Watchman, What of the Night?
(Reflections on the Implications of the
Birth of Christ for World History)
I give thanks to God!
A light comes into the world--this child.
Jerusalem waits--the home of history.
Within these walls are the hopes of all peoples,
throughout all time, all wrapped up in this city.
Here laughed hope--a special baby--
who one day cried in pain and shouted in victory,
hanging on a tree.
For three days, the earth held Him prisoner
in a tomb of stone. But He conquered
sin and death, with His resurrection.
His triumph will mean our salvation--
and not just for Israel, but for people of every nation.
Now He is light and Life and the Way:
His light brings the day,
no matter how dark the night may be.
The Day of the Lord comes!
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So the prisoners in darkness ask, "What is left of the night?"
You who have seen the Savior's light, walk in that light.
Follow His star: It brings the dawn.
For Jesus is the Morningstar, the Daystar, the Sun.
He is the only One who can make things right.
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The morning comes.
Let us come back again--back to Him.
THE WATCHMAN'S ANSWER
TO THE QUESTION,
WHAT OF THE NIGHT
[A DISCOURSE BY PRESIDENT AARON BURR OF PRINCETON COLLEGE]
[Editor's Note: The following is from Aaron Burr (1715/16-1757), The Watchman's Answer to the Question, What of the Night (1756; reprinted 1757). President Aaron Burr, Sr. of Princeton College was a friend of Governor Jonathan Belcher, and was Belcher's first biographer. Courageously, Burr gave his life to write and preach that biography--something to keep in mind when reading his discourse reproduced below (abridged and slightly edited).]
A Sermon Preached Before the Synod of New York,
Convened at Newark, in New Jersey, September 30, 1756.
By AARON BURR, A.M., President of the College of NEW JERSEY
New York: Hugh Gaine, 1756.
ISAIAH 21:11, 12: "The Burden of DUMAH. He calleth to me out of SEIR, Watchman, What of the Night? Watchman, What of the Night? The Watchman said, The Morning cometh, and also the Night, if ye will enquire; enquire, ye; return; come."
It may doubtless, at first view, appear strange to my brethren, that I have chosen this obscure passage of Sacred Writ for your entertainment; when it might be expected, that the dignity and duties; the comforts and trials of the ministerial office should be explained, or the best method of securing good discipline and sound doctrine in the church, laid open. These subjects, I confess, are highly proper to be insisted on, and should generally be the topic of our discourse, on such occasions as these. But, some dark apprehensions, as to the times into which we are fallen, turned my mind to this subject: And as it will lead our thoughts to the present dangers and trials; to the farther prospects and hopes relating to the church of CHRIST, it will, I imagine, when properly explained and applied, be thought not unsuitable for those, who are assembled to consult its welfare and prosperity.
What I shall attempt, is,
I. To explain the words, and illustrate the prophecy, by such historical events, as seem to point out the fulfillment of it, in its primary view.
II. Apply it to the state of the church in general, and to the times into which we are fallen, in particular.
This enigmatic prophesy seems in its primary view, to denote some further calamity on the IDUMEANS, after the JEWS should be delivered from the darkness they were then under; that while the morning arose to the one, the night should be continued to the other. It is called the burden of DUMAH, because it brings sad and dark tidings, which would prove a heavy burden, hard to be borne. DUMAH here, by a contraction not unusual in the sacred writings, seems evidently to be put for EDOM; and so for the country IDUMEA, where the EDOMITES dwelled. This appears plain, by SEIR's being mentioned as the place from whence the voice came, which was that mountainous part of IDUMEA, that lay next to the land of CANAAN. The SEPTUAGINT therefore well translates it, "To Horamatees Idumans," i.e. the vision of IDUMEA. In this prophetic scene, there is one from that country introduced, as addressing the prophet in great earnestness, about the state of the night, or that state of affliction and oppression, which both the JEWS and IDUMEANS were under. "He calleth" (or there is one that calls, or cries) "to me out of SEIR". The word must be taken collectively, not denoting a particular person, q.d. there is a cry, or the voice of those that cry from that country; this appears from the answer of the prophet, "If ye will enquire," etc. It's observed that the original word "Karah", has an emphasis in it, and denotes the cry of men in anguish and distress, impatiently waiting to see the end of their calamity and the dawn of the morning of their deliverance. This shows a beauty in the scenical representation; as the prophet is on the watchtower among the JEWS, at a great distance from Mount Seir, the voice must be loud, in order to be heard. The question follows, "'Watchman, What of the Night,'" or from, or concerning the night? The conjuncture of COCCEIUS, and some other learned commentators, that the voice is directed to GOD the Father, under the character of a watchman, because He is styled the keeper of ISRAEL; or to the SON, who is represented as the Shepherd of His people, I think groundless. It is not supposable, that the Idumeans had any such distant notion of the Father or the Son, as to address one or the other by this title. To apply it to the prophet himself seems much more natural; the prophets being well known by the character of watchmen, as pointing out the design and duties of their office: And thus they are frequently styled in Sacred Writ (Isai. 62:6), "I have set Watchmen on thy Walls, O JERUSALEM," "'I have made thee,'" says GOD to EZEKIEL, "'a Watchman to the House of ISRAEL.'" (Ezek. 3:17) The character is taken from those that are set to guard a city, or on a watchtower to descry approaching danger, and give the signal: And they ought to be men of courage, that will not be frightened at the shaking of a leaf; faithful, who will not betray their trust; vigilant, that will not suffer the enemy to come by surprise while they are asleep; quick-sighted, to spy the danger; constant and unwearied in their attendance on the duties of their station, and being continually awake, it might be expected could readily give the hour of the night. It's easy to see how applicable this is, not only to the prophets, but to all the ministers of the Gospel, who are set as watchmen on the walls of GOD's Jerusalem; whose duty and business it is, to watch over the heritage of the Lord; to give seasonable, plain and faithful warning to saints and sinners. The various remarkable dispensations of GOD to His church were revealed to the prophets; they foretold the desolating judgments that were brought not only on the Jews, but the neighboring nations; knew something of the time, manner and duration of the dark night they had to pass through; and so might properly be inquired of as to this matter--"Watchman, What of the Night?" What have you discovered as to the state of the night? How far is it advanced? What remains? Do you discern any signs of the morning? Any signs that the present scene of darkness will soon be over? The question is undoubtedly not about a natural but metaphorical night--that state of calamity and distress the Jews and Idumeans were under by the Assyrians or Babylonians; or, that dark dispensation of the Law, the end of which was then expected and earnestly desired. The repetition of it, represents the panic they were in; their distress, or rather their impatience, for an answer.
