And then will they see the Son of man coming in a cloud, with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draws nigh.
And because the day of your redemption draws nigh, the day in which your Redeemer came in a cloud of flesh and clay, we are this day, by the course of holy Church, to wish you to look up, and lift up your heads to see the Son of man, your Redeemer, in His second coming, coming in a cloud of glory.
That we, knowing it is the same Son of man, who was once born in a stable, and cradled in a manger, that will one day come to the Judge of heaven and earth, we might so celebrate His first coming in flesh, that when all flesh will stand before Him, we might lift up our heads with joy and comfort.
For many there are who will hand down theirs; such who have not thought aright of His coming into the world, or not worthily entertained it, or not walked with Him in it along the stage of His humility, or never rightly pondered the terrors of this second coming in the day of judgment, which He Himself here preaches to His disciples, that they might 'take heed to themselves lest at anytime their hearts should be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness,' (the [33/34] disease that usually infects all our Christmases,) 'and cares of this life,' (the disease that infects all our days,) 'and so that day comes upon them unawares,' but that 'watch' they should, and 'pray always, that they might be accounted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.'
They had but three days before [they] accompanied Him to Jerusalem in His progress of meekness; and now, in one of His returns, He begins to tell them of another kind of coming to it, in judgment and fury. His disciples, who by the sight of such strong and goodly buildings could not conjecture they should end unless the world fell with them, ask Him presently upon it, when those things should come to pass, and when should be the end of the world. Their Master, that He might at once both satisfy and blind their curiosity, mingles the signs of the particular destruction of Jerusalem, and of the general ruin of the world, together; that He might the better keep them awake to attend both His general and particular coming, and make both them and us, at the approach of particular judgments upon cities or nations, always mindful and prepared for the general judgment of the last day; which He here calls the coming of the Son of man, and tells us how to entertain it.
So that in the text, as the verses, so the parts are two.
I. Christ's coming. 'Then shall they see the Son,' etc.
II. The Christian's comfort. 'When these things, ' etc.
In Christ's coming
1. The time when. 'Then,' after the signs forementioned, 'then shall they see.'
2. The generality of it. 'They,' all that can see, shall see his coming.
3. The evidence of his coming, so plain, he may be 'seen,' seen by the eye of faith.
4. The certainty. They 'shall see him,' to be sure.
5. The form in which he comes, as 'the Son of man.'
6. The end to which he comes. He comes 'with power,' with the power of a Judge for quick and dead.
7. The manner of his coming. 'in a cloud, with power and great glory.'
In the Christian's comfort
[34/35] 1. Where it begins. 'When these things begin to come to pass,' then that begins too. 'then look up.'
2. To whom it belongs. You, disciples, do you look up.
3. What kind of comfort it is. A looking up, a 'lifting up the head,' when all heads else droop with fear and grief.
4. Whence this comfort arises. From what ground it springs; for 'your redemption draweth nigh.'
I go on with all in order as they lie; so that if you remember the words, you cannot forget the order and method. "Then shall,' etc.
At Christ's coming there we begin; but when is that? The heavens will tell you, the earth will tell you, the sea will tell you, men will tell you. The heavens, by signs and wonders, by storms and tempests; the lights of heaven will lose themselves in darkness, and forsake their spheres, and their most constant powers will be shaken out of their course and harmony. The earth will quake for fear, and change its place. The waves will frighten themselves with their own roarings, and 'men's heart will fail for fear;' neither knowing how to stand, nor to avoid this dreadful coming. When these, with all the host of heaven and earth, startled out of their natural seats and postures, will have prepared and ushered him the way, then will He come. He comes not till all things else have done their motion and have gone their last.
Nor is it fitting so great a coming should be without a universal preparation, where every creature, forgetting its own nature, begins at last to study His. There is nothing that can stand when God comes; heaven itself is at a loss, and remembers not its perpetual motion, when it but apprehends His approach. Everything is a wonder to itself when He appears. If nature itself be thus terrified, which groans not for itself but for us, what shall we be with all our sins about us; how can we abide His coming?
Yet then will He appear when we know not how to appear? Heaven and earth will change their faces, men and angels will hide theirs, only He it is who dares to be seen. Sins or imperfections make all the creatures cover themselves with some disguises, or endeavour it; only He, who is all purity, all perfection, comes then to show Himself.
[35/36] Yet when this 'then' will be, when that day and hour will come, no man knows, 'no, not the Son' of man Himself, as man; He who could tell you that come He would, and could tell you the immediate signs that would forerun it, knew not then the time when those signs should be, or knew it not to tell you; that we might always be waiting for His coming.
