36 Matthew XXIV


Edward Madeley



IN this chapter the Lord foretells the entire destruction of the church He came to establish. As the Jewish church had come to its consummation, so that the Lord as the Son of Man, as the Divine Truth itself from which the church exists, ” had not where to lay his head;” so, at consummation of the Christian church, the Son of Man, when He should come, ” would not find faith upon the earth.” (Luke xviii. 8.) Many suppose that these predictions of the Lord have reference only to the literal destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Titus ; but although there are some things in the letter which appear coincident with that destruction, yet there are very many, as all commentators have acknowledged, which cannot be construed into a reference to that event ; and therefore it has been admitted by many that the entire series of divine predictions contained in this chapter, have relation to the decline, fall and consummation of the first Christian church which the Lord established ; after which He would come again to establish a New Church, signified by the New Jerusalem in the Revelation, in which He, in his Divine Humanity, would be acknowledged as all in all.

A church does not arrive at its consummation until ” not one stone in the buildings of the temple is left standing upon another,” or until there is an utter desolation of those divine principles of love; and faith which constitute the church. The temple about which the disciples inquired, represents the Lord in his Humanity. This is abundantly evident from what the Lord said of the temple in John ii. 21, where it is expressly declared that He spake of the temple of his body. There being ” not one stone left upon another which should not be thrown down,” denotes the utter destruction of all faith in the Lord’s Humanity as being Divine, in which all the fulness of the God-head dwells bodily, who hath ascended far above all heavens that He might fill all things ; who hath all power in heaven and on earth, who hath the keys of hell and of death, who openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, and who alone giveth the blessings and felicities of eternal life. (Rev. ii. 7, 11, 17, 28.)

The slightest elevation of thought as to the object and tendency of revealed truth, might teach us that the events of mere history relating only to the affairs of this life, are, as primary objects, far beneath the dignity of revealed wisdom which can only contemplate eternal objects and ends, and not those which are temporal, except so far as they can be made conducive to the attainment of heavenly and eternal ends, or to the salvation of mankind. The Word of the Lord relates primarily to his kingdom ; and as ” his kingdom is not of this world,” so it may be said in like manner, that his Word is not of this world ; hence it does not relate, in its primary or spiritual sense, to the revolutions of earthly polities, or the subversion of earthly governments, or the destruction of earthly cities; although these events may serve, according to the laws of correspondence between things natural and spiritual, as the visible types of the destruction of churches, and of those judgments in the spiritual world by which that destruction is accomplished. Thus by the destruction of Jerusalem, and the abrogation of the Jewish system of worship and the dispersion of the Jew^s, the total destruction of the Jewish dispensation was effected, and thereby was likewise represented, in the divine predictions of the Lord in Matt, xxiv., the entire consummation of the first Christian church.

Although, as stated above, some things in the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Titus appear to coincide with the Lord s predictions, there are, nevertheless, many particulars in the divine record which do not coincide, and which have constrained all commentators to admit that these divine predictions have an ulterior object not yet accomplished. This ulterior object can only be understood by a knowledge of the spiritual sense of the Word, which in these latter days has been mercifully vouchsafed to the church, and by which we can clearly see the object, scope and end of the Lord s predictions. Thus the true nature of these predictions being only understood from the spiritual sense, we may readily see how immensely important a knowledge of the spiritual sense is ; inasmuch as little or no practical profit can arise unless we understand the Scriptures, and see their application to our own states as well as to the states of the church in general. For the Word of God is infinite and universal, comprising all states of the church in the aggregate, and all states of the human mind in particular. Thus the utter desolation of the church in the unregenerate mind, especially at the time of death and judgment, which we know is one of the immediate consequences of death, is especially described in these predictions of the Lord.

The inestimable value of the spiritual sense of the Word is especially seen in the fact, that it brings every prophecy as well as every precept home to the heart and life of the individual, so that he there sees the history either of his regenerate or of his unregenerate state ; his regenerate state being portrayed in those prophecies which describe the church in states of faithfulness and obedience, and in consequent glory and happiness ; and his unregenerate state depicted in those prophecies which describe the church in ruin and desolation. Thus the Word spiritually understood, is a constant source of life and light to the mind, ” a fountain of living waters.” When, therefore, the Lord, in the series of prophecies relating to the fall and consummation of the church, says, ” Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day,” we may be certain that there is some important instruction conveyed, which it is of the utmost consequence to know. The merely literal sense of the passage, that the disciples were to pray that when the siege took place it might not be in the winter, must appear to the devout and reflecting mind too insignificant an exposition to be worthy of Divine Wisdom, which ever contemplates eternal ends. There is a winter of the soul as well as of the body ; and the ulterior or rather the primary object of which commentators speak, as being involved in these predictions, is to warn us against taking our departure from this life in the winter of the soul, in that state in which all the affections of the heart are cold and dead to everything spiritual and heavenly, when the chill of spiritual death has benumbed and frozen every emotion of love and charity in the soul (Matt. xxiv.12) when a cold-hearted selfishness has taken possession of the mind, and congealed and contracted all its sensibilities for good, and all its disinterested love of truth. This indeed is a dreadful winter, and we should earnestly pray that our flight, our departure out of this world into the eternal world, may not be in this wintry state. Thus it is that the Lord s words are of universal application. All his disciples, all the members of his church, have now and at all times most earnestly to pray that death and judgment may not over take them in this winter state.