It may perhaps seem strange at first view, that the Idumeans should make this inquiry. What had they to do with the prophets or the Divine Oracles? (Eph. 2:12) Woe were "Aliens from the Common-wealth of Israel, and Strangers from the Covenant of Promise." But, the difficulty will vanish, if we consider that the scheme of this prophesy is emblematic and figurative. The Idumeans are introduced here by the prophet as breathing after deliverance under their calamities, and making such anxious inquiries as it is natural to suppose a people in their situation would; and hearing that deliverance was expected by the Jewish nation, it was natural for them to desire to know the time and manner of it, in hopes they also might share in its favor. To this may be added--that the Eastern nations had a veneration for the prophets of the GOD of Israel, whose fame was spread among them. And if we apply it to the then dark state of the church, an inquiry respecting a more glorious dispensation, in which themselves, and all the Gentile world were concerned, comes from them with singular propriety. Some suppose the question put by way of derision, but I think without foundation; had that been the case, the prophet would have given them a very different answer. They seem to have a degree of earnestness about the matter, and yet do not inquire with that faith, and such religious views as they ought. This is evident from the prophet's reply. "The morning cometh, and also the Night, if ye will enquire, enquire, ye; return, come." (i.e.) the morning will be as dangerous as the night, say some. Others translate it, the morning comes, and yet it is night--i.e., though there be a deliverance from present calamities, yet it will be but partial; light comes, but darkness will be intermixed with it; or according to our translation, "the Morning cometh, but the Night will soon succeed." It may mean, that though the morning is coming to the people of GOD, it would still be night with the Idumeans. It's easy to see, that as night is put for a state of affliction, day is a proper emblem of joy and comfort. "If ye will enquire; enquire, ye; return; come." The old English translation under Henry the VIIIth, has it thus, "If ye will enquire indeed, and ask Questions in Earnest, enquire of GOD; first ask his Mercy, and then come again, and you shall have a more favourable Answer," which seems not far from the true meaning.
As the question, though not put with that seriousness and sincerity as it ought, implied a desire to know the purpose of GOD relating to their present dark and dismal situation; the answer seems to be to this purpose, viz. Since you Idumeans, in your distressed condition, seem to come to yourselves, express a desire of returning to GOD, and knowing His will concerning you, be in earnest in the matter, enquire with hearts suitably affected, with the dispensations of Divine Providence, with sincere desires to know and comply with your duty. Return to the God of Israel, come into the bosom and communion of the church; since you are descended from Abraham, show yourselves to be his children indeed; come with sincerity and faith, to me and the other prophets, to know the mind and will of GOD, and be suitably prepared to meet him, when he shall come forth against you. The sum of what I have said is this: The neighboring nations, groaning under the same oppression from the Assyrian and Babylonian princes, as the Jews were, though the peculiar people of GOD, and favored with His true prophets; the Idumeans are introduced, enquiring after the duration and end of this common calamity, in too careless a manner, with too little reverence or religious sense of the Divine dispensation. They have for answer, that the morning was coming, i.e. light and liberty to the Jews; but that the night still awaited them; i.e. their present afflictions and spiritual darkness, would continue, while they maintained their present temper of mind towards GOD, and remained "Strangers to the Common-wealth of Israel." He therefore exhorts them to return to GOD, and inquire with a religious disposition, and right views about this matter.
This interpretation may be illustrated by historical events; either by referring it to the common calamities that befell the Jews and Idumeans, with other neighboring nations, under Senacherib, King of Assyria; or to that which afterward befell them under the kings of Babylon. If to the former, the morning that arose to the Jews must be the miraculous deliverance granted them by the terrible destruction of the Assyrian army by an angel (1 Kings 19:35). The like deliverance not being granted to the Idumeans, with them it remained night. But, I rather suppose it may refer to the Babylonian captivity, which involved the Jews and Idumeans in one common night of calamity and distress, after which long night, wherein the church seemed as it were buried, a glorious morning arose to the Jews, from the deliverance granted by Cyrus; while the Idumeans continued in darkness; as appears by Malachi, who lived after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, and describes the Idumeans as impoverished, unable to return and rebuild their waste places; being under the peculiar displeasure of Heaven (Mal. 1:1, 2, 3, 4). We come now,
II. To another view in which this prophetic description may be taken, and with propriety applied to some remarkable periods in the church.
