A Fruitful Dialogue Concerning the End of the World
Works VI, pp. 468-472
Worldling: You say it is neither possible nor lawful to search the coming of Christ by any means. How then may a man frame his talk wisely and speak the truth in these matters?
Christian: It is a good question you demand, and I will be careful to make you an answer. Therefore, when you speak with any man of the end of the world, frame your talk after this manner:
(1) That the end of the world is most certain.
(2) That the time of the end of the world is uncertain to man, and that he must not be curious in this matter.
(3) That God would have this time to be unknown that men might live in the fear of His name and not defer their repentance.
(4) That every man must long to see this day in which an end shall be made of sin and wickedness.
(5) That God may come sooner to judgment than we are aware of or the world does imagine, as the parable of the wicked servant shows.
(6) That if God seem to defer His coming, it is that by His longsuffering He might bring us to repentance.
(7) That though God will not end the world, yet He may every moment cut off the life of man. If you shall speak of any of these points, you cannot speak amiss.
Worldling: Surely my memory is naught, and now you do me pleasure in that you tell me your whole mind so briefly and plainly. I pray you, let me make bold to confer with you of the other part of the prophecy, which is that if the end of the world be not this next year, yet there shall be great troubles and subversion of kingdoms. If I knew your opinion of this, I would cease to trouble you.
Christians should expect tribulations.
Christian: Not to make long discourses, my opinion is this: that there must be great troubles in the world, but they are not to be looked for more in the year 1588 than any other year. And this I will briefly declare to you, and then we will end this matter.
Worldling: Show me first of all that there shall be many troubles in the world, for I would very fain know that.
Christian: Doubtless the reasons of this thing are most evident.
1. God’s Word predicts them.
First, God’s Word threatens plagues and punishments to the disobedient and the transgressors of His commandments. If (says Moses) you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God to keep and do all His commandments which I command you this day, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the town, and cursed in the field, etc. The Lord shall send upon you cursing, trouble, and shame in all that which you set your hand to do until you be destroyed and perish quickly, etc. And the Lord shall make the pestilence to cleave to you, until He has consumed you forth of the land, whither you go to possess it. The Lord shall smite you with a consumption and with the fever and with a burning ague and with fervent heat, and with the sword and with blasting and mildew. The heaven that is over your head shall be brass, and the earth that is under you, iron. The Lord shall give you for the rain of your land dust and fleas, even from heaven shall it come upon you, till you be destroyed. And the Lord shall cause you to fall before your enemies, etc. Also, Amos the prophet speaks thus: “Behold the eyes of the Lord are upon the sinful nation, and I will destroy it clean out of the earth: nevertheless I will not utterly destroy the bones of Jacob, saith the Lord.” And in the third chapter, he speaks of the house of Israel, thus: “They know not to do right (saith the Lord) they stir up violence and robbery in their palaces: therefore thus saith the Lord God, An adversary shall come even round about the country, and shall bring down the strength from thee, and thy palaces shall be spoiled.” And the prophet Isaiah pronounces a fearful curse against Israel for her sins: “Behold,” says he, “the Lord maketh the earth empty, and he maketh it waste: he turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad,” etc. Well, to the purpose, these are the times in which even through all nations sin and wickedness most abounds. These last times are compared to the days of Noah and of Lot, in which there was nothing but eating and drinking and marrying and building, and a general security possesses all men’s hearts. And Paul speaks of these days thus: “This know also, that in the last days there shall come perilous times: for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, cursed speakers; disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of them that are good, traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a show of godliness, but having denied the power thereof.” Wherefore, seeing God threatens His curse to the disobedient, and we know that now the whole world is given to disobey God in outrageous manner, and atheism never more abounded—who cannot be a prophet and make this conclusion of these times that there must needs be plagues and punishments in the world and great troubles? For God is not changeable; but as He threateneth plagues to the disobedient, so His immutable justice will require the same.
2. Satan knows his time is short.
(2) Secondly, because these are the last times, and Satan sees that he has but a short time to continue, therefore he bestirs himself; his desire is to bring confusions and to make havoc of all. It is a death to him to see God’s kingdom to be advanced, the preaching of His word to have free passage, His name to be glorified in the congregation of His saints, the clouds of ignorance be dispelled, and men that have long sat in darkness and in the shadow of death now to walk in the true light and to warm themselves at the comfortable sunshine of His gospel. He does even as tenants do with their farms. When their leaves draw near an end, then they use to rack all things to the uttermost to make money of everything and to scrape to themselves by hook and by crook whatever they can, that afterward they may have wherewith to maintain themselves. Even so fares it with the devil. This is the last hour. Therefore, now he will play reaks everywhere; he ruffles it apace, as though he were wood. He stirs seditions, conspiracies, tumults, wars; and by all means with violence he labors to overlarge his own kingdom.
