An imperfect description of the Coming of our Saviour, and of the World on Fire.
CERTAINLY there is nothing in the whole course of Nature, or of Humane C affairs, so great and so extraordinary, as the two last Scenes of them, THE COMING OF OUR SAVIOUR, and the BURNING OF THE WORLD. If we could draw in our minds the Pictures of these, in true and lively colours, We should scarce be able to attend to any thing else, or ever divert our imagination from these two objects. For what can more affect us than the greatest Glory that ever was visible upon Earth, and at the same time the greatest Terror. A God descending in the Head of an Army of Angels, and a Burning World under his feet.
These are things truly above expression; And not only so, but so different and remote from our ordinary thoughts and conceptions, that he that comes nearest to a true description of them, shall be look’d upon as the most extravagant. ’Tis or unhappiness to be so much used to little trifling things in this life, that when any thing great is represented to us, it appears phantastical: An Idea, made by some contemplative or melancholy person. I will not venture therefore, without premising some grounds out of Scripture, to say any thing concerning This Glorious Appearance. As to the Burning of the World; I think we have already laid a foundation sufficient to support the highest description that can be made of it; But the coming of our Saviour being wholly out of the way of
[paragraph continues] Natural Causes, it is reasonable we should take all directions we can from Scripture, that we may give a more fitting and just account of that Sacred Pomp.
I need not mention those places of ScriptureMatt. 24. 30, 31. Act. 1. 11. & 3. 20, 21. Apoc. 1. 7. Heb. 9. 28. that prove the second coming of our Saviour in general, or his return to the Earth again at the end of the World: no Christian can doubt of this, ’tis so often repeated in those Sacred Writings. But the manner and circumstances of this Coming, or of this Appearance, are the things we now enquire into. And in the first place, we may observe that Scripture tells us our Saviour will come in Flaming Fire, and with an Host of mighty Angels; so says St. Paul to the Thessalonians, 1 Ep. 1. 7. Matt. 16. 27. The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from Heaven with mighty Angels; in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the second place, our Saviour says himself, The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his Angels. From which two places we may learn, first, that the appearance of our Saviour will be with flames of Fire. Secondly, with an Host of Angels. Thirdly, in the glory of his Father. By which glory of the Father I think is understood that Throne of Glory represented by Daniel for the Ancient of Days. For our Saviour speaks here to the Jews, and probably in a way intelligible to them; And the Glory of the Father which they were most likely to understand, would be either the Glory wherein God appeared at Mount Sinai, upon the giving of the Law, whereof the Apostle speaks largely to the Hebrews; ch. 12. 18, 19, 20, 21.or that which Daniel represents Him in at the day of Judgment. And this latter being more proper to the subject of our Saviour's discourse, ’tis more likely this expression refers to it. Give me leave therefore to set down that description of the Glory of the Father upon his Throne, from the Prophet Daniel, ch. 7, 9. And I beheld till the Thrones were 1set, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: His throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him, thousand thousands ministred unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. With this Throne of the glory of the Father, let us, if you please, compare the Throne of the Son of God, as it was seen by St. John in the Apocalypse, ch. 4. 2, &c. And immediately I was in the Spirit: and behold a throne was set in heaven, and one sate on the Throne. And he that sat, was to look upon like a jasper, and a Sardine stone: and there was a Rain-bow round about the Throne, in appearance like unto an Emerald. And out of the Throne proceeded Lightnings, and Thunderings, and Voices, &c. and before the Throne was a Sea of glass like unto Crystal.
In these representations you have some beams of the glory of the Father and of the Son; which may be partly a direction to us, in conceiving the lustre of our Saviour's appearance. Let us further observe, if you please, how external nature will be affected at the sight of God, or of this approaching glory. The Scripture often takes notice of this, and in terms very high and eloquent. The Psalmist seems to have lov’d that subject above others; to set out the greatness of the day of the Lord, and the consternation of all nature at that time. He throws about his thunder and lightning, makes the Hills to melt like wax at the presence of
the Lord, and the very foundations of the Earth to tremble, as you may see in the 18th Psalm, and the 97. and the 104. and several others, which are too long to be here inserted. So the Prophet Habakkuk, in his Prophetick prayer, Chap. 3d. hath many Ejaculations to the like purpose. And the Prophet Nahum says, The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the Earth is burnt at his presence: yea, the world, and all that dwell therein.