Had it been fit for us to know, no doubt He would have told us; but so far unnecessary it seems to be acquainted with that secret time, that He gives us signs which rather puzzle than instruct us; signs which we sometimes think fulfilled already; signs which have often been the forerunners of particular ruins and fates of countries and kingdoms; signs which at the same time we fear past already, yet think they are not; that so by this hard dialect of tokens in heaven and earth, we might behold our presumptuous curiosity deluded into a perpetual watching for this last coming.
There were in the Apostles' times, and there are still in ours, men who love to scare the people with prophecies and dreams of the end of the world, as if this 'then' already were at hand; such as would define the year and day, as if they had lately dropped out of God's council-chamber: but 'we beseech you,' says S. Paul, 'that you not be troubles, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.' 'Let no man deceive you;' they do but deceive you, they vent their own dreams and fond presumptions. They know not when the Master of the house will come, 'whether at midnight, or at the cock crowing, or at the dawning,' for as a 'snare it shall come on all them that dwell on the face of the earth.'
It is enough for us to know there will be a day of judgment, against which we must provide every day to make up our accounts, lest that day come upon us anawares, lest death at least hurry us away to our particular doom, which will thee leave us, where the last judgment will be sure to find us, in the same condition; no power or tears of ours being then able to change or alter it.
[36/37] 2. A time when 'they will see' Him come. 'They;' and who are 'they' but all mankind - but all creatures? 'Every eye will see Him, they also who pierced Him.' They also who crucified Him and condemned Him. 'Hereafter will you see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power,' says Christ Himself, to those who were His torturers and His judges. No, 'we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.' None of us all must think to escape. There we must give account what we have done amiss; every action, every idle word, every vain and wanton thought, every inward desire, must we yield account of it in the day of judgment. Your crown and throne, O king! cannot exempt you. Your honours and compliments, O you nobles! cannot excuse you. Your riches, O you son of pelf! cannot buy out your absence. Your sleights, O you crafty politician! cannot evade it. Your strength, O soldier! cannot defend you from the angel that will drive you hither. Your learning, O you learned of the earth! can find no argument to keep you from it. Nor can you, O you worms of the earth, you meanest, find holes in it to hide you at this coming.
Come you must all together at this coming, and see you will the Son of man as He is coming. The wicked eyes, indeed, though Christ comes in glory, will see nothing of His glory. The Son of man they will behold, His humanity, but not His deity. They will see the wounds their sins have made, the hands and feet they have nailed, the side they have pierced, the head they have planted with thorns; all these to their grief and sorrow, to see Him their judge, whom they have so abused and wronged, so trampled and scorned, that He yet bears the marks of their malice and cruelty even in His throne of glory.
But the good man's eyes, they will see His glory too; they will behold His glorious face, which the eyes of the sinners and the ungodly are not able to perceive, by reason of that veil of sin and darkness that covers them. ...
Who are they then, who think to hide themselves, who live as if they never thought to come to judgment? Did men certainly but seriously ponder that, will they nill they, [37/38] they must one day see Christ, they would use Him better in His members than they do; better in His Church and ministers; better in His worship and service. Do they not, think you, imagine they will never see Him? that they can shelter themselves somewhere from His presence who dare use Him thus contemptuously, thus proudly, thus sacrilegiously and profanely? Lay but this close every day to your bosoms as you rise, that you must one day come to appear before Him; and all your actions will be more regular, and your thoughts higher concerning Christ, and your thoughts higher concerning Christ, and all that is His, or pertains to Him; and you the better able to answer then when you see Him.
3. For, thirdly, 'see' Him you will; not only hear your doom and pass away, but see Him pronouncing it. When he came to redeem the world, they eye saw him. Simeon's and Anna's, and all Judea's, many Greeks' and Gentilles' too. He came then that all might see him. But in his second coming, when He comes to judge it, then He comes that all will see Him, every eye behold Him. The eyes that slept in dust before His arrival - the eyes that in the time of His abode could never see Him for their distance; the eyes that ever since have seen the world, will all then see Him, as well as they who pierced Him, no, as well as they who lived with Him, and daily saw Him.
He might, considering how unworthy the best of us carry ourselves of that corporeal presence which He once vouchsafed us, considering how He was then misused and handled, have for ever denied us any sight of His glorious body; but He forgets the injuries He met with, and will once more show Himself to our bodily sight; not so much to confound His persecutors as to manifest justice of His judgment, that the whole world may evidently see that He came into flesh then only to redeem us, comes in the same flesh again to judge us, that all may see our faith in our crucified God was neither vain nor unprofitable; but, by the evidence of their own eyes, confess and acknowledge it the only true way to eternal happiness.