3. The church always experiences tribulations.
(3) Thirdly, the church of God has always been subject to the cross, and none must marvel if it be. How can the world love them that hate it and have little acquaintance with it and are on the earth as pilgrims, waiting every day for happy passage through the troublesome sea of this life to their own home, even to the heavenly city of Jerusalem? And how can the prince of the world, Satan, love the faithful, that hates God? And how can he show favor to the members, that bitterly detests the head, Christ Jesus? And surely, it is the blessed will of God that His children shall welter and languish under afflictions, that they may learn to despise the world, to know themselves, to love God, to seek to Him, and to set their affections not on things on earth but on the things that are above. He lets the worldlings have their hearts’ ease; He lets them feed themselves with the pleasures of this world and set themselves as oxen against the day of slaughter. With His own children He declares after another manner. He takes them as it were by the heels; He flings them into a sea of melting glass. There He lets them for a time to seethe and boil, and in great perplexity to shift for themselves. At length He drags them to the shore and gives them ease of their former miseries. And all this is for this end: to sanctify and purify them and to cleanse them of the filthy dross of sin and to make them with joy of heart to praise and magnify His name, for which end they came into this world. And experience teaches that as there is a perpetual intercourse between day and night, so there is in the church of God not any perpetual quietness, but trouble and quietness, affliction and ease do continually succeed one another. So that it is verified of the church: “Though sorrow come in the evening, yet joy shall be in morning.” In the beginning, the church was in Adam’s family. And albeit for a time they had prosperity, yet through the malice of Satan, Abel was slain, Adam’s only child which feared God.
Before the flood, when giants were upon the earth, what misery was the church in? How was religion profaned? What corruption of manners was there, when the sons of God married with the daughters of them that came of wicked Cain? Though the Lord preserved Noah and his family, yet pitiful is it to see the dangers in which they were after this. Abraham’s family, how was it now at rest, now in trouble? He being oppressed with famine was fain to go down into Egypt, and there he was in danger of his life when he deceived the king, saying of Sarah she was his sister. But afterward being very poor, he was made rich, and the land of Canaan was promised him, and he got the victory of five kings. The propagation of God’s church was to be preserved in Isaac. And see now to what a straight it is brought. Isaac is bound and laid upon the altar; Abraham stretches forth his hand and takes the knife to kill his only son. Where is now the Messiah? Where is the promised seed? A man would have thought that God would here have made an end of His church, but this was to show what shall be the estate of the church, that though in mysteries to man’s judgment it may seem to be destroyed, yet God will preserve it and govern it forever. This intercourse of quietness and afflictions may be seen in Jacob, in the children of Israel being in Egypt, in the wilderness, and in the land of Cannan. But to let pass other times, this thing is apparent: when the Israelites were governed by judges and kings, the Israelites for the space of eight years were in bondage under Chusan, king of Aram. By Othniel afterward they were restored to their liberty for the space of forty years. Again, after this eighteen years together they were in bondage under Eglon, king of Moab, and were given to filthy idolatry. After his decease, Ehud gave them rest for eighty years together. And so to the time of Samuel, they were otherwhiles in peace and otherwhiles in trouble. So it might be showed through all histories, even until this day. And therefore no doubt the churches of God at this time, if they enjoy peace, yet are they continually to look for troubles and afflictions and calamities in this world.
And as all churches must put this in their accounts that they cannot be free from the cross, so above all other must this our church of England. We have had long peace under our gracious Deborah, and no doubt in God’s good time we must drink of the cup of afflictions. The prophet Amos says, “Will a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey? Or will a Lion’s whelp cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing? And again, will the fowler take up the snare from the earth, and have taken nothing at all? Or shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid?” Manifold and great are the dangers which our prince has escaped; many assaults have been made against our country. It has been in great peril by enemies at home and enemies abroad; a lingering famine has a long time afflicted us. What are all these things, and many more, but the roaring of the lion forth of the forest? And the sounding of the trumpet? These things are no doubt forerunners of greater judgments, and except we in England with speed repent, the roaring of the lion will not be in vain. Assuredly the lion will have his prey.
And thus much shall suffice to declare this point, that in these days we must look for manifold afflictions in every country and kingdom.