As the prophets were set as watchmen on the walls of God's Jerusalem, to publish His designs of mercy and judgment to the church and the world; such as were concerned to know the times and seasons of God's favoring His Zion, would naturally inquire at their mouths, and as the Idumeans sprang originally from the same family with the Jews, and bordered upon them, they had doubtless some acquaintance with their sacred writings. Some prophecies have a particular reference to them: It was foretold that Edom "should be a Possession, and Seir a Possession of their Enemies" (Numb. 24:18). It is natural, therefore, to suppose, that the more thoughtful among them were looking for this period, and being oppressed with difficulties, were excited to inquire after the time when they should be delivered from their spiritual darkness and united to the people of God. This prophecy of Edom's being a possession of their enemies was in part accomplished under the Asmonean family, when the Edomites were subdued by the Jews, many of them brought to embrace their religion, and their country became their possession. To this time, the prophet may have a view, when it's supposed they would not neglect the sacred writings, but get some acquaintance with those prophecies wherein glorious things were spoken of Zion, when the present dark and gloomy dispensation should be at an end, and the Gentiles partake of the same privileges with the Jews. This must excite in all who had any due esteem for spiritual blessings, a desire to be informed when the happy era would arrive. In this view, the question, the answer of the watchman, his admonition, to return and continue their inquiries with more seriousness and better views, all appear natural and proper.
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That ministration [the Law] was indeed glorious, as it referred to, and pointed out the glories of the Gospel; but how divinely glorious soever it was in itself, yet in respect to the transcending glory of that dispensation of light and grace, which it shadowed forth, it might be said to have no glory; the luster of it was swallowed up by the surpassing glory of the Gospel, as the dim light of the moon and twinkling stars vanishes before the rising sun. This dispensation was not only gloomy and dark, when compared to the superior light of the Christian revelation, but was in a peculiar manner so, by reason of the business, prejudices, and unbelief of those to whom it was given; which is fitly represented by the veil Moses put on his face while he delivered them the Law, to cover its dazzling brightness, which they could not behold. This veil, the Apostle expressly tells us, was on their hearts (2 Cor. 3:13, 14), so that they could not look to the end of that which was to be abolished. They were as unable to behold the mind of Moses in that economy, as they were his face; when he turned to the Lord he took off the veil; which implies, that that dispensation, as it came from God, and was revealed to him, was full of grace, and shone with a divine luster; but when he conversed with the people he had it on, for the internal glories of his ministration which were delivered in types and figures of good things to come were rendered obscure and dark by the blindness and prejudices of their carnal hearts. When they shall turn to the Lord, at the blessed period of their general conversation, this veil shall be taken away, and they shall clearly see how the glorious grace of the Gospel was revealed under all the types and shadows of the Law. But, by reason of the darkness of their minds, and the obscure manner in which Christ, and the blessings of His kingdom, were then typified, the church continued in a dark and benighted state. There was indeed a mixture of light with that darkness; the prophets were like so many shining stars in the church, and they had many sure words of prophecy, to which they might give heed; but it was only as to a "Light shining in a dark Place, till the Day-star appeared," and "the glorious Sun of Righteousness arose."
And, it's [a] worthy observation, that the night was peculiarly gloomy towards the close of this dispensation, when the darkness was much increased, by almost continual persecutions and oppressions from the kings of Syria without; while the internal glories of it were greatly obscured and almost wholly lost by those dangerous corruptions in doctrine, discipline and worship which then overspread the Jewish church, and those scandalous divisions into which it fell.
It was also eminently night with the Gentile world, who, being sunk into deplorable darkness, were given up to the most abominable idolatry and vile affections. But as an expectation of the coming of the Messiah, the promised Deliverer, began now to prevail and become general, it's not strange that some among the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, are represented, crying to the watchman, "What of the night? When will the darkness of the present dispensation be over, and a Deliverer come out of Zion, to turn away iniquity from Jacob? When will those times of ignorance which God has hitherto winked at in the Gentile world, be at an end, and light arise to those that now "sit in the Region of the Shadow of Death"? How much of this dark season is past? What yet remains? When will the day break by the appearance of that glorious Person, who is to be a light to the Gentiles and a glory to God's people Israel? It might be supposed, that the watchmen who were "enquiring and searching diligently, what Manner of Time the Spirit in them did signify, when it testified before Hand, the Sufferings of Christ, and the Glory that should follow," could give an answer to such a question, as the time and manner of His appearance were so clearly pointed out. They might see, that the scepter was about to depart from Judah, according to Jacob's prophecy (Gen. 49:10). That Daniel's 70 weeks, or 490 years, were near expiring. And as it must be during the standing of the second temple, to which He was suddenly to come, and fill with His glory, according to Malachi ([chapter] 3), it could not be long delayed. By these hints, the watchmen might know the "Night was far spent," and answer as in the text, "The Morning cometh," the long expected day is at hand. In this view of the words, the watchman's answer that "the Morning cometh," may point out the light and joy brought to the world by the appearance of the Son of God. The day began to dawn under the ministry of John the Baptist. He was indeed "a burning and a shining Light," compared with the other prophets; but was not the true light, though like the morning star he ushered in the day. But, when the "Sun of Righteousness, arose with Healing under his Wings," He diffused light, life, and joy, through a dark, dead, and cheerless world. The shadows of the former dispensation, and the thick clouds of heathen [pagan] ignorance and superstition, fled before Him, as the darkness of the night before the rising sun. It was prophesied of Him, that His "going forth, should be prepared as the Morning" As the natural sun in the morning spreads joy and gladness through the wide creation, so did CHRIST through a lost and ruined world. The angel brings the news of His birth, as tidings of "great Joy to all People." The Gospel preached in His name, was a [...] [wonderful] sound to all that heard and received it: Like the morning light, it spread far and wide; grew brighter and brighter, towards a perfect day. It had free course, and was glorified; triumphing over all the opposition of earth and hell.
