Sermon III. The Time is Fulfilled. [A Sermon for Advent.] St. Mark i. 15. The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent ye, and believe the Gospel.
FROM that melancholy day, when the first man by transgression lost his high estate, and forfeited his happiness, the hope and expectation of our miserable race were constantly carried forward to the promised coming of that second Man, the seed of the woman, who was to repair the dreadful breach, and to be the restorer of all things.
Born from the earth, and fashioned from the dust, our first great sire was yet made in the image of God; and the destination for which he was intended, did well befit the impress which he bore.
Glorious, indeed, would it have been for him, happy for the generations who have descended from him, had the tempter been foiled in his first [32/33] assault, (which then, perhaps, he had not been permitted to repeat,) and sin, and death, and all our woe, been for ever averted from those beauteous scenes, which creative goodness had thrown around the abode of man. Had such a triumph of moral agency been exhibited, had such a state of moral rectitude been maintained, the kingdom of heaven, which is now to be gained only through much tribulation, would have been like some storied path-way of Oriental climes, through balmy groves and gardens of perfume, to the bowers of perpetual joy and felicity.
That bitter and deep repentance to which we now are called, that fight of faith to which, as soldiers earnest for the victory, we are now encouraged, that fearful contest with our spiritual enemies, the devil, the world, and the flesh, which we are now required to maintain; these appalling obstacles which make the strait and narrow way to be travelled only by a few fainting, yet faithful pilgrims, while they terrify such vast numbers, and drive them into the broad road to destruction; these appalling obstacles had never been known.
Then, all that the imagination can conceive of pleasure and delight, all that could give joy to the eye, to the ear, or to the heart of man, would have been realized in this earthly state. Visionary and romantic are terms which would never have been heard; for all would have been reality, fruition, and truth,
 Such a state, completely filling and satisfying all the unimpaired powers of man, as they originally existed in the vigour and freshness of his creation, continuing for a time upon this earth, with its primeval fitness for his abode, would have ended here at the command of God, only that man, by some easy and delightful transition, might be removed to a higher sphere, where keener perceptions, and better sensibilities for enjoyment, should be sated with heavenly pleasures, and immortal happiness, in the presence of God.
At that tremendous change which destroyed all the brightness of this prospect; at that dread dereliction which prostrated our whole race before their bitterest enemy, that cruel treason which, depriving man of the benefit of every attribute of the Deity, which tempered his character with a Father's protection and love, left him in the nakedness of his sin, to stand before the Most High in the nakedness of his anger; oh! well might angels lament, and they who had so lately sung together for joy over the fair work of the Creator, stand silent and abashed at the quickness of the ruin by which it was undone; while they marvelled that the scene of God's beneficence must so soon be transformed into the theatre of predicted destruction. If at such a moment as this, when all seemed to be lost for ever, when the cloud impending in terror, seemed ready to burst in destruction, when man, [34/35] wretchedly lost to hope, sought only a refuge from his fears, by hiding from the presence of his Maker; if, at such a moment as this, the voice which had threatened with sternness, now melted with the soothing accents of compassion; if the cloud which impended in darkness, was irradiated with the beams of heavenly light, and God, who had descended in wrath, became himself the messenger of reconciliation and of hope; then might man, renewing and emulating that primeval gladness, bless and magnify such unmerited goodness, and look forward with the highest interest to that period of expectation and of promise, when the time should be fulfilled. It was in reference to the completion of that promise of grace, that it was now said, "The time is fulfilled." Commencing in Paradise with him who is the Author of every good and perfect gift, this first intimation of mercy had often afterwards been repeated to confirm the faith, to excite the hopes, and to strengthen the piety of those who looked for the seed of the woman to bruise the serpent's head. Angels, those benevolent ministers of the goodness of heaven, had gladly become the heralds of that mystery of redemption which they sought to fathom. Holy men had received the testimony in symbols, in figures, and by the spirit of prophecy. Adam, and Abel, and Enoch, and Noah, to the people of the old world, were types of him who was to come; and Melchisedec, and the [35/36] Patriarchs, and Moses, and Joshua, and David, and Solomon, and many others; all these, after the deluge, prefigured the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. The burning bush, and the paschal lamb; the pillar of cloud and fife; the manna; the rock in the wilderness; the brazen serpent; Jerusalem and Mount Sion; the tabernacle; and the cities of refuge; all these, likewise, foreshadowed his character, his offices, and his coming-in the strength of assurance, derived from the promises of a Messiah, Enoch walked with God; and Abraham, by an act of consummate faith, prefigured that great sacrifice which gave his faith its value. Jacob, in blessing him from whom the promised seed should descend, filled with like assurance, exclaimed, Lord, I have looked for thy salvation! Language so strong, almost implied the possession of his desire, and the completion of his hope. Anticipating the fulness of time, through the vista of nearly two thousand years, his faith beheld, and his words expressed, the reality which was then actually vouchsafed to the pious Simeon, who, when he too had waited long for the consolation of Israel, at length, when he was about to depart, embracing the infant Saviour in his arms, exclaimed, "Mine eyes have seen thy salvation." Job too, was enabled to speak with a confidence which nothing but inspired foresight could give, when he said, "I [36/37] know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth;" and Balaam, lifted up with the animation of overpowering truth, declared in lofty language, "I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh; there shall come a star out of Jacob; and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel;" "out of Jacob shall he come, that shall have the dominion."
