« AnteriorContinuar »
those operations, that the bright visions of goodness and glory, connected by the prophets with the Messiah whose coming they foretold, may at length be realized. Pursuing this object, we shall naturally pass from a general view of the corruptions of the gospel, which reached their greatest height in Popery, to a consideration of the dominant religion of our own country; from Churchof-Englandism to Nonconformity and Religious Liberty, which are the atmosphere in which inquiry breathes most freely, and where truth has revived ; and having attempted to delineate Unitarianism, the genuine doctrine (according to our convictions) of Christ and Revelation, and shewn the obstacles to its progress, the means by which, if at all, it must succeed, and the probability of their being effectual; we shall pass on to evince the power of renovated Christianity to reach the universality for which it is adapted and designed; to destroy in its triumphal career, Superstition, Slavery and War; and to conduct mankind to that high state of improvement, which, as it is promised by prophecy, shall be secured by the resistless agency of Divine Providence. It is therefore by no means my intention that each Lecture should contain a full and distinct consideration of the subject announced, but only such a view of it as belongs to the general design of the whole Course. That design embraces topics of great interest, importance and
utility, which are well calculated to strengthen our piety towards God, expand our benevolence to man, and multiply our purest enjoyments by filling the mind with animating anticipations of futurity.
The religion which was taught by the apostles, consisting of a few plain facts relative to the character of God, the mission of Jesus, and a judgment to come; together with a refined code of morals, and a judicious employment of the social principle for the purposes of instruction and correction, was remarkable for its power: and it was powerful only for good. To render it mischievous a previous corruption was indispensable. They foresaw such a corruption, and shuddered at the already nascent existence, and future dominion and enormities of Antichrist. Our first inquiry is into the meaning of that term, and the marks and extent of the apostacy designated by it in the New Testament.
The interpretation of prophecy is now attended with many difficulties which seem not to have been felt by the early Christians. This fact may be attributable not only to their familiarity with the language and emblematic style in which the prophecies were delivered, but probably also to their possessing traditionary expositions of high authority, and having the advantage besides of the oral commentaries of many who were themselves occasionally gifted with inspiration. Hence certain parts of Scripture are now considered obscure, and generally neglected, which then were commonly read, and readily understood. Some of the predictions of Daniel belong to this class. The assumption by Christ of the title of Son of Man, from that book, would recommend it to the attention of the apostles and first disciples. They read there the promise of his spiritual sovereignty over the whole earth : (Dan. vii. 14:) “ And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” And thence also they derived the idea of a hostile ecclesiastical power, which was the subject of general attention and expectation even before it was more clearly predicted by Paul and John. This power was to rise out of the Roman empire. He (vers. 21, 22) “ made war with the saints, and prevailed against them until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.” It is also said, (vers. 25, 26,) “ And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it unto the end.” (a) Other predictions of Daniel, though attended with greater difficulty, belong to the same subject. They are the foundations of those contained in the New Testament; but the latter are, to us at least, of a much more intelligible character. After the ascension of Jesus, at what precise time it is impossible to ascertain, but perhaps earlier than is generally supposed, he was commissioned by his Father to communicate to believers, through the apostle John, a prophetic history of his Church, in a series of extraordinary visions recorded in the Revelation. Here we have a description (chap. xiii.) minutely corresponding with that of Daniel, and afterwards (chap. xvii.) a delineation of the apostacy, as “a Woman sitting upon a scarletcoloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns, and the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abomination and filthiness of her fornication, and upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth.” She is also described as “ committing fornication with the kings of the earth; ruling over multitudes and nations ; and drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs." These additions to the original prophecy of Daniel were, probably, commonly known and discussed among Christians, for John writes of Antichrist as a familiar subject, and Paul refers, in his epistle to the Thessalonians, to earlier communications. The term itself only occurs in the epistles of John. It may mean, opposed to Christ, or instead of Christ. These meanings are indeed coincident, and lead us directly to the essence of the apostacy, which consisted in usurping the spiritual authority of Christ. He is the only Lord of faith and practice; and authority set up instead of his, is, in fact, in opposition. It first occurs in 1 John ji. 18, 19: “ As ye have heard that Antichrist shall come, even now are there many Antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us." It is also introduced in ver. 22 : “ Who is a liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is Antichrist that denieth the Father and the Son." In the text, (and in the second epistle,) it is applied to those who did “ not confess Jesus Christ come in the flesh,” with the remark, “ Ye have heard that it should come, and even now already is it in the world.” We learn from these texts that the term does not designate any particular church, or man, or set of men, but a spirit or system which had its birth in the days of the apostles, and which, wherever it exists, corrupts the gospel in its doctrines, design and influence. Many theologians have applied the term pecu