As to our departure out of this world, it is obvious that we have no control over the time when it is to take place ; whether it be in summer or in winter is not of our appointment. But we have, through Divine Mercy and Power, a control over our states, so that by earnest prayer, self-denial, and sincere repentance, we can cultivate the states represented by the beautiful spring, the glowing summer, and the fruitful autumn, and avoid the cold, dismal, death-like states of winter. We all, indeed, have to pass through these winter states during the process of regeneration, when states of coldness as to things spiritual and heavenly will come upon us ; when temptations and trials will assail us ; when ” we should hasten our escape from the windy storm and tempest.” (Ps. Iv. 8.) As the people of Israel had to pass through the desert before they could arrive at the ” land flowing with milk and honey,” as the Lord himself had to be tempted of the devil, and to be assailed by wild beasts in the desert (Mark i. 13) before “He could enter into his glory,” so we all have to pass through a desert, and a state of winter which is analogous to a desert, before we can receive the ” crown of life.” But to fall in the desert, or to remain in that spiritual state denoted by winter, is to incur spiritual death, and to take up our abode in the ” land of darkness, of trouble, and of anguish, whence come the young and the old lion, the viper, and the fiery flying serpent ;” (Isaiah xxx. 6,) where evils and falsities of every kind prevail. How different is this land from that whose skies are never darkened, whose clouds drop fatness, whose hills are covered with flocks, whose plains are adorned with golden harvests, and where each can sit under his vine and figtree, and none shall make him afraid !

Nature is a theatre representative of the Lord s kingdom in the spiritual world. ” The invisible things of God (says the Apostle) from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.” Not only are the things of heaven represented to us, but the sad states and dismal objects of hell are also portrayed to our senses in the world of nature. The wolf and the lamb, the owl and the dove, the nettle and the rose, winter and summer, night and day, are not correlatives, but opposites, which read us valuable lessons when seen in the light of correspondence, and especially when understood as mentioned in the Scriptures. Nature has yet to be studied and viewed from a higher point than our sciences have hitherto contemplated. We are still grovelling in the dust as to the high uses which the study of nature should aim to realize and accomplish.

Night is to day what winter is to the year. The four states of the day denoted by morning, noon, evening, and night, are analogous to the four seasons of the year spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Spring is the morning of the year, summer its noon, autumn its even ing, and winter its night. But in heaven it is declared that there is ” no night” (Rev. xxi. 25) ; there, says Milton, is ” Grateful twilight ; Night doth not there assume a darker veil.” And we may rest assured that, as there is ” no night in heaven,” so there is no winter. These are representative of mental states of darkness, cold and barrenness, which are opposed to the light, the warmth, and the fruitfulness of heavenly states, and therefore can have noplace in heaven.

The spring of the year is emblematic of that state in which, under the Lord’s guidance, man enters upon the childhood of his second birth ; hence the spring of the day is called the “womb of the morning” (Psalm ex. 3), to denote the nascent states of regeneration in the new birth, when ” the day of the Lord s power” is acknowledged, and ” the beauties of holiness ” begin to appear. In this state, the germs of heavenly intelligence and wisdom begin to grow and expand. The first-fruits, being green ears of corn dried by the fire” (Lev. ii. 14), and the firstlings of the flock, were to be offered to the Lord in worship as emblems of this spring state of heavenly innocence and good in the human soul.

The summer is representative of that state when the affection of truth glows with ardor, and when everything intellectual is, in consequence, more fully developed and expanded ; when faith is not only enlightened by truth, but actuated by love. This spiritual summer is splendid and glorious in proportion as the ” sun of righteousness ” rises to a higher and higher altitude in the mind. When the prophet says, ” The harvest is past and the summer is ended and we are not saved” (Jer. viii. 20), the true meaning can only be seen from the spiritual sense. For our salvation is irrespective of earthly summers and harvests, but by no means of spiritual harvests and summers. For the harvest and summer denote the means of love and truth in all fulness, provided by Him who, in his Divine Humanity, is the ” Lord of the harvest ” by which man can be saved, by which he can “reap life everlasting.” This harvest and the light and warmth of this summer are abundantly provided for us in the Holy Word, and in the church especially in the Lord s New Church ; and if we refuse to become laborers in this harvest, it must needs pass away, or rather we shall pass away from it, and shall not be saved. This is the ground of the prophet s lamentation.