With what divine luster and beauty did the church shine, in this morning of her days, when the pure doctrines of the Gospel were taught without that corrupt mixture which the pride and ignorance of men have since introduced. She was a "City set on a Hill," and multitudes [of] both Jews and Gentiles rejoiced in her light. She seemed to answer the description given of her by St. John in his prophetic vision; where she is represented as "clothed with the Sun, having the Moon under her Feet, and a Crown of 12 Stars on her Head;" a beautiful image, expressing, in a lively manner, the glory, honor, and dignity of the church. There appeared in her members, in this early age, such genuine piety and fervent devotion; such lively hope and strong faith; such warm and unfeigned love to one another; such meekness and undissembled humility; such heavenly-mindedness and deadness to the world; such universal holiness and purity of life; as made them shine like lights in the world. Religion then appeared amiable and alluring, as exemplified in the lives of professors [professing Christians]; which tended greatly to the propagating [of] the Gospel. The brightness of this morning was soon obscured. Many errors of pernicious influence crept into the church, even while under the conduct of inspired men: But after the Apostle's decease, "Men of corrupt Minds" began with more freedom to propagate their dangerous doctrines and licentious practices, "bringing swift Destruction on themselves," and their followers. Towards the close of the first, and during the second and third centuries, the church was greatly infested with persons who advanced the most absurd and dangerous opinions, tending to the destruction of all natural and revealed religion--the Nicolaitans, various sects of the Gnostics, Corinthians, Valentinians, Marchionites, and Manichaeans, with a train of other heretics, who appeared in the early ages of the church, venting many impious notions about God and Christ, the origin of good and evil; the sacred writings; and the way of salvation by Christ; to the great reproach and hindrance of the Gospel--some making GOD the author of sin; others denying the unity of the Godhead; some the divinity, and many the humanity, of CHRIST; while others even blasphemously pretended to be the Savior of the world themselves. What added to the scandal of their errors, the vilest debaucheries--the most abominable crimes were countenanced and practiced, under the cloak of religion; which the enemies of Christianity were malicious enough to impute, however unjustly, to all its professors. While the church was thus darkened, corrupted, and exceedingly scandalized by the heresies within, she was almost continually harassed with violent oppressions and cruel persecutions under the heathen [pagan] Emperors from without; which continued with but little intervals of peace and rest, during the three first centuries. Though there was, in those early ages of Christianity, much spiritual light, and plentiful communications of divine grace; yet during the ten general persecutions, which so quickly succeeded one another; it might well be called night; when compared to that state of eternal peace and prosperity which the church shall enjoy in the latter days, with respect to the glorious diffusion of Gospel light which may then be expected.
At the close of the third, and beginning of the fourth, century, the church was reduced to the last extremity by a number of cruel persecutors, who seemed to combine together for the utter destruction of the Christian name and cause. Galerius, Diocletian, Maximin, and Maxentius, acted as if they vied with one another, in the unheard-of cruelties and monstrous barbarities, exercised towards the innocent disciples of CHRIST: But the church's extremity is GOD's opportunity; He begins to make "bare his Arm;" visibly to espouse the cause of His distressed people; and to "recompence Vengeance to those that afflicted them." Galerius, being seized with an incurable and intolerable disease, expires in the midst of most bitter anguish and torment. Diocletian, forced to resign his authority, oppressed with a load of guilt, groans and sighs away his miserable life. Maximim, after being defeated by Licinius, attempts to put an end to his own life; but dies a lingering death, amidst the most amazing torments, acknowledging his guilt in having persecuted the Christians. In this dark period, GOD also raises up that great deliverer and defender of His church, Constantine, who, A.D. 312, gains a complete victory over that cruel tyrant and grand persecutor, Maxentius; which gave rest to the church in the West. And the death of Licinius, which happened soon after, who was first a favorer, but afterwards a cruel persecutor, of the Christians, seemed to put an end to all their troubles: They enjoyed free liberty everywhere. Constantine ascribes the glory of all his victories to the God and Father of our Lord, JESUS CHRIST. And as a token of gratitude, gives public countenance to the Christian religion; secures it by edicts and laws; erects schools, builds and endows churches; bestows many immunities and privileges on the clergy, and distinguishes them with many public marks of honor and respect. Thus the darkness which had overspread the church began to scatter, and the morning to appear. The Gospel had free course and was glorified; there was opened an effectual door, which no man was allowed to shut. A delightful scene seemed now to open on the church, and looked like the beginning of a bright and glorious day. Many had raised expectations, that the happy period was now come, when the "Kingdoms of this World, would become the Kingdoms of our Lord, and his Christ": But alas! how different did the event prove. This morning was soon overcast, and succeeded by a dark and dismal night. The honors, dignities and riches conferred on the clergy and the church introduced luxury, pride and ignorance, with a long train of dangerous consequences. About this time, the Arian heresy sprung up, and spreading itself over a great part of the Christian church, proved destructive to the "Faith once delivered to the Saints;" threw the church into great confusions, and produced very sore persecutions: The Emperors favoring sometimes the Arian, and sometimes the orthodox, party; which brought infinite scandal on the Christian name, and caused the enemy to blaspheme.