Strengthened and encouraged by assurances like these, well might the eye of faith range forward to that latter day, when the time should be fulfilled. Every day onward, the promise of his appearing had been more distinctly made, until the last of the Prophets proclaimed, "The Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the Messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in; behold, he shall come, "saith the Lord." And while the hopes of the chosen race were thus excited and sustained, the good news of his Advent was spread among other people, and the expected Messiah of the Jews became "the Desire of all nations." The latter days, which had been so ardently looked for, now drew near; and at, length was heard a voice, not from the schools of philosophy, not in the palaces of the rich, not in the concourse of the worldly, but from the wilderness of Judea, was heard the voice of one crying, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. This is he who was spoken of by the Prophet Esaias, saying, [37/38] Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." The voice was heard with gladness; and there "went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins." High were their hopes, and strong their expectations, for now might it well be known, that God was about to perform the mercy which he promised to the Fathers; that he would soon remember his holy covenant; that he would "visit and redeem his people." Long enough had types and figures but faintly set forth and shadowed out him who was to be their completion and fulfilment. Long enough had unsubstantial ceremonies and empty rites darkly, and at a distance, pourtrayed him who was their substance and solution. Long enough had the incense of innumerable sacrifices risen in clouds to heaven, and the blood of bulls and of goats flowed in mighty streams, which could never take away sin; while the eye of faith could only at a distance, and as from some dizzy mountain top, behold the true sacrifice to come. Long enough had the faithful worshippers presented their oblations year by year continually, while their trust reposed in the promise of better things to come. Like him who had obtained the high distinction of "Father of the faithful," they also had often gone up to perform a service which they could not distinctly comprehend; their only guide, heavens high [38/39] appointment; their only light in the darkness around them, the sure word of prophecy; their only confidence, the unchanging faithfulness of God; and their best solace, the assurance that he would in due time provide himself a Lamb.
But now this early twilight was passing away. Already had the morning's dawn appeared; and soon that "light which was to lighten the Gentiles and to show forth the glory of his people Israel, was to arise and shine." "Lo! I come," was the glad response which fell upon the ear of tiring expectation. Ages of mystic allusion were to be solved in the disclosures of that day which completed the "fulness of time." Upon all that was obscure and hidden, a flood of light was to be poured out; and darkness irradiated, and doubt dispelled, and mystery revealed, were now to bear the most convincing testimony to the truth of prophecy, and to the gracious purpose of the Most High.
At length the time was fulfilled. Unto us a Child was born. Unto us a Son was given. God was manifest in the flesh. The glad tidings were for all people. And while on the one hand the circumstances of humility which surrounded his birth bespoke him man--the man of suffering, laden with the sins of the world, who was to bear our griefs, and carry our sorrows--so on the other, the pomp of the angelic host, the guiding star which Balaam had long before descried, the visit [39/40] of those who brought presents, and the adoration which they offered before him, proclaimed the presence of the mighty God.
In addition to the light of prophecy, to the expectation of the world, to the supernatural circumstances of his birth, to the testimony of his precursor John, and to the voice from heaven, which claimed him as the Son of God, abundant were the proofs which Jesus Christ himself gave, to show that he was the Messiah who was to come. The lame man was enabled to leap like an hart, the tongue of the dumb learned to sing, the lepers were cleansed, and the poor had the Gospel preached unto them. All these were proofs of the beneficence of his character, as well as of the greatness of his power. Manifold were the signs, and mighty the wonders, which he wrought. All nature submitted to his control. The sea and the winds gave the testimony of their obedience, and death and the grave were humbled at his word. The old things of the ceremonial law were done away. Its shadows could not exist, when the very image of them, in perfect brightness, had appeared. There was now a termination of sacrifice, for the long prefigured sacrifice was in him to be offered up; and soon the cessation of the tribeship, and the abolition of the priesthood, and the destruction of Jerusalem, were to be the strong and legible characters, in which all men might read the declaration, "The time is fulfilled."
 My brethren, to us all this is past. That advent which preceded the first appearing of the Saviour, and which had been celebrated for ages, has been terminated by his actual manifestation in the flesh. The Messiah, in expectation of whose coming multitudes embracing the promises had died in faith, has appeared. We can now look back upon that long train of preparation, during which states and empires, in their rise and fall, in their commotions and repose, had all tended to bring about that great day of God's appointment, "the fulness of time," when the Deliverer should appear.