The autumn is an emblem of that state when the fruits of heavenly wisdom and love come to maturity and perfection, and are seen in the conduct and the life. The feast of harvest represented, in the Jewish dispensation, this joyful and happy state of the regenerate mind and of the church.

But the winter corresponds to the unregenerate and sinful state of man, and also to states of temptation through which, as we have seen, man must pass in order to be prepared for heaven. Hence, as in nature the winter is made subservient to a fuller and more vigorous development and manifestation of vegetable and animal life in the spring, summer and autumn ; so the winter, in a spiritual sense, is made subservient to a more vigorous growth in the spring, summer and autumn states of the soul, of the fruits of righteousness and of the blessings of salvation ; and also as a means by which the enjoy ment of those states can be enhanced. And inasmuch as these alter nations and vicissitudes denoted by the four times of the day and the four seasons of the year, are as necessary for the growth and maturity of all spiritual states of goodness and truth as for the growth and perfection of all things in nature, it is therefore said that ” while the earth remaineth ” or (more literally translated)” during all the days of the earth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease ” (Gen. viii. 22), to denote that in the process of regeneration these alternations and vicissitudes of states are indispensable to the growth of things spiritual and heavenly in the mind.

As the human mind is spiritual in its constitution, it often thinks from laws operative in the spiritual world, and consequently expresses its perceptions and feelings in the language of correspondences between things natural and spiritual. Thus it is common to talk of a benighted mind, to denote ignorance; of a cold heart, to signify the lack of warm friendship and love. But the Word of God uniformly speaks to us according to these emblems and correspondences ; and we cannot come to the true meaning of the Word until we thus spiritually discern, as the Apostle says (1 Cor. ii. 14), what is revealed to us.

This, then, is the reason why the Lord commands us ” to pray that our flight be not in the winter.” When the Lord was betrayed, and when He was brought to his final temptations, it was winter (John xviii. 18), to denote the entire consummation of the church, when nothing but self-love prevailed, signified by the “fire of coals ” at which the servants and officers were standing ; and at which also Peter was “warming himself” when he denied the Lord. For all denial of the Lord comes from those impure affections which arise from the coal fire of inordinate self-love ; whereas all acknowledgment and love of the Lord come from the heavenly warmth of the ” sun of righteousness” as a living principle in the soul. The Sabbath day, on which also our flight should not take place, is extremely important to be known. We are aware of the merely literal idea which commentators in general attach to this injunction of the Lord, namely, that as the Sabbath was so holy in the Jewish church, they should pray that their flight from the siege of Jerusalem might not be on that day, lest they should be guilty of breaking the holy laws of the Sabbath. Such commentators, however, do not remember that the Lord himself, as the Lord of the Sabbath, abrogated those ritual laws, in consequence of which He was so often accused by the Pharisees. No ; such comments as these can never bring out the “spirit and life” of the Word. This injunction is as applicable to us as to those to whom it was first addressed. The Word, like its Divine Author, is ” the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,” and never loses its especial application to every individual member of the church. Besides, the Lord s injunction in the text was given to his disciples to Christians, and not to the Jews and therefore it could not be in the Jewish sense of the Sabbath that it should be understood.

The SABBATH DAY was the most holy institution of the Jewish church. Its observance was guarded by the strictest laws, the violation of which was followed by the severest penalties. The Sabbath was thus considered to be most holy on account of its high representative character. It signified the union of the Divine and Human natures in the Lord ; hence it denoted, in the supreme sense, his glorification, and also his work of redemption when accomplished, when, after his temptations and labors, He entered into his Sabbath of rest ; it also signified the regeneration of man, and his consequent salvation, when he enters into his heavenly state of rest and peace which is involved in the term Sabbath. This institution, therefore, was most holy in its representative character, because it denoted the consummation of all the divine purposes of redemption and salvation.

But a merely external representative state of holiness, such as then existed among the Jews, when there wras no internal vital principles of holiness in the heart and life, when only the outside of the cup and the platter was clean, but the inside full of extortion and excess, when the ” whited sepulchre appeared beautiful without, but within was full of dead men s bones and all uncleanness ; ” (Matt. xxiii. 27) such a state of merely external holiness, especially when connected with the mention of winter, is here meant by the Sabbath day. Such was the state of the Scribes and Pharisees, who were extremely punctilious and sanctimonious in observing all the ritual laws of the Sabbath, but who, in the sight of Him who knoweth what is in man, were ” hypocrites, and a generation of vipers.” Such also is the state of all professing Christians who assume a semblance or ” form of godliness, but who have none of the life and power thereof,” or who, like the church of Sardis, ” have a name to live,” but who, in the Lord s sight, are spiritually dead. This is indeed a state even more dreadful than the winter state already de scribed, since it is connected with hypocrisy and profanation. Let us, then, earnestly pray that our ” flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath day ” that death, when it comes, may not find us taking our departure out of this wrorld in these unregenerate and, sinful states, so contrary to the holiness and happiness of heaven. SCRUTATOR.