Soon after Christianity had spread over a great part of the Roman Empire, under protection of the government, the most terrible desolation was brought on the Western Empire by the northern barbarous nations, viz. the Goths, Vandals, Almains, Sarmatians, Picts and Scots; who seemed to conspire together for its utter ruin, and for a long time continued wasting, burning, and destroying all before them. About A.D. 410, Alaricus the Goth sacked and plundered Rome; about fifty-five years after which, it was again plundered and burned by Genferidus the Vandal. Soon after, it met with the same fate from Richomerus, 472; twice by Totrla; and again by Attila, King of the Huns, who was above all the rest, a sore scourge, in the hand of providence, to the degenerate Christians of that day.
While the Empire was in this dreadful confusion by those barbarous nations, gross ignorance began to overspread the Christian world; for, by the ravages they committed, schools were dissipated, ministers banished, and learning buried. Those who were on the stage, being soon wasted with the sword and age; the rising generation grew up in lamentable ignorance. The most indeed of the rulers of those barbarous nations embraced Christianity; but being very ignorant, became an easy prey to the pride and policy of the corrupt and degenerate clergy of the day.
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This dark and dismal night, [...] continued for a long time with but a little glimmering of Gospel light among a few that kept the faith: Religion and learning seemed likely to be banished from the world. But at the close of the fifteenth, and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, the day began to dawn, by a glorious Reformation, which had been attended, and struggled for, by Wickliff in England, the Waldenses and Albigenses in France; and John Huss in Germany, long before: But was now carried on by Luther, under the protection of the Elector of Saxony, with surprising success, in many parts of Germany; who was joined by Melancton, and other noble Reformers; while Calvin, at Geneva, Zwinglius and Farellus, with a train of faithful witnesses for the truth, who appeared about this time, were strenuously supporting and vigorously carrying on (though with some small difference in lesser matters) the same glorious cause.
(The Waldenses (followers of Peter Waldo, a merchant of Lyons, in France) A.D. 1160, were persecuted with great severity: it's computed, that not less than 80,000 sealed their testimony to the truths of God with their blood. Above a million of the Albigenses (so called from their native country in Languedoc) fell a sacrifice in the same glorious cause [....])
The light of the Gospel seemed for a season to shine brighter and brighter, spread far and wide in spite of all the methods [...] made use of, by bulls, decrees of councils, and the most unheard-of cruelties, to stop and suppress it. [***] The nations of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the northern kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden, with great numbers in France, Hungary and Bohemia, all received the Reformation [....]
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These things appeared like the beginning of a joyful day, and many were ready to think, the glorious things spoken of Zion in the latter days were now at hand. There appeared in many of the first Reformers, such a love to the truth, and zeal for practical Godliness, as gave a fair prospect of a thorough reformation from all the corruptions in doctrine, discipline and worship, which had crept into the church: But the event fell far short of the raised hopes of Zion's friends. In many places it was carried on chiefly by the civil magistrate, who went no farther than to answer their political schemes, and in most it was too much a formal, nominal thing, conducted by the wisdom of this world. So that it soon came to a stand; and has been for many years past on the decline, as to the principles and practices of real religion, and this sad declension is growing fast on the present generation.
Some may be ready perhaps by this time, to put to me the question in the text, "Watchman, what of the Night?" Whereabouts are we? Is it night, or day? What are the signs of the times, in which we are fallen? What may be looked for? To which I answer, I am very far from pretending to a spirit of prophecy, or any such insight into the prophetic writings, as precisely to fix the dates of those times and seasons, about which learned and pious men have so widely differed; I may venture, however, to affirm, some things that appear evident and plain, and modestly offer my thoughts about others, more doubtful and uncertain.
[***] Notwithstanding the frequent appearances of the morning, the darkness still remains, and at present seems to increase. [***]
[***] And how great a part of the world is yet involved in heathen [pagan] darkness and idolatry? When with these things, we consider the sad declensions, corruptions and divisions of the Reformed churches, we are constrained to pronounce it night. The light of the Gospel does indeed shine, but it's like twinkling stars in the midst of darkness and error.
Should it now be enquired, What of the night? How far is it advanced? And how much is yet to come? I answer, it appears to me, that we are in the close of this dark night, and that the morning comes. [***]
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But, though this night is evidently far spent, and the day draws near, yet it appears to me not improbable, that the darkest part of the night yet remains, and that the glorious times the church will enjoy in the latter day, will be preceded with a season of the sorest calamity and distress. [***] But as some eminent divines, and one [Jonathan Edwards], for whose judgment I have the highest veneration, are of a different opinion, and think it is already past, I shall offer what I have to say on this head with all humility and much diffidence of my own sentiments about so dark an event. [***]
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[...] there will be a severe persecution raised by the anti-Christian party, whereby all the faithful ministers of the Gospel will appear to be silenced or slain, and that in the most public, open, and ignominious manner, so that their enemies shall triumph as though the day were their own; but this will continue only for a short time, [...] [***] After this they shall not only be restored to their former liberty, but exalted to such a state of dignity and security, as they never before enjoyed, and that in the presence, and total confusion of their enemies; [...]