And if these eyes now must one day behold their Lord and Master, how should we wash them every day, and cleanse them from earthly defilements with our tears, that they may be [38/39] worthy to see that blessed object! Wash your eyes, you wantons, from unclean and lascivious glances. Cleanse your eyes, you proud ones, from scornful looks. Wipe your eyes, you covetous minded, from that yellow dust that blinds your sight. Open your eyes, you ignorant and seduced souls, that you run not headlong to your own destruction, hoodwinked to hell, then only to unclose your deceived sight when you can see no comfort. Remember, you are all one day to appear before Christ's tribunal, when if you expect any comfort to your eyes, you must thither with them washed, and wiped, and cleansed, and pure - no spots, no films, no blemish, no bloodshot in them. Whether to your comfort or not, see you will. That is certain."
4. 'Shall see,' Can we not shut our eyes, then, when this day will come? Can nothing lock up our eyelids in eternal night, no bar set before us but we must see this Son of man? Can no hills hide us, or no mountains cover us? Can we sleep in dust, and rest quiet in our confusion? Can we not vanish into that nothing out of which we first arose; or at least lie hid in that eternal pit, from ever seeing anything but the regions of everlasting darkness? Must we needs rise out of our wretched caves to see Him, who cannot but afflict us at His coming? So it is; we must see Him. See we must, though but to see the justice of our own damnation.
Nothing can be more certain than this sight. Sight it is the surest sense, and to see Him at His coming is to be certain of it at the least; but to see the Son of man at His coming, is certainly with evidence; and to be bound to see it, to have such a tie upon us, such a condition on us, that we shall see it whether we will or not, is a certainty with a necessity upon it.
That no man may doubt of a final retribution, whilst he is certain he will one day see Him, who will reward every man according to his work. Let not, then, the unjustly oppressed innocent, let not the less prosperous godly spirit droop; or the glorious and yet triumphing sinner, the prosperous rebel, or thriving atheist, pride himself in the success of his sins; for He is coming who will come, and make the just man's eyes run over with joy and happiness [39/40] for his fore-passed tears, and fill the others' eyes with shame and confusion for all their glory. It may be long before He comes, but come He will at last, and His reward with Him.
5. But 'who is who comes?' So the Prophet once; so we now. Or in what shape will he appear? God is the Judge of all the earth, and who is it who can see God? Or if 'He has committed all judgment to the Son,' yet who can see Him either, being of one substance with the Father, the same individual and invisible essence? That therefore He may be seen, He comes in the form of 'the Son of man.'
This is that which Daniel foresaw in his night visions, 'One like the Son of man coming with the clouds of heaven;' that St. Peter told Cornelius, 'that he it was, who ordained to be the judge of [the] quick and dead.' Not as He was Lord of heaven and earth, or as He was the eternal offspring of the Deity, (for so he could not be ordained, he himself being from all eternity,) but as the Son of man; for He 'has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man.'
That was it by which He obtained the throne of judgment, having in that form both done and suffered all things for our salvation; God thinking but just that He should be our judge, who came to save us from judgment; that He should judge us, who had been partaker of our infirmities, and knew our weaknesses, and would, by the compassion of nature, easier acquit us, or with more evidence of justice condemn us, Himself having once been subject to the like human though not sinful passions.
This is the form in which all eyes may see Him, all nations behold Him. Nor will the scars of His wounds be covered, but that even by them we may acknowledge our crucified Saviour is become our Judge; who, whilst He judges us in the form of man, will condemn us for nothing above the power of man. And yet even by His actions, as He was man, will He condemn ours. His humility, our pride; His abstinence, our gluttony and excess; His patience, our impatience; His chastity, our lusts; His paying Caesar beyond his due, our undutiful withdrawings from Him, in a [40/41] word, His goodness, piety and devotion; our ungodliness, impieties and profaneness.
And as it is a mercy thus to be judged by one who is sensible of our frail condition, so is it a glory besides that our nature is so high exalted as to be the Judge of the world, not of men only, but angels too. What favour may we not expect when He is our Judge who is our Saviour; who will not lay aside our nature in His glory, that He may retain that sympathy and compassion to us, which was taken with it when He took it from us?