But more particularly, as to the face of Nature just before the coming of our Saviour, that may be best collected from the signs of his coming mention’d in the precedent Chapter. Those all meeting together, help to prepare and make ready a Theater, fit for an angry God to come down upon. The countenance of the Heavens will be dark and gloomy; and a Veil drawn over the face of the Sun. The Earth in a disposition every where to break into open flames. The tops of the Mountains smoaking; the Rivers dry; Earthquakes in several places; the Sea sunk and retied into its deepest Chanel, and roaring, as against some mighty storm. These things will make the day dead and melancholy, but the Night-Scenes will have more of horrour in them. When the Blazing-Stars appear, like so many Furies, with their lighted Torches, threatning to set all on fire. For I do not doubt but the Comets will bear a part in this Tragedy, and have something extraordinary in them, at that time; either as to number, or bigness, or nearness to the Earth. Besides, the Air will be full of flaming Meteors, of unusual forms and magnitudes; Balls of fire rowling in the Skie, and pointed lightnings darted against the Earth; mixt with claps of thunder, and unusual noises from the Clouds. The Moon and the Stars will be confus’d and irregular, both in their light and motions; as if the whole frame of the Heavens was out of order, all the laws of Nature were broken or expir’d.
When all things are in this languishing or dying posture, and the Inhabitants of the Earth under the fears of their last end; The Heavens will open on a sudden, and the Glory of God will appear. A Glory surpassing the Sun in its greatest radiancy; which, tho’ we cannot describe, we may suppose it will bear some resemblance or proportion with those representations that are made in Scripture, of God upon his Throne. This wonder in the Heavens, whatsoever its form may be, will presently attract the eyes of all the Christian World. Nothing can more affect them than an object so unusual and so illustrious; and that, (probably) brings along with it their last destiny, and will put a period to all humane affairs.
Some of the Ancients2 Pet. 3. 10. have thought that this coming of our Saviour would be in the dead of the night, and his first glorious appearance in the midst of darkness. God is often describ’d in Scripture as Light or Fire, with darkness round about him. Psal. 18. 9, 11, 12.He bowed the Heavens and came down, and darkness was under his feet. He made darkness his secret place: His pavilion round about him were dark Waters and thick Clouds of the Skies. At the brightness that was before him, the thick Clouds passed.Psal. 97. And when God appear’d upon Mount Sinai, the Mountain burnt with fire unto the midst of Heaven with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness:Deut. 4. 11. Or, as the Apostle expresses it, with blackness and darkness, and tempest. Light is never more glorious than when surrounded with darkness; and it may be the Sun, at that time, will be so obscure, as to make little distinction of Day and Night. Hebr. 12. 18. But
however this Divine Light over-bears and distinguishes it self from common Light, tho’ it be at Mid-day. ’Twas about Noon that the Light shin’d from Heaven and surrounded St. Paul.Acts 22. 6. And ’twas on the Day-time that St. Stephen saw the Heavens opened; saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.Acts 7. 55, 56. This light, which flows from a more vital source, be it Day or Night, will always be predominant.
That appearance of God upon Mount Sinai, which we mention’d, if we reflect upon it, will help us a little to form an Idea of this last appearance. When God had declar’d, that he would come down in the sight of the People; The Text says, There were thunders and lightnings, and a thick Cloud upon the Mount, and the voice of the Trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the Camp trembled. And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. And the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole Mount quaked greatly. If we look upon this Mount as an Epitome of the Earth, this appearance gives us an imperfect resemblance of that which is to come. Here are the several parts or main strokes of it; first, the Heavens and the Earth in smoke and fire, then the appearance of a Divine Glory, and the sound of a Trumpet in the presence of Angels. But as the second coming of our Saviour is a Triumph over his Enemies, and an entrance into his Kingdom, and is acted upon the Theater of the whole Earth; so we are to suppose, in proportion, all the parts and circumstances of it, more great and magnificent.
