« AnteriorContinuar »
If we examine matters attentively, we shall find, that this is a true state of genuine Chriftianity, from a short period after the converfion of Conftantine, to the present moment. Previous to that ära, a profession of Christianity exposed men to a variety of hardships in their persons and effects, so that the generality of those who embraced it were influenced by a conviction of its truth, the hypocrites among them were few. From the period that Christianity became the established religion of the empire, multitudes embraced it to acquire the favour of the Emperor. În process of time, a profession of it became a necessary test of admisfion into civil and military employments, so that the generality embraced it from motives purely secular, without any conviction of its truth, and the real Christians among them were of course proportionally few. During the dark ages of superstition and idolatry, when the kingdom of Antichrist was at the height, we can easily fee, that the number of real Christians were very few. . At the Reformation, when whole nations threw off the yoke of Antichrift, and embraced a purer outward form of Chriftianity than that which prevailed in the dark ages, we cannot suppose, that all who separated themselves from the communion of the church of Rome were animated by motives purely religious. If we examine the state of religion at , the present moment, in those countries where the Reformation is established, we must infer, that the number of real Christians is comparatively few. All are admitted to the outward privileges of Christianity as a birthright, and the prejudices of their early education induce the generality to adhere to it afterwards, without ever enquiring into its truth; so that we may infer, without a breach of charity, that if the place of their birth had been different, they would with equal ease have embraced, and with equal zeal maintained Mahometanism or Paganism. To the thoughtless many, we may add not a few who are professed infidels, and join with the many who pretend a respect for revealed religion, while they avowedly indulge those criminal passions which are inconsistent with its pure precepts. To sum up the account, take in those who from secular motives lay a restraint on their outward conduct, while they are strangers, if not enemies to the spirit of Christianity at heart; and we must infer, that the number of real Christians, compared with the nominal, is indeed small. No doubt the proportion of real to nominal Christians must have varied at different periods, yet still they are represented by 144,000, which I consider as an indefinite number, being the square of 12, with т
the addition of 1000; to intimate, that real Chri. stians, though few in proportion, and varying as to their number, should be always built on the foundation of the holy apostles and prophets. The 144,000 are sealed, to preserve them from the apostasy of their time; that is, they are the “ elect according to the foreknowledge of God « the Father ;" so that though “ a Hymeneus " and a Philetus may fall away, the founda“ tion of God standeth furi, having this seal. “ The Lord knoweth them who are his.” A. gain, they are partakers of " the Spirit of God, “ by which they are sealed unto the day of re“ demption.” Accordingly, every true Chris. tian, in the present as well as in former ages, is of the elect, and individually a partaker of the Spirit of God. By his operation he receives that faith “ which is the substance of things hoped " for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith affords an evidence of the invisible world, and the objects of it, as distinct from any views at. tained by unaslifted reason, as sight is from hearsay. Faith likewise gives a foretaste of the joys hoped for, by a view of the Christian's interest in them; and these views effectually preserve him from the craftiness of 6 those who lie in : " wait to deceive," as well as from the allurements of sense, by which the multitudes of professed Christians are undone.
True Christians are not confined to one place, or to one party, but spread over all the visible Church, and mingled with all parties. They are not visible as a society. diftinct from nominal Christians, but “ their hearts being purified to “ an unfeigned obedience of the truth,” their devotions, whether performed in secret retirements, or in public assemblies, are acceptable to Him, whofe privilege it is to “ search the hearts " and to try the reins of the children of men.” They are known to the world only by abhorring its maxims, and avoiding its manners, while they consider their Redeemer's precepts and example as the sign posts erected to mark their way to eternal glory.
· Of the Witnesses.
A second view of Christ's faithful followers in our time is given us in the account of the two witnesses (Rev. xi. 3. 14.) prophesying in fackcloth. They are contemporary with the beast, who makes war against them, ver. 7. The time allotted to their prophecy is “ a thousand two “ hundred and threescore days,” ver. 3. which is precisely of the fame duration with “ forty
“ months," allotted to the reign of the beast, chap. xii. 5. ; so that the beginning and end of their prophecy will correspond with the rise and fall of his empire. These witnesses differ as much from their contemporaries, the 144,000 sealed ones, as Elijah differed from the 7000 in Israel in his time, who “ did not bow the knee " to Baal.” Those testify openly against the antichristianism of the Papacy, and the corruptions of the Church of Rome; while these abstain from her corruptions, and worship God sincerely in secret. These witnesses are two, because that is the number required by the law, and approved by the Gospel, (Deut. xix. 15. Matt. xviii. 16.), “ In the mouth of two witnes“ ses shall every word be established ;” and upon former occasions, two have often been joined in commission, as Moses and Aaron in Egypt, Elijah and Elisha in the apostasy of the ten tribes, and Zerubabel and Jolhua after the Babylonish captivity, to whom these witnesses are particularly compared'. By the witnesses, the Spirit of prophecy does not understand any two individual men, or two particular churches, but “ that certain persons should “ appear in every age, during the reign of An
(1) Newton's Dissertations on Prophecies, vol. iii.. page 134.