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[***] It has been God's usual method to prepare His church and people for extraordinary favors, by extraordinary trials, and in the present corrupt state of things, it seems highly proper that it should be so.
The affairs of Jacob's family are in the most distressed situation, before he hears that Joseph was yet alive, and that by him a door was open for their relief. The children of Israel were reduced to the last extremity, in their Egyptian bondage, just before their remarkable deliverance. When was David in a greater strait than at the burning of Ziklag, a little before he was exalted to the throne of Israel? The persecution of the church under the Emperors of Rome was by far the most extreme and dangerous under Diocletian, when her deliverance drew near, and she was ready to be exalted under Constantine. The experience of many Christians can testify, that those seasons in which they have been most highly favored, with special communications of light and love, have been preceded by remarkable darkness and perplexity. That he should therefore prepare his church, for those glorious things spoken of it in the latter days, by some extraordinary trials, is no improbable supposition. This observation will be much strengthened, by considering the present degenerate state of the Protestant churches, which is such, that it can hardly be expected God should pass by, without some special tokens of His displeasure.
[***] [...] many things may make us expect that difficult and trying times are coming on the church and the world. [***]
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That our misfortunes have come upon us, in such a manner, as plainly to point out the hand of God therein, and shows us, that our dependence on our own wisdom and strength, while by our sins, we engage Heaven against us, is as vain as it is sinful. A midnight security seems to have fallen on the churches; both ministers and people, saints and sinners, slumber and sleep. Iniquity abounds; the love of many waxes cold--lukewarmness and indifference, in spiritual and divine things; want [lack] of affection to God and Christ, to the truths and ordinances of the Gospel, are growing fast on the professors of this age. [***] Time would fail me, to speak of the mournful growth of infidelity, profaneness, and all kinds of abominable immoralities: And when we consider these things, have we not reason to fear, that God will purify His churches in the furnace, that they may come forth as gold tried and refined?
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[After this, when Christ returns] [t]hen [...] the joyful sound will spread far and wide on the earth, saying, "The Kingdoms of this World are become the Kingdoms of our Lord, and his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:14, 15). Then, my brethren, though we may be entering on the darkest, and most gloomy part of the night, which has continued so long, we may lift up our heads with joy, our salvation draws near. "The Night is far spent, and the Day is at hand." The morning comes, and will usher in a glorious day, when the "Sun of Righteousness shall arise," and dispel the dark clouds which now [...] [hover] over His church, become a "Light to the Gentiles," and "a Glory to God's People Israel;" when "the Light of the Moon shall be as the Light of the Sun, and the Light of the Sun sevenfold as the Light of seven Days" (Isai. 30:26). [***] Without pronouncing any thing decisively, about the exact circumstances of these glorious times, and the manner in which they will be brought on, I will long say, that it seems evident by the prophetic description given of those times, that their glory will consist in the universal promotion of true Christianity and real religion, in the Gospel's having its genuine effect on the hearts and lives of men; such as were before hateful and hating one another, will then have hearts glowing with love to God and one another; such as were before the plagues and pests of society, will then become its ornaments, delight and defense; such as were before fierce and savage, malicious and revengeful, barbarous and cruel, will then become kind and gentle, courteous and forgiving, meek and humble. [...] "[T]here shall be Nothing to offend in God's holy Mount." When supreme love to God, and undissembled affection to one another, reign, it will produce universal harmony and peace. Wars and contentions, angry jars and disputes, will cease; "the Lamb shall lie down with the Wolf, and the Nations of the Earth will learn War no more." Such a glorious change, in such a corrupt apostate world, can be brought about by nothing short of a plentiful outpouring of the Spirit of all grace, who has immediate access to the hearts of the children of men, by His enlightening, purifying, and all-conquering influences. That the change must begin here; that without this, all means must prove ineffectual; and that this is sufficient to effect it, might be easily proved. Such abundant effusion of the Divine Spirit will open an effectual door for the Gospel to have free course and be glorified, which no man shall be able to shut. A preached Gospel will be attended with such life and power, as will subdue and soften the hardest heart; it will shine with such light and glory, as that the remainder of a pagan [...] darkness will flee before it, as the shadows of the night before the rising sun. [***] The inhabitants of the earth shall be filled with the spiritual knowledge of God and Christ, "as the Waters cover the Sea" (Isai. 11:9); [....] Then will God remember mercy for His ancient people, the Jews. They shall be brought in with "the Fullness of the Gentile World, which will be Life from the Dead" (Rom. 11:15). This is expressly promised, "The Children of Israel shall abide many Days without a King, and a Prince, without a Sacrifice, Image, Ephod," etc. (Hosea 3:4, 5). "Afterwards shall they return, and seek the Lord their God, and David, their King." Then may it be said to the church, "Arise; shine forth; for thy Light is come, and the Glory of the Lord is risen upon thee; his Glory shall be seen upon thee, and the Gentiles shall come to thy Light, and Kings to the Brightness of thy Rising" (Isai. 60:1, 2, 3).
PRINCES and potentates, will, I imagine, partake of this plentiful effusion of divine grace, whereby kings shall be made "nursing Fathers," and "Queens nursing Mothers" to the church (Isai. 60:16), disposed to cast their crowns at the feet of Jesus, and employ all their superior advantages for the honor of His name, and advancement of His cause; and with what striking beauty and force will religion then shine when recommended by such distinguished examples!