When therefore this mighty God returns again to that Earth, where he had once been ill treated, not Mount Sinai only, but all the Mountains of the Earth, and all the Inhabitants of the World, will tremble at his presence. At the first opening of the Heavens, the brightness of his Person will scatter the dark Clouds, and shoot streams of light throughout all the Air. But that first appearance, being far from the Earth, will seem to be onely a great mass of light, without any distinct form; till, by nearer approaches, this bright Body shows it self to be an Army of Angels, with this King of kings for their Leader. Then you may imagine how guilty Mankind will tremble and be astonish’d; and while they are gazing at this heavenly Host, the Voice of the Archangel is heard, the shrill sound of the Trumpet reaches their ears. And this gives the general Alarum to all the World. For he cometh, for he cometh, they cry, to judge the Earth. The crucified God is return’d in Glory, to take Vengeance upon his Enemies: Not onely upon those that pierc’d his Sacred Body, with Nails and with a Spear, at Jerusalem; but those also that pierce him every day by their prophaneness and hard speeches, concerning his Person and his Religion. Now they see that God whom they have mock’d, or blasphem’d, laugh’t at his meanness, or at his vain threats; They see Him, and are confounded with shame and fear; and in the bitterness of their anguish and despair call for the Mountains to fall upon them.Isa. 2. 19.
Rev. 6. 16, 17. Fly into the clefts of the Rocks, and into the Caves of the Earth, for fear of the Lord, and the glory of his Majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the Earth.
As it is not possible for us to express or conceive the dread and majesty of this appearance; so neither can we, on the other hand, express the passions and consternation of the People that behold it. These things exceed the measures of
humane affairs, and of humane thoughts; we have neither words, nor comparisons, to make them known by. The greatest pomp and magnificence of the Emperors of the East, in their Armies, in their triumphs, in their inaugurations, is but like the sport and entertainment of Children, if compar’d with this Solemnity. When God condescends to an external glory, with a visible Train and Equipage: When, from all the Provinces of his vast and boundless Empire, he summons his Nobles, as I may so say: The several orders of Angels and Arch-Angels, to attend his Person; tho’ we cannot tell the form or manner of this Appearance, we know there is nothing in our experience, or in the whole history of this World, that can be a just representation of the least part of it. No Armies so numerous as the Host of Heaven: and in the midst of those bright Legions, in a flaming Chariot, will sit the Sun of Man, when he comes to be glorified in his Saints, and triumph over his Enemies. And instead of the wild noises of the rabble, which makes a great part of our worldly state: This blessed Company will breath their Halleluiahs into the open Air; and repeated acclamations ofApoc. 7. 10. &
12. 10. Salvation to God, which sits upon the Throne, and to the Lamb. Now is come salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ.
But I leave the rest to our silent devotion and admiration. Onely give me leave, whilst this object is before our eyes, to make a short reflection upon the wonderful history of our Saviour; and the different states, which that Sacred Person, within the compass of our knowledge, hath undergone. We now see him coming in the Clouds in glory and triumph, surrounded with innumerable Angels. This is the same Person, who, so many hundred Years ago, enter’d Jerusalem, with another sort of Equipage: mounted upon an Asse's Colt, while the little people and the multitude cry’d, Hosanna to the Son of David. Nay, this is the same Person, that, at his first coming into this World, was laid in a Manger instead of a Cradle; A naked Babe dropt in a Crib at Bethlehem:Luke 2. 12. His poor Mother not having wherewithall to get her a better Lodging, when she was to be deliver’d of this Sacred burthen. This helpless Infant, that often wanted a little Milk to refresh it, and support its weakness: That hath often cry’d for the Breast, with hunger and tears: now appears to be the Lord of Heaven and Earth. If this Divine Person had fain from the clouds in a mortal Body, cloath’d with Flesh and Blond, and spent his life here amongst sinners; that alone had been an infinite condescension. But as if it had not been enough to take upon him humane Nature, he was content, for many months, to live the life of an Animal, or of a Plant, in the dark cell of a woman's Womb. This is the Lord's doing, it is marvellous in our eyes.