6. I shall not here need to spend much time to tell you, 6. what he comes for, who have told you so often of a day of judgment, and the Son of man to sit on the tribunal. His coming is to judgment, for he comes 'with power,' and that power of a judge.
Only I must tell you, (2) that his motion is no faster than an easy coming. So loth is He to come to judgment, so unwilling to enter into dispute with flesh and blood, that He delays the hasty prayers of the afflicted saints under the altars of heaven; seems a little to withhold the full beams of mercy which He has laid up for the saints, rather than to post to the destruction of the wicked. Yet for the elect's sake hasten he does a little; and therefore He makes a 'cloud' the chariot of His power, that when He once begins to come He may come quickly.
And not so only, but come in 'glory,' which is the last observable in His coming 'in a cloud, with power and great glory.'
In a cloud he ascended; and the angel told the disciples there, that he should so come as they saw him go. 'In the clouds,' says the other Evangelists; they speak of more than one: his cloud is not a single cloud, there are attendant clouds upon it. Angels surround his throne; the trumpet of the archangel sounds before him; his throne is a throne of glory; and his apostles' thrones are round about him, and 'all things are in subjection under his feet.'
Thus He is rewarded with majesty and the glory for His meekness and humility; that we, seeing the recompense of those despised virtues, may learn to embrace them by so strong incentives and allurements.
[41/42] What will ye one day say, O ye obstinate Jews, when you shall see his glory, whose poverty you so despised? What will ye do at his throne of judgment, who would not receive him in his cradle of mercy? How will his enemies bemoan themselves with them, 'we fools thought his life madness, and hi end without honour: hoe is he now numbered among the children of God, the firstborn amongst brethren!' Fools indeed to count him what he did! For he shall come again with majesty and glory. Glory is a word, by which Christ seems as it were ever and anon to refresh the fainting spirits of His disciples, which are ready to betray their masters to despair, upon the apprehension of the fears and terrors which their Lord had told the, should precede and accompany the latter day. This word recalls their spirits, that they begin to look up again, and lift up their heads; for, having thus as it were amazed their thoughts, and unhinged their patience, He settles them again with some special comfort, that 'when these things begin to come to pass, they should look up, and lift up their heads, for their redemption draws nigh.'
Never could words of comfort come better than in the full discourse of the day of judgment; nor can comfort ever be more welcome, than in the midst of those affrightments. Chist never spoke out of season, but here he seems to have even studies it. 'When these things begin to come to pass,' before they are at their full height, even 'then look up.' Worldly comforts come not so early. The heat and fury of the disease must be abated, ere they yield us any refreshment. They are only heavenly comforts that come so timely to prevent our miseries, or to take them at the beginning.
Nor is it yet only when the day begins to dawn, wherein the Son of man comes forth to judgment, that we should first begin to take courage to approach, but whilst the fore-going signs of that day are now first coming on. Those terrors that frighten others, should not startle us, even whilst the lightnings run upon the ground, whilst the earth trembles, the sea roars, the wind blows, and heaven itself knows not how to look, the righteous is as bold as a lion, he [42/43] stands in the midst of security and peace. This is the state we are to labour for; so to put our trust in the Most High, that no changes or chances of this mortal life may either remove or shake it, or make us to miscarry. Every calamity should teach us 'to look up,' but these should teach us also 'to lift up our heads.' Whilst common fears and troubles march about us, our Christian patience will teach us cheerfulness; but 'when these things begin to come to pass,' these, which are the ushers to our glory, these should rejoice and cheer us up, that our reward is now a-coming to us.
Us, I say; for this comfort is not general, to all who will see the Son of man coming in glory, but His disciples only, such as have followed Him on earth to meet Him in heaven. 'Lift up your heads;' to his servants he speaks, such as hear his words, and attend his steps, and do his precepts.
Others indeed must hold down their [heads]; the ungodly will not be able to look up in judgment. The covetous man has looked so always downwards, that he not now able to look up. The drunkard has so drowned his eyesight in his cups, so overburdened his brain, than he can neither lift up his head nor his eyes at this day. The voluptuous man has dimmed his eyes with pleasures, that he cannot look about; and the ambitious man has so lost his hopes of being high and glorious, and is become so low and base in the eyes of God, that he is ashamed to lift up head."
These only who are the true disciples of their Master, who eyes are used to heaven, who have so often lifted up their eyes thither to pray and praise Him, they only can look up when these things come to pass.