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CHRISTIANS, in general, will be favored with unusual communications of divine grace, and "shine as Lights in the World."
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[But] 1st, Let us prepare for dark and distressing times, if God should see fit to bring them on the church in our day.
Though it is not for us to know the times and seasons which God has reserved in His own power, yet when He is both by His Word and providence, giving intimations of approaching judgments, we ought, like Noah, to be moved with fear, and prepare to meet them. This may especially be expected of us who are appointed as watchmen, to give warning to others.
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[...] and what can we expect, but that "Judgment will begin at the House of God." The watchmen will doubtless first be attacked--the "Shepherd smitten, that the Sheep may be scattered." What are we better than our fathers? than the glorious train of martyrs, who have "sealed their Testimony with their Blood;" and why should we expect to die quietly in our nests? And are we, my brethren, prepared for such trying times as may soon come upon us? Is Christ, His truths and ways, dearer to us, than our lives? And can we freely sacrifice the latter in defense of the former? Should we who are leaders in Christ's army, give back, and cowardly desert the glorious cause wherewith we are entrusted, our guilt and condemnation would be exceedingly great. This would be to "crucify the Lord afresh, and put him to open Shame," and for such there "remains no more Sacrifice for Sin, but a certain looking for of Judgment," and "fiery Indignation."
We may, perhaps, in a warm mood, like Peter, say, "Though all men forsake thee, yet will not we." But have we that self-denial, faith, and love, that would carry us through the fiery trial, bear us up under all the variety of tortures which the wit and malice of our enemies may invent? It must be love, stronger than death, such as "many Waters cannot quench." We are loudly called in this day, to "stand with our Loins girt," and "Lamps burning;" to have all our graces, in a lively vigorous exercise; our evidences for Heaven clear, that we may be ready, if the Lord should come as a "Refiner's Fire," and "Fuller's Soap, to purify the Sons of Levi" (Mal. 3:2, 3). Let us continually "look to the Author and Finisher of our Faith," and be animated cheerfully to suffer with Him here, under the glorious prospect that we shall reign with Him forever.
2d. With what pleasure should we look forward to the joyful period, when "the Kingdoms of this World shall become the Kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ;" and how ardently should we long and pray for the approach of it?
Though many trials may yet await us, and we should be called off from the stage, before the darkness of the present night be past, yet it must be a delightful thought, that the morning comes, and will usher in a glorious day to the church, when the cause of truth and holiness, peace and purity, shall universally prevail, in opposition to all the heresy and wickedness, tumults and corruptions, which have hitherto overspread the earth; when the prayers of the saints in all ages, for the prosperity of Zion, shall be answered, and the glorious things spoken of her in the sacred oracles, be fully accomplished.
We, indeed, may be laid in the silent dust, before this blessed day appears; but we can now behold it, as Abraham saw the day of Christ; and if we are possessed of the same excellent spirit, shall rejoice and be exceedingly glad. A heart touched with a dutiful sense of God's honor and interest, can't but be pleased, that He will be highly glorified in this apostate world, where He has been insolently affronted, and provoked, for so long a time: Such must feel some peculiar emotions of joy, while some say with the Psalmist, in faith, "be thou exalted, O God, above the Heavens, and thy Glory above all the Earth" (Psalm 108:5). To a soul animated with unfeigned love to, and zealous concern for, the cause and kingdom of the dear Redeemer, how delightful the prospect! --that He will one day have the highest interest in the hearts of men; take to himself power, and reign from land to land, and sea to sea; that His blessed Gospel, which is now treated with scorn, and contempt by lost and perishing sinners, shall triumph over all the opposition of earth and hell, have free course and be glorified, throughout the world.
Oh! What a refreshing, what a reviving thought! that these regions of darkness, guilt and misery, shall be filled with spiritual light, life and joy. The present languishing state of true religion, is, indeed, distressing; and the more so, when we consider, that it may possibly continue to the end of our lives: But how pleasing the contemplation, that it will certainly be revived and flourish, though among future generations; that God shall be served and glorified, by our posterity, in a far better manner than He has ever been by us. And "that a People which shall be created, shall praise the Lord" (Psalm 102:18). This may solace us, under the near views of approaching death, if, with good old Jacob, we can say to our children, "We die, but the Lord will be with you" (Gen. 48:21). As a believing view of Zion's further prosperity and glory should support and comfort us, under our present labors and trials; so it should enlarge our hearts, in constant, fervent supplications to the throne of grace, that it may be accomplished. The representation I have given, of the exceedingly corrupt and degenerate state of the church, with other dark prospects in the present day, should be so far from discouraging, that it should greatly enliven and animate our prayers; partly, as it tends to give us an affecting sense of our entire dependence on God, for so great a mercy; and the utter insufficiency of all means for the revival, and general spread of true religion in the world, without a plentiful effusion of the Divine Spirit: And, partly, because infidelity and wickedness have arrived to so great a height, and religion is brought to so low an ebb, that it seems as if things were come to the last extremity, and that it was a fit time for God to appear, and display the greatness of His power, love and faithfulness, to His church, to convince the world, that the "Gates of Hell shall not prevail against her." Instead therefore of desponding, under the present gloomy appearance of things, let us be awakened to greater fervency in prayer, and look forward with more earnest expectations, for the dawn of that glorious day, when "the whole Earth shall be filled with the Knowledge of the Lord." And though He should come as a refiner's fire, to purge and purify His churches, in the furnace of affliction, yet let us, with united hearts, say, "Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly."