We have witnessed the fulfilment of the promise, agreeably to which Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility. We have read the prodigies of his life. We are familiar with the beneficence of his character. And the circumstances of cruelty and of suffering which marked his precious death, have often been rehearsed in our ears. What was to others prophecy, has to us become history; and in the minute and wonderful coincidences which we discover, we have the fullest evidences of the truth, and of the faithfulness of God.
It is upon these evidences of his faithfulness and of his truth, my brethren, that the Church founds the call upon her members, still to celebrate the Advent of the Lord. For much as has been fulfilled, it is only a small part of that which [41/42] is predicted concerning him. The first coming of Christ, according to the Scriptures, is now to us a confirmation and a proof, that, according to the Scriptures, he will come again; come in his glorious majesty in the last day; come to reward and to doom; to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe; and to punish the wicked and unbelieving with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. Still, therefore, is this season of Advent celebrated by the Church. Still does she pray, "Thy kingdom come;" still call upon her members so to regard the message, and the object of the first coming of their Lord, that at his second coming to judgment, they may be prepared to meet him.
This is the object and the purpose to which the present season is devoted by the Church. She* calls upon us now again to reflect, that the kingdom of heaven is at hand; to consider that our interest and our duty are concerned in our readiness for its approach; to give our diligence to prepare the way of the Lord.
If, refusing to receive Christ in our hearts, or to become his faithful subjects and servants, we are content to limit our desires and rewards to the kingdom of this world, we choose an easy and an alluring, but it is a downward, an unblessed, a fatal course. It is only to give a free indulgence to all our natural propensities and [42/43] desires; to mind the things of the earth; to yield to all our evil inclinations; in fine, to live to ourselves; to enter in at the wide gate with the many who go in thereat; and then, though our lives be not marked by flagrant sin, though in the eye of the community, we be not regarded as offenders, yet having forgotten to serve God, having neglected the great salvation, having omitted to live to him who died for us, we shall find that our end is destruction, and our wages death. But, if with better views, and nobler purposes, we would avoid this dreadful wreck of happiness, if we would escape the awful gulph which awaits the worldling and the sinner, if we would aspire to that heavenly-kingdom which is offered us, and save our souls to life everlasting, Jesus Christ has unfolded to us the means of salvation--"Repent ye and believe the Gospel." Repent--look back upon the sins which have marked your life--confess and abandon them. Read their dement in your Saviour's sufferings, and mourn and be sorry for them. Repent--be converted--change the current of your affections and desires, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance, by living a new and holy life. Believe in the Gospel--listen to its threatenings against sin, and turn your view for pardon and salvation to the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world. Impress deeply upon your minds, and exemplify in your conduct, the pure and beneficent and holy [43/44] precepts which the Gospel enjoins; and regarding that life and immortality which it brings to light, strive evermore, by the aids of the Holy Spirit, to walk as children of the light, to grow in grace, and to become meet for the heavenly inheritance. Thus denying yourselves and following your Saviour here below, you will be acknowledged as his subjects, and be rewarded by him in the heavens above. Thus losing your life for his sake here, you will save it unto life eternal.
My brethren, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold on this hope set before you in the Gospel, and are faithful and living members of the Church of God, into what a glorious kingdom are you admitted and received! Though established upon earth, it is the kingdom of heaven. Though brought nigh and offered to men, it is the household and family of God. Planted in the midst of an unstable and changing world, it is everlasting. Exposed to all the malice of evil men, and to all the assaults and wiles of the devil, the gates of hell shall never prevail against it. Begun here, in this imperfect abode, and embraced by men subject to infirmity and sin, it is destined to become a kingdom of glory in the world to come. And then its sincere subjects will be like their Divine Head, pure as he is pure, holy as he is holy. Here persecuted, and distressed, and assailed by temptation, it wages a constant warfare, and upholds the banners of righteousness among [44/45] the generations of wicked men. Hereafter, prevailing over all the foes of virtue and of truth, it will be for ever and gloriously triumphant. Here the subjects of that kingdom are called to be made perfect through suffering. There they shall sorrow no more, for they shall sin no more; and the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne, shall lead them to fountains of living waters, and shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. While, then, the impenitent look forward to the second Advent of our Lord with terror and alarm, the faithful members of Christ's kingdom, the Church, are privileged to anticipate his appearing with composure, and to hail it with joy. And when it shall be proclaimed, "The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever;" then shall be fulfilled that which St. John saw in vision--"that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God," into which "there shall in no wise enter any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life."
Oh! blessed consummation which awaits the Church of God, and which shall be experienced by all the true members of his spiritual kingdom! Blessed and glorious consummation, which shall then reward their self-denial, and crown with everlasting felicity their fidelity and [45/46] perseverance! Happy are we, my brethren, to whom that kingdom has been brought near, and who are invited and called to enter in. God give us all wisdom to listen to the invitation and grace; to obey the call, that being made spiritual subjects of that kingdom here, and maintaining a constant communion with Christ, who is its Head, we may all hereafter realize the blessedness of his presence, being made fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God.