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acknowledge the foundation stone to be that on which a building rests, can I therefore safely wrench a principal stone or timber from the breast work of that building? The doctrines of Scripture are so essential to each other, that, if one be removed, some other loses its utility also. For example, John the Baptist preaches the necessity of repentance, that we may flee from the wrath to come." No one will deny repentance to be a fundamental: but make men indifferent in regard to the wrath-to come, (which is prophetic, and on which John grounds his call to repentance,) and you remove from multitudes the most powerful motive to it. Another class of
persons is perhaps led to repentance by a view of the goodness of God: so that it is impossible for any man to say,
be profitable or not, or what most profitable, to others; nor indeed how far the cordial reception of a truth may conduce to the salvation of his own soul.
2. Secondly, I observe, that, presuming the millennarian doctrines to be scriptural, that system which deprives them of the degree of importance, (whatsoever it may be, which the Word of God hath assigned to them, must be so far wrong: and whatsoever is wrong in doctrine must be to that extent mischievous in practice, however plausible. It may be that individuals are notwithstanding saved: but its pernicious effects upon the generality of hearers, and to a great degree upon real believers, are nevertheless incalculable.
3. Thirdly, I notice, that men cannot, from the very nature of the thing, judge of the practical tendency of a doctrine, until they have first embraced it and experienced its power. Till then they either regard it with indifference, or they decidedly oppose it as dangerous and liable to abuse. Many, for example, conceive the doctrine of justification by faith without the works of the law to be unfavourable to holiness; and that the preferable course is, to keep it in the back-ground and insist on the moral duties. And many imagine again, that to preach the need of the Spirit's aid for every good thought and word and work, is calculated to paralyze the exertions of men, and to deaden the motives to personal diligence. And how much greater a number of professors cannot conceive of the doctrine
* I call repentance here fundamental in reference to Heb. vi. 1, 2, where it is applied together with the resurrection and eternal judgment, as among the , incipient essentials of christianity; but as far as its relative importance when compared with the wrath to come is considered, if we keep strictly to figurative propriety, that on which the call to repentance is grounded is raiher of the two the fundamental doctrine; and, according therefore to metaphorical consistency, the revelation, that there is wrath to come, supersedes in importance the call to repentance and fruits meet for it.
Luke iii. 7, 8. * Rom. ii. 4.
of election, that it is full of sweet comfort to godly persons;"_"that it doth greatly establish and confirm the faith of eternal salvation;" —and that it doth fervently kindle their love towards God." Yet many, I am persuaded, of those, who object to the doctrines of the Millennium, because they cannot see their practical use, would deny to the last the reasonableness of objecting to those other doctrines on the same ground.
4. Lastly, I would earnestly caution my christian brethren to pause before they take up this objection: for I cannot but consider it to be among the symptoms of that leaven of infidelity, which prevails among so many professors in these awful days, that the practical use of a scripture doctrine is by many demanded, before they will seriously entertain it. It is thus that the authority of Scripture is first degraded and then undermined. Men do not recognise that chief and all important feature of the Bible,—that it is not the word of men, but THE WORD OF God. I am sure that all who love the Lord Jesus in sincerity would be horrified at the thought of turning away from his personal instruction, and telling him to his face that his sayings were hard or unprofitable: and yet, when men deliberately make light of portions of his acknowledged Word, or consider themselves entitled to neglect it, they do in effect “turn away from him that speaketh from heaven;" and they betray that their minds are not brought into that implicit subjection to divine truth, which they profess.
On the Second Advent.
It happens, in regard to some of the more important subjects of prophecy, (at least it has been my own case,) that we have not so much to learn as to unlearn. The traditions of men have, in some respects, rendered void the Word of God: and it may be useful, if I previously endeavour to show, in respect to one important doctrine, how much at variance the opinions of many christians are with the mind of the Spirit. I advert to the Second Advent of the Lord Jesus with his saints; which, instead of occupying the place assigned to it by the New Testament, has been superseded by an unscriptural mode of calling upon sinners to repent because death is at hand; and exhorting believers with a promise of entering into their glory immediately after their decease. If the reader will suspend his judgment, until I have gone
through the whole series of essays which I am now bringing before him, he will find, that I do most unreservedly entertain the opinion, that the souls of believers do, immediately after death, enjoy a blessed and a conscious rest; and that they do visibly behold the Lord: but this is not the great promise of the Scriptures;—this is not the glory which the New Testament holds up to believers. That glory (whether it refer to their throne, their crown, their inheritance, their degree, or their incorruptible body) is invariably deferred by the apostles until the coming of the Lord. I know not of one Scripture, which clearly and directly speaks of the believer, as entering into his glory, or partaking of the promise, at death.
Neither do I mean to assert, that christians generally deny the Advent, Resurrection, &c. Distinct admissions of it may be found in most writers; and a deferring also of what they call the complete reward and glory, until the period of the resurrection. What I mean to insist on is, that christians, in their ordinary expositions and discourse, make these truths subordinate, and the intermediate prospect of death pre-eminent; whereas the Scriptures make the advent and resurrection principal features, and death is only mentioned incidentally,
But to the proof: let us begin with St. Paul. In 1 Corinthians xv. he labours to show, that, if there be no resurrection hereafter, our faith is vain. But what force would there be in such an argument as this, if the believer entered into his reward at death? Alas! it is wonderful to think how little practical influence this doctrine really has with the majority of professors! The thoughts of it does not give them one atom more of power, nor supply to them one additional motive, to mortify their sinful lusts: a plain proof to me that it cannot be believed with the heart.
Let us take another passage. I have preferred that in Corinthians, just considered, because it is plain and explicit.*
* A respectable writer has disparaged the importance of the second advent, on the ground that St. Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, determined 16 know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified; leaving us to infer, that the mere circumstance of the crucifixion, and the doctrine of the atonement, were all which he resolved to bring forward among them. It is not a little remarkable, that in this very Epistle he praises these same Corinthians, “because they came behind in no gift
, waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ;" (chap. i. 7;) -he upbraids them for not remembering, "that the saints shall judge the world;” (chap. vi. 1, 2;) -and one whole chapter of it (one of the longest in the Testament, chapter xv.) is devoted to an exposition of the order and nature of the resurrection; concerning which he says, that if the dead are not to rise, then are they perished! (v. 18.) These passages prove beyond a reasonable question, that much more is involved in the preaching of a crucified Saviour, than the one single fact of the death of Jesus: were we to keep to this only, we must exclude regeneration, sanctification, election, the judgment, and many other topics, which (like the advent, and resurrection, and reign of the saints) though intimately connected with the atonement, may, nevertheless, be distinguished from it.
The object of the Apostle was to show them the mystery of the resurrection; and therefore I must suppose that he expounds it in as plain and literal a manner as possible. And we may hope for equal distinctness in the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Thessalonians, for here he expressly instructs the disciples in regard to the state of those, who are dead in Christ; declaring, that he would not have them ignorant concerning them, and thus sorrow for their departure, as those persons sorrow who never hope to see their dead again. He gives them to understand, that they shall see their friends again here, in this world; he reminds them that the resurrection of Jesus is the pledge of theirs; and that, when the Lord comes, he will bring them with him. “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not even as others, which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” Then he goes on to assure them, that the promises are not for those only, who shall be alive at the coming of the Lord, but for the departed saints as well:--that, when
the Lord shall descend from heaven, the dead in Christ shall rise first.
The same thing is stated in the same way by the other apostles. St. James encourages not those to whom he writes with the hope of their reward at death; but exhorts them to be patient until the coming of the Lord. St. Peter also tells his people: “when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory, that fadeth not away. So St. John: we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him."C*
These things are consistent, and what we should expect, if the great recompense were generally deferred till the second appearing of Jesus Christ; and if it were the prize chiefly held up to view.
We shall in that case not only find it laid down
a Jas. v. 7. b1 Pet. v. 4. c1 John iii. 2. * The personal hope of two of the apostles, constituting, in some measure, their experience in the immediate prospect of death, has been handed down for us by the Holy Ghost. St. Panl says: "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me AT THAT DAY." (2 Tim. iv. 6—8.) St. Peter, when admonished by the Lord, "that he must shortly put off his fleshly tabernacle," thinks it proper to write an Epistle to the faithful, the whole burden of which is, to confirm them in the expectation, that these present heavens and earth shall be dissolved, as those in the days of Noah were, and again be succeeded by new heavens and a new earth;—that he had followed no cunningly devised fable, when he made known to them the power and coming of the Lord; but had had a visible specimen of it, when beheld the transfiguration on the Mount;—and that apostate men would arise in the last days, treating the promise of his coming with scoff. (See the Second Epistle of Peter throughout.) He finally confirms all by the testimony of St. Paul, who, (he says,) in all his Epistles makes mention of these things.
in the New Testament as a doctrine of the apostles; but we shall perceive the primitive church in general to be affected with this view of the subject; and either speaking, or spoken of, as looking eagerly forward to such an event. There will be other marks of grace discernible; but this mark, at a time when I am presuming their hopes to have been bound up in the doctrine of Christ's second appearance, and not in the rest entered into immediately after death,—this mark, I say, would then be an essential one: the want of it would imply the grossest ignorance of the prevailing tenets of the Church; or the grossest unbelief of those which were perceived. This feature, however, pre-eminently marks the character of the scripture saints, as I shall evince by a few passages from the Epistles of St. Paul.
In Romans the earnest expectation of the new creature is said to be "waiting for the manifestation of the sons of Godgroaning within itself and waiting for the redemption of the body." In Corinthians, as we have seen, he thanks God, that they came behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And of the Thessalonians he says, “that they turned from idols, to serve the living and the true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven.” To the Philippians he thus speaks of himself and them:—“For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.”. Yea, in one passage, already in part quoted, the Apostle so decidedly makes loving the appearing of Christ a mark of grace, that he seems in a measure to limit the reward of righteousness to those only, who partake of this desire: “A crown (saith he) which the Lord shall give me at that day; and not to me only; but unto all them also that love his appearing." A text in the Epistle to the Hebrews appears to make the same distinction and limitation: Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
We have much more to the same purport in the Epistles, especially in those of St. Paul, without insisting on numerous passages in the Gospels. Whether the apostle speaks of himself, of his followers, or of both together, he still keeps holding forth to their view the end of this present dispensation; and he treats of it, as though, in regard to the Church, a succeeding generation might not be recognised. Is it to himself he refers? His words are: “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed
d Rom. viii. 19, 23. e 1 Cor. i. 7. f 1 Thess. i. 9, 10. & Chap. iii. 20. h 2 Tim. iv. 8, i Heb. ix. 28.