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Knowing the Time." A MEDITATION FOR THE CLOSING YEAR. LONG ago, prior to the invention of those means for measuring time with which we are now familiar, the heaven above us, with its bright array of sun, moon, and stars, fulfilled its original destination, and stood "for signs and for seasons, for days and years." The more brilliant of the stars in particular, as each in its stated order arose in the east, determined and declared the progress of the night-watches. And it was the duty of some solitary sentinel, stationed on the high wall of the city, or upon the lofty tower at its gate, to observe the face of the heavens, and to proclaim the hours as they successively came and passed away.
To this ancient eastern custom there seems to be an allusion in the prophet Isaiah—“ Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? `And the watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night.”
In a higher region than that of nature, God has given us many indications of the passage of time. Time itself is full of signs; warning us of the rapidity with which it passes, and calling us to the consideration of the end to which it is almost imperceptibly advancing us. The providential changes and events which mark the history of every day, constitute a kind of Divine mechanism by which, not time in general merely, but the life of man and the onward movement of God's purposes are measured. And every change and event, especially when greater and more striking than ordinary, is as a beacon star rising on the horizon of eternity; and telling us of that coming period when the night of time shall be no more, and when the daylight of eternity sball discover and illumine all.
The words which head this paper were addressed by the Apostle Paul to the Christians at Rome. “ Knowing the time ;"• i.e., not time in general, but "The time," the particular time in which their lot was cast, the events which marked it, the lessons it taught, the providential signs with which it was filled. Time is not only in itself a talent of inestimable value-a talent upon the improvement, or neglect, or abuse of which our immortal destiny depends—a talent entrusted to us by Him before whose throne we must ultimately reckon for our stewardship of it; but particular times have their own duties and responsibilities. The blessings, privileges, or opportunities which one period of time lays open to the soul may differ from, may be greater or less than those of another; and the final account will have respect to these. So it was said by Paul when preaching on Mars' Hill—“The times of this ignorance"—of that dark idolatrous condition upon which the light of the Gospel had never shone" God winked at; but now”—now that there is such a full and gracious discovery of His truth and love_" He commandeth all men everywhere to repent." The contrast implied in this passage may be alluded to in the words “ Knowing the time ;' its blessings and privileges, with the new duties and responsibilities which these involved. And surely it is important that this knowledge should
Our lot might have fallen in times of dark ignorance or superstition, of spiritual deadness, or of suffering and persecution for the truth's sake, Buty in these days of freedom and light, of revived religious earnestness and activity, and even of that mental and spiritual conflict, which is not with “confused noise and garments rolled in blood,” but with a burning and fuel of fire ;" our time is one which, in every respect in which time can be said to do so, “ exalts us to heaven." We must know it, appreciate it, value its blessings, improve every gracious distinction it confers upon us; or, our final fall will only be the more fearful—in the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah than for us.
Still, the Apostle more expressly characterizes the time he referred to. Knowing the time (he says); for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” It may be that this “salvation"-nearer and ever nearing-is that which the Church of Christ expected and expects at the second coming of her Lord. “Unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time, without sin unto salvation," A strong and practical belief in the glorious coming of the Lord Jesus, as a coming which might be near, even at the doors, appears to have animated the first disciples; and they lived, and exhorted all Christians to live,
* Rom. xiii. 11.
looking for it, watching the ever-ehanging aspect of God's providential government for the signs which were to herald its approach. "The end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer." " The day of the Lord so, cometh as a thief in the night; therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober." "Looking for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour, Jesus Christ." And there have ever been minds impressed with the same thought and hope, and whom it has quickened to watchfulness and prayer
“ Thus bad and good their several warnings give
Faith s ear, with awfal still delight,
That draw the curtains round
The nearer swells the trumpet's sound ?
Touch us with chastening hand, and make us feel Thee nigh.” It may be, however, that the “salvation"—the nearness of which marked and marks all time for believers in Jesus is that which awaits them as one by one they “ finish their course." Death is essentially an enemy only to the impenitent and unpardoned sinner. To the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ it has assumed another aspect. It has become to them the end of all toil, and trial, and suffering, the time of their deliverance from all evil, the commencement of perfect and endless peace. They can say, “ To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain;" “ Absent from the body, present with the Lord.” And hence, because of the deliverance it brings with it, and the glorious condition it immediately precedes and ushers in, death itself is a kind of “salvation ”salvation which every day as it passes over their heads, every change and event in their history and experience, is bringing nearer and nearer. “ Knowing the time," then ; its shortness—the rapidity with which it is failing you—the solemn lessons it is ever teaching you, as to the approach of death and the nearness of eternity; "cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light."
The words remind us that, individually, we have a great work to do; and that we have but little, and that little a rapidly lessening, time for doing it. And they teach us to be mindful of our “ latter end;" to be animated by a deep conviction of our nearness to the final everlasting state ; and to live more and more in preparation for a world of light and
righteousness, love and glory. There is, perhaps, no man but has some event in his history greater than others; one to which he is accustomed to refer as to an era in his life, and from which he dates all his memories of the past, if not all his hopes for the future. That event, whatever it may be, is rapidly receding—becoming more and more distant; while another, the greatness and importance of which cannot be surpassed, is as rapidly drawing nigh. The great event with the Christian is, his conversion to God-his experience of the power of Christ, of His truth, His precious blood, His Holy Spirit; this is his era—the change from which he dates a new life. If of that change we know nothing; then, deathdeath, the wages and the curse of sin, with all its imagined and unimagined possibilities of evil_death is nearer, nearer to-day than ever it has been before. But, if we have been born again and “saved by grace through faith "—if we have died in the death of our Lord, and He now lives in us; then, " is our salvation nearer than when we believed." Every day takes us nearer to heaven. Every change of the present carries us onward to the day when change shall be no more. Every toil, trial, and suffering advances us to the haven and home of endless rest and joy. Every visitation of Divine Providence by which we ourselves are reminded of our mortality, or by which in the case of others the thread of mortal life is cut short, rises, like a star from another sphere, to remind us that “the night is far spent and that the day is at hand." The Christian should “know the time ;" and knowing it, should think those thoughts, speak those words, do those deeds-live that life of faith, truth, and love, which alone will bear the bright shining of eternal light and the scrutiny of Him." in whom is no darkness at all.”
No man can really think about “the time "—the present time, and his own occupation of it--without being struck by it, and humbled and rendered serious. There is something awful in human life ; its shortness and frailty, its wonderful issues, and the unknown, or but little known, certainties which lie beyond it and to which it is ceaselessly tending. And, short and frail as it is, it is ever shadowing forth the future. We cannot withdraw from the outward bustle and noise which 80 generally keep men from thinking, without becoming conscious ou this. The darkness which surrounds our life is like the darkness of a starry night. As the heavens encompass the earth, so eternity encircles time; and ever and for all men eternity sends forth its warningsgleaming lights from the land of immortality-immortal instincts, hopes, fears, longings-signs which indicate the rapidity with which time is failing us, and call upon us to be ready for the eternity which is closing upon us swiftly and irresistibly. Men in general are blind to these signs, and heedless of the solemn truths they teach. The sincere