Neither is this all that is wonderful in the story of our Saviour. If the manner of his death be compar’d with his present glory, we shall think, either the one, or the other, incredible. Look up, first, into the Heavens: see how they bow under him, and receive a new light from the Glory of his Presence. Then look down upon the Earth, and see a naked Body hanging upon a cursed Tree in Golgotha: crucified betwixt two Thieves: wounded, spit upon, mock’d, abus’d. Is it possible to believe that one and the same person can act or suffer such different parts? That he, that is now Lord and Master of all Nature: not only
of Death and Hell, and the powers of darkness: but of all Principalities in heavenly places: is the same Infant Jesus, the same crucified Jesus, of whose life and death the Christian records give us an account? The History of this person is the Wonder of this World1 Pet. 1. 11, 12.; and not of this World only, but of the Angels above, that desire to look into it.
Let us now return to our subject. We left the Earth in a languishing condition, ready to be made a Burnt-offering, to appease the wrath of its offended Lord. When Sodom was to be destroy’d, Gen. 18. Abraham interceded with God that he would spare it for the Righteous sake: And David2 Sam. 24. 17. interceded to save his guiltless People from God's Judgments and the Destroying Angel. But here is no Intercessor for mankind in this last extremity: None to interpose where the Mediator of our Peace is the party offended. Shall then the righteous perish with the wicked? Shall not the judge of all the Earth do right? Or if the Righteous be translated and delivered from This Fire, what shall become of innocent children and Infants? Must these all be given up to the merciless flames, as a Sacrifice to Moloch? and their tender flesh, like burnt incense, send up fumes to feed the nostrils of evil Spirits? Can the God of Israel smell a sweet savour from such Sacrifices? The greater half of mankind is made up of Infants and Children: and if the wicked be destroyed, yet these Lambs, what have they done? are there no bowels of compassion for such an harmless multitude? But we leave them to their Guardian Angels, Matt. 18. 10. and to that Providence which watches over all things.
It only remains therefore, to let fall that Fire from Heaven, which is to consume this Holocaust. Imagine all Nature now standing in a silent expectation to receive its last doom: The Tutelary and Destroying Angels to have their instructions: Every thing to be ready for the fatal hour: And then, after a little silence, all the Host of Heaven to raise their voice and sing aloud, LET GOD ARISE: Let his enemies be scattered. As smoak is driven away, so drive them away: As wax melteth before the fire, so LET the wicked perish at the presence of God. And upon this, as upon a signal given, all the sublunary World breaks into Flames, and all the Treasuries of Fire are open’d, in Heaven and in Earth.
Thus the Conflagration begins. If one should now go about to represent the World on Fire, with all the confusions that necessarily must be, in Nature and in Mankind, upon that occasion, it would seem to most men a Romantick Scene. Yet we are sure there must be such a Scene. The heavens will pass away with a noise, and the Elements will melt with fervent heat, and all the works of the Earth will be burnt up. And these things cannot come to pass without the greatest disorders imaginable, both in the minds of Men and in external Nature: and the saddest spectacles that eye can behold. We think it a great matter to see a single person burnt alive: here are Millions, shrieking in the flames at once. ’Tis frightful to us to look upon a great City in flames, and to see the distractions and misery of the people: here is an Universal Fire through all the Cities of the Earth, and an Universal Massacre of their Inhabitants. Whatsoever the ProphetsIsa. 24.
Lament. foretold of the desolations of Judea, Jerusalem, or Babylon, in the highest strains, is more than literally accomplish’d in this last and general Calamity: And those only that are Spectators of it, can make its History.
The disorders in Nature and the inanimate World will be no less, nor less strange and unaccountable, than those in Mankind. Every Element, and every Region, so far as the bounds of this Fire extend, will be in a tumult and a fury, and the whole habitable World running into confusion. A World is sooner destroyed than made, and Nature relapses hastily into that Chaos-state, out of which she came by slow and leisurely motions. As an Army advances into the field by just and regular marches, but when it is broken and routed, it flies with precipitation, and one cannot describe its posture. Fire is a barbarous Enemy, it gives no mercy; there is nothing but fury, and rage, and ruine, and destruction, wheresoever it prevails. A storm or Hurricano, tho’ it be but the force of Air, makes a strange havock where it comes; but devouring flames, or exhalations set on Fire, have still a far greater violence, and carry more terror along with them. Thunder and Earthquakes are the Sons of Fire: and we know nothing in all Nature, more impetuous, or more irresistibly destructive than these two. And accordingly in this last war of the Elements, we may be sure, they will bear their parts, and do great execution in the several regions of the World. Earthquakes and Subterraneous Eruptions will tear the body and bowels of the Earth; and Thunders and convulsive motions of the Air, rend the Skies. The waters of the Sea will boyl and struggle with streams of Sulphur that run into them; which will make them fume, and smoke, and roar, beyond all storms and tempests. And these noises of the Sea will be answered again from the Land by failing Rocks and Mountains. This is a small part of the disorders of that day.
