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coming to judge the Jews, was the image and earnest of his last coming,* described 1 Thess. iv. 15-17.
Obs. 4. The coming of Christ is a most endearing consideration to believers.
This is to the Christian as the harvest is to the husbandman, James v. 7, 8, "Be ye also patient," saith the apostle, "stablish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh." O what a glorious morning will that be, when the Sun of Righteousness will shine once again with healing in his wings! Then let the heirs of glory "lift up their heads, for the day of their redemption draws nigh." You cannot entreat them by more strong and obliging obtestations or arguments.
Obs. 5. Though Christ's coming be sure to the saints and certain in itself, yet the time is uncertain to us.
Our Lord saith to his inquisitive disciples, Acts i. 6, 7, "It is not for you to know the times and the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power:" hence he saith, Matt. xxiv, 42, 44, "Watch, therefore, be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh." This is a key that the wise God retains under his girdle; he keeps this secret among the mysteries of his glorious empire; let us be content with a wise ignorance here.
Obs. 6. Bold comments upon dark prophecies are apt to shake men's minds.
If sudden approach be foretold and it prove not so, men are tempted to believe nothing, though this is unreasonable that men will not believe what God saith, because what men say prove falsities; but many confident expositors will needs thrust their comment into the text; yet, a judicious Christian must distinguish, there may be great commotions, yet no immediate presages of a conclusion, Mark xiii. 7.
* Imago et arrhabo adventus ultimi.
+ Luke xxi. 28.
Obs. 7. That at Christ's second coming, there will be a great gathering together of saints to him.
All the elect shall be gathered into one Επισυναγωγῆς, aggregation or congregation, a mighty solemn meeting. Επ ̓ ἀυτὸν οι πρὸς ἀυτὸν, James ii. 2; which some interpret of free liberty to meeet to worship God in this world after their dispersion by persecution, which was forbidden by Pagan emperors, but granted by Constantine's edicts, thus Grotius and Hammond-but this is forced, there is a greater congregation at Christ's second coming.
The apostle, Heb. xii. 22, 23, mentions an "innumerable company of angels, and a general assembly, and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven." I shall say little of the angels, though God hath by Christ united them to the church, so the apostle tells us, Eph. i. 10, "That he hath gathered together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him." The angels of themselves are but creatures, and therefore changeable, so the word ɔ, employed to signify angels, signifies mutable, Psal. lxviii. 17; but receive confirmation by Christ, though not reconciliation; so that now they leave not their stations as did the apostate angels. But whether angels stand by Christ's mediation, or by God's election, (therefore called elect angels) I determine not. But I am now to treat of converted souls, which then shall be united in one body; that will be a wonderful amphitheatre, an astonishing sight when all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and confessors shall be brought forth into open view, and shall be advanced to those celestial mansions with the highest acclamations.
In discoursing upon this pleasant subject, I shall consider the following things:
I. The mode and period of the saints being gathered.
IV. In what light they are regarded when gathered to Christ, and the reasons of their being assembled. V. What improvement may be made of it.
ON THE MODE AND PERIOD OF THE SAINTS BEING GATHERED.
BEFORE I proceed to the consideration of these particulars, I shall briefly explain the import of this term, and its allusions.
1. It alludes to a hospitable person taking in wanderers to lodge them, and kindly entertain them; so the word is used, Matt. xxv. 35, "I was a stranger and ye took me in,” ξένος ἡμην καὶ συνηγάγετε μὲ, ye gathered me. Alas, God's children are strangers and pilgrims on the earth, Heb. xi. 13; as men oft cast them out, and "they wander about in sheep skins and goat skins, in deserts, mountains, dens, and caves of the earth," ver. 37, 38; but their gracious Father takes them in and provides them house and home, "a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens ;"* Lazarus at the rich man's gates is taken up into Abraham's bosom, a better lodging than the rich man's stateliest chamber; thus God gathers them.
2. It alludes to a man's gathering a rich treasure together, gold, silver, or precious stones, as David * 2 Cor. v. 1.
gathered a prodigious treasure for building the temple, "three thousand talents of gold, seven thousand talents of refined silver, all manner of precious stones," 1 Chron. xxix. 2-4. Solomon gathered silver and gold, and the peculiar treasures of kings. But what are all these to God's treasure? which too he calls his peculiar treasure, more worth than, both the Indies.* These God hath his time and way to gather up, Matt. iii. 17, They shall be mine, saith the Lord, in the day when I make up my jewels." God's jewels lie loose and scattered, but he will string them, and lay them up safe with himself in heaven.
3. This word alludes to congregating together, as in a synagogue for religious acts, a holy religious meeting, “He hath_built us a synagogue," said the Jews, that is, for religious worship, so the Hebrew word у imports a religious meeting. And we read of a synagogue of the Libertines, but this assembly of saints may be called the synagogue or the congregation of licentiates, or highest graduates in divinity, that have in some sense commenced per saltum, and have ascended out of the church below, into the church triumphant above, being highly preferred by their blessed master.
4. The word imports a meeting in an honourable council, above an ordinary assembly, Matt. xxvi. 3, "Then assembled together the chief priests, and scribes, and elders," &c. these were the Sanhedrim and sat as judges upon causes criminal and capital, ovváyɛodaι, it signifies not a vulgar, or a common meeting, but a convention of states, to sit upon life and death; and though that was a wicked meeting to condemn the Son of God, yet this glorious assembly of saints shall be Laying up in store, Isa. xxxix. 6. Eccl. ii. 8. Exod. xix. 5. + Luke vii. 5. Acts vi. 9.
convened to be assessors with Christ to judge their judges, 1 Cor. vi. 2, "Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world, yea, angels." All the saints of God are kings and princes in all the earth.* O what an honourable jury will there be to applaud the sacred decisions of our Lord!
After having given the meaning of the word, I proceed,
I. To show the mode in which, and the time when the saints are and shall be gathered; how this gathering together is managed, or how the saints come to be gathered together, and when.
1. Converting grace gathers sinners out of the world to God. This is initial and preparatory; the word in Eph. i. 10, "Gathering together in one," avakɛpadaiwσaoSai, is very emphatical, it signifies to recapitulate, or re-collect, or reduce all to a head; it implies that mankind by sin are separated from God, disjointed one from another, the members scattered, just like an old ruinous house that is fallen; all the pieces thereof are gone asunder, till the workman come and put them together, and rear up a stately fabric of the old materials. Man hath not lost the faculties of his soul by the fall, but its rectitude. All the imaginations of man's heart are become evil; he hath banished himself from God into a foreign country. In a natural sense, "God is not far from every one of us;" but in a moral sense, God and unconverted sinners are at a great distance, they are "far off, alienated from the life of God," but grace brings sinners from their wanderings. The Spirit through the word unites them with a blessed cement in an efficacious manner, so that
*Rev. i. 6. + Gen. vi. 5.
Psalm xlv. 16.
iii. 8. Luke xv. 13. Acts xvii. 27.