“The hundreds of references to time were complementary, in that keeping track of the rhythms of the universe was another way of comprehending the interventions of the supernatural. Sewall actually lived amid several modes of time. As a merchant he had slow, uncertain communications with his business partners overseas. Months went by before he knew whether ships were lost or safe in port (LB 1:86). But while the rhythm of the world of work was irregular and slow-paced, the rhythm of historical time was fixed in a certain pattern. The bits and pieces of news that reached Sewall from abroad fell in order as evidence that the sequence described in Revelation was rapidly unfolding. Historical time, like the phases of a war and events in Massachusetts politics, was really prophetic time, and Sewall struggled to decipher the relationship between the two. Time for him was also a complex structure of coincidences. And time was finally GOD’S time’ (2:660) in that he alone determined what would happen. As Sewall lay in bed at night listening to the clock tick way the minutes, this sound was cause for reflection on the profound contingency of life. To know this, to know time, was to feel that life could end abruptly, without warning.
Yet Sewall sensed that time was never to be understood as permanent or regular. Though prophecy unfolded, though the clock ticked away the hours by an unvarying beat, though the seven days of Genesis were stamped immutably upon the calendar, the will of God stood over and above any structures, even structures God created. All existence was contingent, all forms of time suspended, on his will. The unexpected crash of a glass to the floor (1:378) was like the crash of God’s anger breaking in upon the flow of time: ‘How suddenly and with surprise can God destroy!’ (1:418). The diary entries pile up as Sewall notes the happening of the unexpected — the roaring of a cow in the street (1:288), the cry of fire, the ‘amazing News’ (1:564) of someone’s sickness, and most frightening of all, the deaths that happen without warning. Sewall was fascinated by such cases…” — David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment