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These circumstances however move me to commence this series of essays, with the notice of two or three serious objections, directed against the subject in general. Other objections, which affect particular points only, I shall endeavour to meet as those points come to be considered; but these, I repeat, affect the whole subject, and are of that character, that, if the mind be under their influence, it will be predisposed against the clearest and most scriptural statements, and thus prevented from properly weighing any thing which may be advanced.
1. The questionable propriety of studying and of discussing prophecy, especially unfulfilled prophecy, is one of those objections, which must be met in the outset. It chiefly consists in the alleged impossibility of understanding or judging of a prophecy, until the event has proved its meaning. But how contrary is this to the experience of the Church! Promise, the greater portion of which is unfulfilled prophecy, is declared in the New Testament to be a principal means whereby we are made partakers of the Divine Nature; which could not be, were it entirely vague and indefinable: and under the Old Testament dispensation, the Church was chiefly sustained and nourished by prophecy; most of the burning and shining lights raised up in it being prophets. The very first promise, that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent, was an unfulfilled prophecy, to which the Church took heed for 4000 years.
Noah prepared his ark, moved by the fear of an unfulfilled prophecy or promise; and Abraham saw afar off and rejoiced in the day of Christ by means of another. Joseph would not have directed his bones to be removed, had he not depended on prophecy for the going out of his people; to which prophecy the Lord afterwards referred Moses and Aaron, as the pledge, that he would redeem them. The Israelites were encouraged to labour for their deliverance from captivity, by the prophecy concerning it: for as Jeremiah had prayed for and obtained an understanding of the restoration of his people, when they were about to be led into captivity;c so Daniel understood the times from the study of the writings of Jeremiah;d just as the faithful were afterwards waiting for the Consolation of Israel from the study (as is presumed) of the book of Daniel. It was through attention to unfulfilled prophecy, that the christians left Jerusalem and escaped to the mountain, when the city was besieged by the Romans: and the Lord hath, equally for our admonition, foretold the signs of that greater destruction, of which the overthrow of Jerusalem was but a type.
b2 Pet. i. 4.
c Jer. xxxii. 16-25, 36–44.
d Dan. ix, 2.
I am aware that there are difficulties attending the interpretation of the prophecies; and that, although some are to be literally understood, many are figurative or allegorical, whilst others are constructed of the literal and figurative intermixed: but of those which are not declared to be sealed up, the difficulty bas chiefly arisen from the extravagant practice of spiritualizing or allegorizing all passages which relate to the future. And great is the advantage which this system has given to the enemies of Revelation. They tell us that Scripture is not a proper guide, because every man hath his own interpretation-his own way of explaining or accommodating it. The imaginations of commentators, or the sentiments of friends, have too frequently been made the key to modern expositions; whilst the plain text, which is the safest guide, has been neglected.
The apostles are often brought forward, as an instance of men who erred in regard to the proper understanding of those prophecies, which related to the first advent; and from their mistakes the impossibility of any being able to understand what is foretold of the second advent is confidently insisted on. But I am of opinion that this circumstance is commonly misstated and still more misapplied. I cannot think the apostles and first disciples misunderstood the general scope of the prophecies, which led them to expect at that time a manifestation of the kingdom of Christ on earth; though they might have had much confusion and obscurity in regard to the time, and details, and nature of that kingdom. The fault of the apostles was, that-though repeatedly warned, that there were other prophecies, which shewed that Messiah must first suffer --they overlooked these, and suffered their attention to be absorbed with one class of predictions only. What was there to have prevented them from comprehending such prophecies as the following: viz:--that Jesus should be born of a virgin; —that he should ride upon an ass;—that he should be betrayed by one of his followers;—that they should pierce his hands and his feet;that they should part his garments and cast lots for his vesture;—that he should be numbered with transgressors; and many other things, which being plainly foretold were literally fulfilled? The sharp rebukes of Jesus, because the disciples did not understand that he ought to have suffered these things, and because they were “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had written," appear inconsistent, if they really could not have been understood. Indeed the whole Sanhedrim, ungodly and darkened as they were, did nevertheless answer Herod most correctly from the prophets, that Christ should be born at Bethlehem: and it seems
difficult to give a satisfactory reason therefore, why we may not previously derive some knowledge of circumstances which will attend the second advent; seeing that they are spoken of in Scripture, apparently as free from any figurative structure as the passages already quoted. If the apostles erred, we have at least the benefit of their example: which is undoubtedly recorded, -not to lead us to conclude, that we must inevitably mistake likewise; but that we may profit by their errors and avoid them. There is another series of prophecies, relating to God's dealings with the Jews, which are applicable to the question before us; and which would lead to the conclusion, that one eminent use of fulfilled prophecy is, to argue from it as certain and literal an accomplishment of unfulfilled: provided, as we are throughout assuming, that the evident structure of it be not allegorical or emblematical. How remarkably, for example, has wrath fallen upon the Jews, without one jot or tittle having failed! They are sisted among the nations; they are become a by-word, a hiss, a proverb, a reproach; they abide without a prince, an altar, a sacrifice; not to mention other peculiar sufferings which they endured of old time. Now Joshua lays it down as a rule, “that as not one thing had failed of all the good things which the Lord had spoken concerning them; but all had come to pass: so therefore would the Lord bring upon them all the evil things." Seeing then that the evil has now been brought to pass, and not one thing has failed of that; by what rule, it may be asked,) upon what consistent principle, can any man venture to say, that the promises of that good, now again to succeed, is only a figure; and that we are not justified in expecting a literal fulfilment?e
I do not deny that there are difficulties attending the exposition of prophecy; and that, if this be true in regard to the events predicted, it is more extensively the case with regard to times and dates. As respects the day, or even the year
of an event, I am quite persuaded, that God has purposely obscured it. But our Lord would not therefore have us indifferent and careless, either to the event or the period of its fulfilment; but, on the very ground that we know not the hour, He commands us to watch. And though the day cannot be known, something of the signs of its approach may be ascertained, with sufficient correctness for us to be assured that the time of our redemption draweth nigh.” St. Paul assumes of the Thessalonians, that they had so much of acquaintance with "the times and the seasons," as to supersede the necessity of Compare Josh. xxiii. 14, 15, and Jer. xxxii. 42–44.