Finally, let us be awakened in this dark and difficult day, to a faithful, zealous discharge of the duties of our stations. It would be sad indeed, if, at such a time, we should "do the Work of the Lord carelessly and deceitfully;" if by our sloth and negligence, we should increase the deplorable darkness and deadness, which is already on the churches, and suffer the cause of God to die in our hands. We have every motive to awaken our zeal, and quicken our diligence, in our great work. What we find to do for God, the souls of our hearers, and our bleeding country, we should, in such a day as this, "do with all our Might." Allow me in particular, to press the necessity and importance of uniting our most vigorous attempts for a thorough and general reformation. This is what we proposed in our judicatory, and to which we unanimously agreed, viz. that we would not only "explain, and warmly press in our public discourses, the necessity of a reformation, but exert ourselves to our several spheres of influence, to bring it about." This is what God is most evidently and loudly calling us to, in the present day. [***] The displeasure of Heaven has been once and again testified against our nation and land. We have felt the rebukes of an incensed Deity. The cause of all which calamities, is notorious and evident to all, who have any due sense of God on their minds, or believe that He "rules among the Children of Men." God is openly and publicly affronted--His Name used and profaned, in the most atheistical manner--His laws violated--His authority despised--the loud calls of His Word and providence disregarded--and all the riches of His grace, in the Gospel, slighted--while profanity and infidelity, luxury and debauchery, pride and oppression, reign without control, among those that make no pretensions to religion. Decays in faith, love and zeal, a conformity to the world, and deadness to spiritual and divine things, are visible, and lamentation among its professors. These things have kindled the anger of Heaven against us, and it is not turned away; but His avenging hand is stretched out still. And shall not God punish for these things? Will He not be avenged on such a people as this? Can we expect, that all the public contempt thrown on His authority and government, will be passed by without tokens of His angry resentment, unless repentance and reformation prevent.
It is well known, that I have not been backward in using the little influence I have, in animating my countrymen to a vigorous defense of their lives and liberties, in the use of all proper means; and I wish it were in my power to awake in them a greater sense of the necessity of being alive and thoroughly engaged in this matter. But I must freely declare, I have no expectations of safety to the nation or land from any of our preparations, till a sense of our dependence on God, and disposition to return to Him by repentance and reformation prevails. The judgments of Heaven are manifestly on us; but who lays it to heart? Who suitably regards the works of the Lord, and the operations of His hand? We can discern, or imagine we discern, the cause of our calamities, in the weakness of one, the cowardice of another, and the treachery of a third, while the procuring cause of all is overlooked and forgotten. That our danger is great, and near, is acknowledged by all; but where do we look for deliverance? Is it not to our victorious fleets? The wisdom of our commanders? The number and bravery of our men? Our mournful disappointments, instead of curing, do but increase our infidelity and folly. We can see the error of our lost scheme, and determine to rectify it in the next; almost everyone imagines he could conduct matters better, and point out a way of safety, if he was at the head of affairs; but forgets, that "the Race is not to the Swift, nor the Battle to the Strong." The hand of God is disregarded--no suitable pains taken to remove the cause of His awful displeasure against us. But till there be some public, visible humiliation for, and reformation of, those open abominations, which cry to Heaven for vengeance; we need not think it strange, if God should send such a spirit of confusion into all our councils; suffer such cross interests, mutual jealousies, and distrust; such divisions and perplexities to prevail in our schemes, as naturally tend to defeat all our attempts and bring about our ruin. Should this, I say, befall us, it would be no strange thing; 'tis no more than what has frequently happened to a sinful, impenitent people--no more than what we have reason to expect, if repentance prevent not. We, my brethren, who are set on the walls of God's Jerusalem, to give warning of approaching danger, can't but see the necessity of repentance and reformation to avert impending judgments; and surely it concerns us, to join in with the alarming calls of Divine Providence, and endeavor to awaken in all around us a sense of these things. The eyes of God, angels, and men are upon us, to observe our conduct in this day of public calamity and distress. From us, the beginning and carrying on this so necessary a work is justly expected, whose obligations to, and advantages for, it, are great and distinguishing.
The glory of God, the interest of religion, the welfare of our bleeding country, and the solemn account we must soon give to our Judge, call aloud for our diligent activity and zeal in this matter, as well as our own public voluntary agreement, that we would unite our endeavors and exert our influence in our several stations for this purpose; in which we humbly hope, and earnestly desire, that we may be joined by our brethren of every denomination throughout the land. The example and advice of those of the sacred character we might reasonably expect, would animate magistrates, and heads of families, to engage in the same laudable design, prove the means of bringing about the so much needed, and wished for, reformation, and so of saving a sinning land from deserved impending ruin. Let our attempts for this purpose, according to our proposal, be accompanied with extraordinary prayer to God, who has the hearts of all men in his hand; and to this we may be excited and encouraged by a variety of motives; and in particular, from a prospect of being joined by many in several parts of the land.
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[***] Which, may GOD, of His infinite mercy, grant, through JESUS CHRIST, our LORD.
Joy to the World!
by Isaac Watts
Joy to the world! the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
-- Isaac Watts (1674-1748), friend to Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) and co-sponsor of the publication of the Faithful Narrative by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who was the father-in-law of President Aaron Burr of Princeton College (1715/16-1757)
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