so that, love casting out fear, we should be full of joy amidst all the terrors of the perishing world, because our Saviour and Redeemer was come, and our trial was over, and our perfect rest and happiness was at hand ? Should we say to the mountains, “ fall on us,” and to the hills, “ cover us ;” or should we say, rather,
Lo, this is our God! we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord, we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation ?"
But this we can scarcely conceive; we cannot persuade ourselves that we shall ever see the great mountains overthrown, and the earth burning with fire, and the heavens passing away like a scroll. Well then, let us come to what we can conceive at any rate, and ask what would be our feelings, if Christ were to come in our generation, in the lower sense of the term; if He were to visit this nation with a season of great misery, with famine, and pestilence, and war. In this land, it is true, we know but little by our own experience of any of these things, for when pestilence did visit us a few years since, it was by no means in its most fearful form, and famine and war are strangers to us altogether; yet we well know that there are many living who have seen