Excerpt taken and adapted from, “Sunday afternoons at home”
Written by Caroline Wilson, 1844
[One of the great biblical expositors of our time once remarked to some new Christians, that if you wanted to understand Biblical prophecy invest in a good commentary on the Book of Revelation. But if you wanted to get terribly confused, buy two of them! Having witnessed in my youth the terrible devastation of lives brought about by eschatological interpretations run amok, I thought to myself that I would master this subject. And so, without seeking parental permission (remember, I am fifteen), I proceeded to paint my bedroom walls with all the great biblical prophecies, and with all the texts and all the commentaries, in florescent paint. Fortunately, my parents were pretty good about it, and decided that my garish prophetic paintings could also serve as my punishment. My obsession carried over and I studied eschatology at college and also at seminary. Over the years, I have come to realize, how much of it is truly bad. Not because the people were bad, or their bibles were bad, or that the Holy Spirit hadn’t showed up at the study (though He might have left), but because they had no firm principles, guidelines or hermeneutic for which to use as a foundation from which to build. And further, I am convinced that there are some prophetic things that God just doesn’t want us to know ahead of time, –if at all. I was quite astonished when I came across this little work the other day, both in its clarity of thought and the profoundness with which it expresses what I have been trying to say all along. I will not take the time here to describe the historical period in which this work was written, except to say, it was a time of unusual prophetic fermentation, as any student of church history can tell you. It was a time when more lives were shattered over well-meaning prophetic miscalculations than any other time in history. And I am convinced that there would not have been nearly so many spiritually shattered lives, if the people had known and understood the simple Bible wisdom that Caroline Wilson expresses in these few lines. I commend it to you, for your careful consideration –MWP]
“But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no,
not the angels which are in heaven,
neither the Son, but the Father.”
Everyone feels that a secret should be something of importance, interesting to those from whom it is withheld, as well as to those who keep it.
Tell the least and simplest child, you have a secret, its little eyes will glisten with expectation of something very pleasant to itself, or to somebody near in interest to its own feelings: and if it comes out that your secret is something very unimportant, distant or indifferent, manifestations of disappointment and infantine vexation are quite sure to follow on the disclosure. It is nature’s feeling. Expectation grows upon concealment. Imagination enlarges upon uncertainty. Excitement kindles upon delay: And the man, like the child, thinks he has been mocked if the long withheld secret proves not worth the knowing, or affects not himself in its more momentous interests.
When Almighty God therefore, proposes a secret to mankind, we should conclude beforehand, it would be the event of deepest interest to ourselves: enhancing its own value by concealment, and sure not to disappoint us in its importance when revealed. We should not be unreasonable in supposing it must comprise the greatest possible good, and veil the object of most intense desire. And thus it really is. God has a secret. I do not speak of mysteries; of such secrecies he has many; some that we may not, some that we cannot penetrate or comprehend at present; and others, that as finite beings we never shall be permitted to read, or competent to understand.
But this is, if I may so speak, a revealed secret—revealed as a secret, to be some time known, beheld even from one end of the heavens to the other: of which the subject is known, and the importance known: of which the interest is intense, the desire kept continually alive, the anticipation excited to the very utmost, but still the secret kept. Jehovah has declared it to be exclusively his own. Angels, who circle continually about his throne, waiting for messages to the sons of men; those very hosts that camp about his people, guarding and keeping them to that very hour: while they whisper sweet thoughts of it in our weary ears, and paint bright visions of it to our longing eyes: the ever-nearing beacon of many a starless night and trackless sea, for which they bid us make towards which they bid us look: angels never answer the question, “Where is it?” for they cannot. Prophets and seers of the things to come—Daniel, who was told to seal the book, and John, who was told to leave it open, were alike refused the reading of it; and he who was taught “the number of the beast,” or counted the thousand, two hundred and ninety days, understood as little of the strange arithmetic, as they who have since been vainly seeking for the key. “Lord, where?”—” Lord, when?” was answered with assurances, encouragements and confirmations; but no disclosures.