Nothing can frighten the humble eye; nothing can amaze the eye that ever dwells in heaven; nothing can trouble the eye that waits upon her God, as the eye of a maiden upon the hand of her mistress. The humble, devout, and faithful eye may look up cheerfully, whilst all things else dare not be seen for shame. O blessed God, how fully do you reward your servants, who will thus have them distinguished from others by their looks in troubles! who has so ordered all things for them, that nothing will frighten them, nothing make them to hold down their heads.
[43/44] This is a kind of comfort by itself, above ordinary, that grief or amazement should not appear so much as in our eyes or looks, though so many terrors stand around us.
'I will lift up my eyes unto the hills, and I will lift up my eyes to you, O You who dwells in the heavens,' are the voice of one who looks up for help; and in the midst of these dreadful messengers of judgment, it will not be amiss for us even so to lift up our eyes, to beg assistance and deliverance. But that it is not all our comfort, though it be a great one, that we can yet have audience in heaven amidst these fears; we have besides, the refreshment of inward joy, whereby we rejoice at our approaching glory. 'The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance,' even when the day of vengeance comes; and the 'righteous shall rejoice in their beds,' whilst they are now rising up and lifting up their heads out of their graves to come to judgment.
Nor must it seem strange to see the righteous with cheerful looks, while all other faces gather blackness. It is not the others' misery that they rejoice at, but at their Saviour's glory, and their own happiness. For 'their redemption draweth nigh,' that is the ground of all their joy.
And would you not have men rejoice, who are redeemed from misery and corruption, from the slavery of sin, and the power of death? Would you not have the poor prisoners rejoice at the approach of their delivery? You cannot blame them if at such news, with Paul and Silas, they sing in prison; sing aloud for joy, so loud that the doors dance open for joy, though the keepers awake and ever sink for fear.
'Your redemption draweth nigh.' They are words [which] will make the scattered ashes gather themselves together into bones and flesh; words that will make the soul leave heaven with joy, to lift up the head of her dear beloved body out of 'the land where all things are forgotten.' Yea, the insensible creatures that groan now under the bondage of corruption, will at these words turn their tunes, when they see at hand the days of liberty of the sons of God.
Death and destruction are things terrible; but when the fear of them is once overpoised by the near approach of a redemption to eternal life and glory, O Death, then [44/45] where is your sting. O Grave, then where is your victory? They shrink in their heads, and pull in their stings, and cannot hurt us while we with joy and gladness lift up our heads.
What are all the sign and forerunners of the day of judgment, that they should trouble us, when we know the day of judgment is our day of redemption, our day of glory? What are the darkness of sun and moon, the falling of the stars, the very totterings of heaven itself, to us, who even thereby expect new heavens? where there is neither need of sun, nor moon, nor star to give us light; for the 'glory of God will lighten it, and the Lamb,' this Son of man who is coming in His cloud, 'is the light of it.' What are the quakings of the earth and roarings of the sea, to them who neither need land nor sea in their journey to heaven? What are wars and rumours of wars, famines and plagues, and pestilences, and false brethren? what are persecutions and delivering up to rulers, to death and torments? what are those perplexities and fears that rob men of their hearts and courage 'for looking after those things which will come upon the earth?' What are all these together, to them who are thus by those very things redeemed out of all their troubles? St. Paul is bold to set up a challenge: 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. And he goes on yet higher, For I am persuaded,' says he, 'that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.'
And if thus nothing can ever separate us from Christ's love, what should trouble us at His coming, whose coming is but to draw us nearer to Himself? 'Be not troubled, be not terrified, says he, bit in patience possess your souls,' for there 'will not a hair of your heads perish.' Others may fall and sink and perish, but do they what they can against you those who hate you. yet care not for it; 'look up,' look up to me, I am coming to redeem you; 'lift up your heads,' and behold the glory into which I am at hand to lift you up.
[45/46] The sum of all now is, that in the midst of all your troubles, all your amazements, all your fears and dangers, you first still lift up your heads, and look to heaven for comfort, and fetch it thence by prayers and petitions.
2. That in the midst of all calamities you yet remember your redemption is a-coming, and so lift up your heads with joy in the heat and fury of them all, knowing that they are nothing else but so many forerunners of your glory.
Lastly, that you 'look up and lift up your heads' with thankfulness, that he has thus accounted you worthy to see Him in His glory, and that your redemption is no further off. That having thus begun to look up and lift up your voices in praises and thanksgiving upon earth, He may lift you up into heaven in soul and body, at His coming there, to sing alleluias with the saints and angels, and the four and twenty elders, to Him who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb for evermore, there to be partakers of all His glory.