But ’tis not possible, from any station, to have a full prospect of this last Scene of the Earth: for ’tis a mixture of fire and darkness. This new Temple is fill’d with smoak, while it is consecrating, and none can enter into it. But I am apt to think, if we could look down upon this burning World from above the Clouds, and have a full view of it, in all its parts, we should think it a lively representation of Hell it self. For, Fire and darkness are the two chief things by which that state, or that place, uses to be describ'd: and they are both here mingled together: with all other ingredients that make that Tophet that is prepar’d of old. Isa. 30.Here are Lakes of fire and brimstone: Rivers of melted glowing matter: Ten thousand Volcano's vomiting flames all at once. Thick darkness, and Pillars of smoke twisted about with wreaths of flame, like fiery Snakes. Mountains of Earth thrown up into the Air, and the Heavens dropping down in lumps of fire. These things will all be literally true, concerning that day, and that state of the Earth. And if we suppose Beelzebub, and his Apostate crew, in the midst of this fiery furnace: (and I know not where they can be else.) It will be hard to find any part of the Universe, or any state of things, that answers to so many of the properties and characters of Hell, as this which is now before us.
But if we suppose the storm over, and that the fire hath got an entire victory over all other bodies, and subdued every thing to it self, the Conflagration will end in a Deluge of fire: Or, in a Sea of fire, covering the whole Globe of the Earth. For, when the exterior region of the Earth is melted into a fluor, like molten glass, or running metal; it will, according to the nature of other Fluids,
fill all vacuities and depressions, and fall into a regular surface, at an equal distance, every where, from its center. This Sea of fire, like the first Abyss, will cover the face of the whole Earth: make a kind of second Chaos: and leave a capacity for another World to rise from it. But that is not our present business. Let us onely, if you please, to take leave of this subject, reflect upon this occasion, on the Vanity and transient glory of all this habitable World. How, by the force of one Element, breaking loose upon the rest, all the Varieties of Nature, all the works of Art, all the labours of Men are reduc’d to nothing. All that we admir’d and ador’d before, as great and magnificent, is obliterated or vanish’d. And another form and face of things, plain, simple, and every where the same, overspreads the whole Earth. Where are now the great Empires of the World, and their great Imperial Cities? Their Pillars, Trophees, and Monuments of glory? Show me where they stood: read the Inscription, tell me the Victor's name. What remains, what impressions, what difference or distinction do you see in this mass of fire? Rome it self, Eternal Rome, the Great City, the Empress of the World, whose domination and superstition, ancient and modern, make a great part of the history of this Earth: What is become of her now? She laid her foundations deep, and her Palaces were strong and sumptuous: She glorified her self, and liv’d deliciously: and said in her heart, I sit a Queen, and shall see no sorrow. But her hour is come, she is wip’d away from the face of the Earth, and buried in everlasting oblivion. But ’tis not Cities onely, and works of men's hands, but the everlasting Hills, the Mountains and Rocks of the Earth, are melted as Wax before the Sun; and their place is no where found. Here stood the Alpes, a prodigious range of Stone, the Load of the Earth, that cover’d many Countries, and reach’d their armes from the Ocean to the Black Sea; This huge mass of Stone is soften’d and dissolv’d, as a tender Cloud into rain. Here stood the African Mountains, and Atlas with his top above the Clouds. There was frozen Caucasus, and Taurus, and Imaus, and the Mountains of Asia. And yonder towards the North stood the Riphæan Hills, cloath’d in Ice and Snow. All these are vanish’d, dropt away as the Snow upon their heads: and swallowed up in a red Sea of fire. Revel. 15. 3.Great and marvellous are thy Works, Lord God Almighty: just and true are thy ways, Thou King of Saints. Hallelujah.
300:1 ’Tis ill render’d in the English, cast down.