The emancipated spirits in heaven know not the secret: for they are described as continually crying, “How long, O Lord, how long? The bible says, “Neither the Son”—a declaration so mysterious, that while we feel its impressiveness, we forbear to dwell upon it.
Of course Jesus is here speaking of himself in his human nature; during the period of his banishment from his Father’s councils: but it is strange enough, even so, and hard to apprehend. We can only view it in connection with that brief and temporary inferiority which, as touching his manhood, the coequal Son of God acknowledges: “My Father is greater than I,” ” I know nothing of myself:” “Of myself, I can do nothing.” One part of the voluntary humiliation of the Son of God, might be to lay aside for a time a measure of the knowledge, as well as power and glory, which he had with the Father before the worlds began. We cannot otherwise explain it: but we know the fact: Jesus did not know, when he prophesied on earth, the Father’s secret: the day and hour of his own returning.
I have intimated the strong impression made on my own mind by this fact. Many pious, deep-thinking, and deep-searching Christians have come to a different conclusion: supposing the time is come, or is to come before our Lord’s appearing, when this long secret may be unlocked, and the year of his coming dated: not by any new announcement from the Father, but by enquiries and calculations of their own, directed by events and signs that are predicted to precede it. To me the concurrent testimony of the whole word of God appears to be against this expectation. I think the entire Bible declares, that the secret shall be kept: even to the very latest moment of the end. We are commanded to watch, to expect, to desire, to prepare, to perceive the signs of the times, and know that it is nigh, even at the door;—but the reason still given is, not that we may discover the appointed moment, but because we know not at what hour the Son of Man may come. It may be though, that there is no harm in guessing; someone will be right at last. Perhaps there is not: I am sure at least that they who do it mean no harm; but as the paternal Secret-keeper’s voice will not be heard to answer ‘yes ‘ or ‘no,’ to his impatient children’s guessing, it is to be feared they may believe, or lead others to believe as facts, their own conjectures; and suffer all the consequences of delusion in a matter of such deep and vital moment.
Has God no reason for his secrecy It is written, as it was spoken: “If the good man of the house had known at what hour the thief would come, he would have watched;” but the word does not thence proceed to tell the hour—at even, at midnight, at cock-crowing, the first watch, or the second. Assuredly because Jesus knows the heart of man too well: and knows that he would then have ceased to watch, until the specified moment was at hand. If the day and hour of Christ’s coming had been revealed, the world would have gone on, as they go on now: because they would not have believed, as they do not believe now: and will not, whatever signs be seen, or warning given, until it be again, as in the days of Noe, when the flood came and took them all away. To the people of God, while the “end is not yet,” the revelation of a fixed but distant date, would end together the brightening expectation, the encouraged hope, the earnest watching and the impressive warning: not a wish, not a prayer more could be breathed of “Come, Lord Jesus, Come quickly!” And whenever the dated year should be at hand, even so near as the common extent of human life, certainty would change the whole current of the believer’s duties, feelings, sufferings, and enjoyments, wholly unfitting him for the common walk of life: and no such period between faith and sight having been provided for in the Gospel, the most devoted and conscientious would not know how to act in it. Does not God, for the same reason, conceal from every man the time of death: calling upon us in like manner to be prepared, because we know not the day or the hour of our departure hence?
What would be gained then by a discovery, that must change our position before our nature changes; release us from the duties of the present dispensation before the next begins: dismiss us from the government of the indwelling Spirit, before the Son of Man assumes the throne? Would it not change the very attitude of faith—trusting, confiding, expecting, longing—to a position of simple preparation for the known designs, and manifest purpose of Almighty God: a position never assigned to the believer in the flesh?
This is so obvious practically, it will be admitted, I suppose, by every sane mind, that no calculation of our blessed Lord’s return, ought to be acted upon in the affairs of this world: believers must go on as if they did not know it: the father to provide for his family: the child to prepare himself for life: because after all it is uncertain. But then it is not knowledge, nor even faith: a calculation harmless only because it is unsuccessful: a discovery not injurious only because it is not made. This is, I believe the fact: our indulgent Father bears with the curiosity of his impatient children, but keeps his secret close: and so absolute and unequivocal to my apprehension, are the scripture declarations that it shall be kept; that so far from believing among the many wrong, someone guesser will at last be right, I feel persuaded whether He come at the first watch or the last, this year or two hundred years to come, it will be in a year that nobody has fixed upon: “In an hour that ye think not of.”
