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SIGNS AND DUTIES
SIGNS AND DUTIES Issachar, in the days of David, had so well considered the signs and events of the times in which they lived, and so well understood what the Lord was doing, and what he called them to do; that they were enabled to render their influence, in the tribe, subservient to the important good of the country. “The children of Issachar-were men " that had understanding of the times, to know “what Israel ought to do: the heads of them were “ two hundred, and all their brethren were at their “ commandment.'”—The Lord had promised that David should reign over all Israel : but so long as Ishbosheth the son of Saul was living, the men of Issachar wisely judged, that the time was not arrived for the fulfilment of that promise, and that a premature attempt would only occasion the needless effusion of human blood : but wlien Ishbosheth was removed, they understood that the time was come, and that it was their duty to afford David all the assistance in their power. Had they moved sooner, or had they waited longer, they would have acted unseasonably: but the timing of the service was as important as the service itself.
We may learn from this instance, that there is a kind of observation and intelligence concerning the circumstances and events of the times, which is intimately connected with the knowledge and performance of our duty: and that this under
* 1 Chron, xii. 32.
standing of the times is peculiarly needful and useful to those, who in any way have influence over collective bodies. It may indeed at first sight be thought to belong exclusively to statesmen, senators, magistrates, and others who possess secular distinctions; and it might be supposed that ministers of religion especially have little occasion for it. But this sentiment, when adopted in too general a sense, is evidently erroneous : for though the political understanding of the times is principally requisite for those, who are concerned to know what they ought to do politically, for the good of the nation; yet every man's duty varies, in some respects, according to circumstances, and cannot properly be performed, if he remain entirely uninformed in these matters.
The understanding of the times, however, which is necessary for ministers or private christians, does not greatly relate to political questions: to be well acquainted with the instructions of the holy Scriptures concerning God's providential government of the world and of the church, and to know how to apply them to events whico take place around us, is sufficient. Thus we shall be enabled to form a judgment, from what men have done, or are attempting, concerning what the Lord is doing or about to do; and to determine, from his word, the special duties to which he calls us in our several places. This knowledge is recommended in the Scriptures, and the want of it is severely reproved. — Thus Isaiah says, “ In that day did the Lord of “ Hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to “ baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: and “ behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen and kill“ing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine. Let “ us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die! “ And it was revealed in mine ears by the Lord of “ Hosts, Surely this iniquity shall not be purged “ from you, till you die.'” And Micah speaks to the same effect, “ The Lord's voice crieth unto " the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy "name; hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed " it.2 "
Our Lord, reproving the Jews for their unbelief, thus addresses them—“Ye hypocrites, ye can dis“cern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern “s the signs of the times ?3” And in predicting the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, he particularly describes the signs of those times, and emphatically adds, “ Let him that readeth, under“stand.” Thus he plainly declares, that the wisdom, duty, safety, and comfort, of his disciples, were inseparably connected with an attentive observation and an accurate judgment, in respect of the events which would take place in the world. -It is indeed allowed that the primitive cliristians were in very different circumstances than we are: yet it must also be granted that, in many respects, ? Is, xxij. 12–14. 2 Mic. vi. 9. 3 Matt. xvi. 3. Luke xii. 56,57.
we can neither know nor do our duty, without adverting to the state of the church and the nation, and forming a decided opinion on the dan · gers which threaten, and the evils which weaken and corrupt, both the one and the other. Without some measure of this understanding of the times, we shall be at a loss to determine, whether we are called to wait in quiet submission, knowing that “our strength is to sit still,” or to engage in active services : and whether mourning and fasting, or joyful praise and thanksgiving, be the business of the day.
Indeed in perilous and disastrous times, it is of great importance that we should know the source and origin of the evils, which alarm and distress, us, and the way in which they may best be counteracted; in order that our exertions may be made, and our supplications presented, in the manner most suitable to the emergency.
This kind of knowledge and discernment is especially needful and useful to ministers of the gospel: for though it must be acquired by a carcful observation of Providence, compared with the Scriptures; yet the bulk of christians are generally led into it by means of their pastors. No doubt there are very numerous exceptions: yet ministers possess a variety of advantages, above most in their several congregations, for obtaining information, and coming to a settled judgment on the aspect of publick affairs; and if they do not
give a right direction to the thoughts and opinions of the people, others may probably mislead them; or at best, many even of the more conscientious will either wholly neglect, or very slightly attend to, the special duties of the times.
It must therefore be incumbent on the ministers of religion to look about them, to observe what is ipassing in the world, to mark the signs of the times, and as watchmen to warn the people of approaching danger: not in order to engage them in political discussions, but to excite them to perform their several duties, according to the emergency of the case.
It may be supposed, that few well-informed persons will deny, that the present times wear a most extraordinary appearance. They have in fact called forth the energies and activity of men, to a degree almost unparalleled in history: and after every abatement for the feelings of the persons more immediately concerned, we can scarcely doubt, but that distant countries and remote posterity must deem them peculiarly disastrous and dreadful.
The christianity, most prevalent through the greatest part of Europe for ages past, has unquestionably been very corrupt, both in principle and practice; and it has been rendered subservient to the base designs of wicked men: nor can it be denied that arbitrary power, ecclesiastical and civil, has oppressed vast multitudes, and introduced