i Matt. xxiv. 36-42.
writing to them on that subject;s insomuch, that, though the day of the Lord would come upon the world as a thief in the night, it would not overtake them in like manner. The Scriptures teach us that there are prophecies, which were not intended to be known by the christians of former ages, which nevertheless will be known by that generation for whom they are written; of which Psalm cii. 18; Daniel xii. 4 and 9; and 1 Peter i. 10–12 are remarkable instances. Let us bear in remembrance therefore, that it is declared to be one of the special offices of the Holy Spirit, “to guide us into all truth, and to show us things to come;"h and that the prophets, who prophesied of the sufferings and glory of Christ, did themselves "inquire and search diligently” concerning it,-searching,' even when the words were scarce uttered by them, “what, OR WHAT MANNER OF TIME the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify. On the other hand there were men who neglected the prophets, and were rebuked by our Saviour because they knew not the signs of the times, and the burden of his lamentation over Jerusalem was, that they knew not the time of their visitation.k
II. The second objection I shall notice is, that the doctrines of modern millennarians are a novelty;that they were not entertained by the early christians, nor inserted by the orthodox Church in any creed or confession of faith.
Now in regard to the christians of the two first centuries, there is not a solitary instance of any of them contradicting the doctrine: all of those, whose works are extant, (unless they be some small fragments to be found in other authors,) explicitly teach it.* And it should also be observed, that the doctrine does not rest upon the judgment or discernment of those men, but upon their veracity; for some of them profess to have received these things directly from the apostles. Justyn Martyr lived before John the apostle died; and Irenæus was the hearer of Polycarp, the disciple of John. This Irenæus, in his second book against heresies, clearly maintains the doctrine's and the reason of his noticing the subject in his work on heresies was, that none denied the doctrine but heretics, who altogether denied the resurrection, and held that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But I have less need to insist upon this point, because the chief of the modern opponents of these views has himself
* I refer for ample quotations on this subject to The Resurrection Revealed, by Dr. Homes, first published in 1654, and now reprinted by the Editor of the Investigator.
& 1 Thess. v. 1-4. h John xvi. 13. il Peter i. 10, 11. į Matt. xvi. 3. *Luke xix. 44.
admitted, though indirectly, that all the fathers of the two first centuries maintained them.*
In the third century Nepos wrote a book against the Allegorical Expositors, or those who explained the promises relating to the Millennium figuratively. For Origen had now introduced that vicious system of spiritualizing the Scriptures, by which he drew over many to his views, who were perhaps disgusted at the preposterous things which some carnal men had added to this doctrine.f Dionysius, a disciple of Origen, perceiving that the views of Nepos overthrew the principle of his master's expositions, endeavoured to refute them; in doing which he was led openly to deny the canonical authority of the Apocalypse, because the testimony of that book stood in his way! Mosheim in his History of the Church admits, “that long before this controversy, an opinion had prevailed, that Christ was to come and reign a thousand years among men, before the entire and final dissolution of this world;"—that this opinion “had hitherto” (i. e. up to the middle of the third century) "met with no opposition;" -and that now "its credit began to decline principally through the influence and authority of Origen, who opposed it with the greatest warmth, because it was incompatible with some of his favourite sentiments.” Vol. I. p. 284.
One might conclude, from the remainder of Mosheim's account, that Dionysius was completely successful in overthrowing this doctrine;but we have unquestionable proof that the Millennarians still formed the greater part of the Church till the latter end of the fourth century. For in the year 325 sat the Nicene council, attended by all the bishops in Christendom, and drew up the form which is now used in the communion service of the established church, called the Nicene creed. The last clause of this creed is as follows: “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come;" which the council thus expounds: “The world was made in
* See Dr. Hamilton's work against the Millennarians, page 308. The Doctor says, that the principles of Millennarianism were opposed and rejected by almost every Father of the church with the exception of Barnabas, Clement, Papias, Justyn Martyr, Irenæus, Nepos, Apollinarius, Lactantius, and Tertullian!—That is, with the exception of all the Fathers whom he knows of before Origen, and some who were contemporary and subsequent to Origen!
+ For proof that eminent christian writers always held the system of interpretation adopted by Origen to be most pernicious, see Luther, Annotationes in Deuteronomium, cap. i. fo. 55; Mosheim, Ch. Hist. cent. iii. pt. ii. sect. 5, 6; Milner Ch. Hist. Vol. I. p. 469.
# The terms "learned and judicious” applied to the publications of Dionysius on this subject in the English translation of his History, are not in the original Latin, but are foisted in, (as many other things are most unwarrantably,) by the Translator.
1 Eusebii Hist. lib. vii. cap. 24.