Let us leave the secret to our Father’s keeping…
…and make haste to do what he bids us in respect of it,—“Watch.” It is a very comprehensive word. It does not mean, forget—be indifferent—put away reflection—forbear observation—relinquish expectation—suppress desire —do not occupy yourselves at all about the matter—it will be, when it will be—you cannot know it beforehand, or hasten it, or prevent it, therefore, think no more about the matter: “What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.”
“Learn a parable of the fig-tree,” three times told in Scripture, that we may learn it the more surely. The husbandman who sees the tender shoot put forth, does not say, to-morrow the summer will be here: I will remove the shelter from my fold, dispose of my fodder, and lead my sheep to the mountains to be ready. If he looks again on the morrow, and again the next day—another week—another month perhaps, and the leaf is still tender—the foliage lingers still, there seems little or no progress in the season: he does not forthwith say, the summer delays its coming—it may not come at all—I will not plant, I will not sow—or make any further preparation for it: I will give up my watching for this year. Such are man’s extremes: but such is not the teaching of the Scriptures. “Watch,” “Be ye also ready,” “Know,” as much as ye can know—”understand,” as far as ye can see: and act, as ye believe. That is not true faith on which we may not act.
Many such students of prophecy, I am sure there are, and will be more as the growing day advances; not willing to pry into their Father’s secret; not eager to talk of what they do not know, or teach what they have not learned: but waiting with hearts intent and watchful eyes for the first budding of the fig-tree, to know if the summer is indeed at hand. “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ.”
Often, when in the morning, the child of God awakes, wearily, and encumbered with the flesh; perhaps from troubled dreams: perhaps with troubled thoughts, his Father’s secret comes presently across him: he looks up, if not out; to feel if not to see, the glories of that last morning when the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall arise indestructible: no weary limbs to bear the spirit down; no feverish dreams to haunt the waking visions: no dark forecasting of the day’s events, or returning memory of the griefs of yesterday.
Often too, when he walks the stirring paths of life, crowded with suffering, disease, and death; unredressed wrongs and follies unreproved; looks through the prison bars; looks down the area steps: and into the cellar windows: hears the mirthless laugh, the murderous broil, and the intemperate revel: myriads of beings born and bred to vice: myriads of victims to the guilt of others: myriads of sufferers innocent of crime: myriads of guilty ones unpunished yet: is there anyone who in such contemplations has not often paused—and thought—and asked with irresistible impulse, “How long, 0 Lord, how long?”
And oftener still, perhaps, in sun bright days, midst forms of beauty and visions of delight: God’s wonderful creation all before us—every leaf a charm—every insect a surprise—the Father’s workmanship—the Father’s gift: while the child of God gazes on this beautiful world, so fair in sadness, so blessed under its curse, so exquisite in condemnation and in ruin; does he not think, is it possible he can help thinking, of what it was—of what it might have been— of what it may be, when the canker-worm that nestles in the very bosom of its beauty, shall be drawn out, and taken away forever?
Yes: and there are times more intimate than these, of deeper secrecy and deeper feeling: when apart from nature, and apart from man, the spirit holds intercourse with the Unseen: the Loved unseen: “In whom, though now we see him not, believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”
But oh! what checks upon that joy: what clouds about that glory—thickening and closing in the vision at the very moment when the soul catches the purest and brightest glimpse:—the clog of earthliness, and the intrusions of earth: the sense of sinfulness, and dread of sin: first one thing, then another, always something. From Jonah’s dark dwelling in the lowest deep, to the unearthly light that awakened the three upon the mount; from the almost hell of the contrite and broken-hearted penitent, to the almost heaven of assured faith and love;—who that has ever eaten of the “meat indeed,” and drunk of the “drink indeed,” or hungered and thirsted for it when he could not,—can be a stranger to the strong emotion of desire, of almost prayer, that would ask, if it might,—“Lord, why not now?”