II. The Second Coming Of The Lord
I will call your attention, my reflecting brethren, in the first place, to the important circumstance announced to us in the prophetic parts of the New Testament, and commonly known by the name of the Second Coming of the Lord; with the important consequence of such coming, or rather part of it, which is described in symbolic language as the descent from heaven of a New Jerusalem. For it is because we understand these great predictions in a different sense from that in which most persons at the present time apprehend them, and because we believe that, in their only true sense, they are at this day receiving their fulfilment, that so many attempts are made to hold up both us and our sentiments to derision. In this respect we are treated just as were the first converts to Christianity by the Jews. The Jews were looking for the coming of the Messiah, as the hope of Israel; yet were they almost unanimous in persecuting the small band of their brethren, who affirmed that their hope was fulfilled. Christians have ever been looking with hope for the second coming of Him whom the Jews rejected: yet are too many of them eager in the persecution of those, who affirm that this hope also is fulfilled. To our case then may be most exactly applied the noble apology of Paul when pleading before Agrippa. "I stand," says he, "and am judged, for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews." *
* Acts, xxvi. 6, 7.
I propose then, in this Section of my Appeal, to undertake the defence of those who stand in the same situation among their brethren, the professors of Christianity, as the Apostle Paul and the other first Christians did among their brethren, the professors of Judaism: and I earnestly entreat you, as believers of the Scriptures,—as holders of the Christian's hope, candidly to consider what I have to offer. There is nothing in the sentiments I shall present which ought to offend any one, but, on the contrary, much that every one may regard with delight. If by any means prejudices have been instilled into the minds of any of you, permit me to request you to lay them aside till you have fairly heard both sides of the question; and pray do not consider me as your enemy, because, with much respect and affection, and without intending the smallest offence to any one, I lay before you what, from the bottom of my soul, I believe to be the truth.
First, then, I propose to show, That the second coming of the Lord is not a coming in person (as most persons, in consequence of taking quite literally the symbolic language of prophecy, have hitherto supposed), but that it means the restoration of the true knowledge of divine subjects, or of the genuine doctrines of the Word of God, accompanied with their corresponding influence on the heart; in other words, that it is the revival of the true church of the Lord among mankind; in which mode of considering it, it is more particularly meant by the manifestation of the New Jerusalem. In the second place I will show, That there are many circumstances and signs in the situation of the world at this day, which plainly indicate that the time for the divine interference described in Scripture as the second coming of the Lord has arrived. In the third place I will point out, That there are circumstances in the state of the world at this day in regard to religion, which evince, that the restoration of true religion, promised under the figures of a second coming of the Lord and establishment of a New Jerusalem, cannot be much longer delayed, without the most serious injury to the best interests of the human race. And I will conclude with showing, That there is nothing in our views of this subject which can be justly charged with enthusiasm, but that, on the contrary, they furnish the best antidote to every species of fanaticism and spiritual delusion.
I. With regard to the first of these subjects then, it is first to be observed, that nothing is more true than a remark which has been made by almost every commentator that ever wrote upon the fulfilment of prophecy; namely, That the exact meaning of the prophecies is never understood, till the time of their accomplishment. This was strikingly experienced in regard to the prophecies which, announced the coming of the Lord in the flesh. Although the whole Jewish nation knew from those prophecies that a Messiah was to appear, and the more learned among them could even point out truly where he would be born, they were so much in the dark respecting every thing else that concerned him, looking only for a carnal and not a spiritual Saviour, that, when he did come, they rejected him and put him to death. And even the disciples who received him,—even the twelve Apostles whom he peculiarly selected,—so much partook of the common errors of their countrymen, that they disputed which of them should be the greatest, or have the highest post, in the temporal kingdom which they supposed he was about to set up.* Even at the moment of his ascension, they asked him whether ho would not restore the temporal kingdom of Israel;+ and it was not till they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit from their glorified Lord, that they had just ideas of the nature of that kingdom into which they had been admitted themselves, and which they were to preach to others.
Another remark of importance is also here necessary to be made; it is, That even when the Apostles had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, it did not communicate to them, at once, all the truths of the Christian dispensation. Thus they remained for a long time in the persuasion, that the gospel was to be preached only to the Jews. It was not till seven or eight years after the Lord's ascension, that Peter was convinced that it was allowable to communicate it to the Gentiles: it then required a vision and special revelation to induce him to do it;# and he was strictly questioned upon it afterwards by his brethren. $ It was not till ten years after this that they came to the conclusion, that the Gentile converts were not required to keep the law of Moses; || and they do not appear ever to have clearly seen, that the Jews themselves were exempted by the gospel from the observance of that law.
* Mark, x, 35—45. + Acts, i. 6. # Ch. x. $ Ch. xi. 2, 3. || Ch. xv.
If then it was only by degrees, and as occasion required, that the truths which were essential to the full knowledge of the Christian system were revealed even to the Apostles, and that they were enabled to understand the precepts and prophecies of the Old Testament as they applied to the doctrines and circumstances of Christianity, it is no wonder if it be found to be true, in the third place, That the prophecies of the Lord himself, and of the New-Testament-prophets, relating to his second coming at a future period then very distant, and to his revival, at such second coming, of pure Christianity, after it had suffered decline and perversion, were at that time hidden front the Church. Accordingly, it ia certain that the early Christians were so much mistaken respecting the purport of these prophecies, that they all expected that the second coming of the Lord was then immediately to take place; and even the Apostles appear to have supposed that they might live to see it. They knew that the Lord's coming was to be preceded by a corruption of his religion; and because they saw corruptors of it even then appear, they concluded that the last time was then arrived. Thus the Apostle John writes, "Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many anti-Christs; whereby we know that it is the last time." * So Peter exhorts those to whom he writes, not to be disheartened by the seeming tardiness of the arrival of the expected day, telling them, "that scoffers should come in the last days, saying, where is the promise of his coming ? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." + But that even this Apostle supposed, that the expected coming, attended with a literal fulfilment of the prophecies which seem to speak of the passing away of heaven and earth, would happen during the life of persons then living, is evident from his exhorting them thus: "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of the day of God." # James speaks of it as near with equal confidence: he says, "Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and the latter rain: be ye also patient; stablish your hearts; for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.—Behold the Judge standeth at the door." $ As for the Apostle Paul, he speaks on the subject to the Thessalonians, as if both himself and they, or at least some of them, would certainly live to witness it: he says, "we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them that sleep;" and again: "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air:" || which so disturbed those to whom the Apostle wrote, that he found it necessary, in a second epistle, to desire them "not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as though the day of Christ were at hand" (by which he means, were immediately to take place), because there must come "a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed," @ — in which he refers to a prophecy of Daniel: nevertheless he declares, that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work" ** and thus still intimates that the expected coming of the Lord was by no mean? very distant. Accordingly, as the nature of the second coming of the Lord was not in that day openly revealed; just as the nature of his first coming had not previously been openly discovered to the Jews; the Apostles never offer any explication of it, as they do of other prophetic declarations which then had their accomplishment, but always speak of it in the same symbolic language as had beers used respecting it by the Lord himself and by the ancient prophets. This language has in consequence been understood according to the literal sense only, by Christians in general, from that time to this: and thus, from age to age, mankind have lived in the expectation of beholding the Lord appear in the clouds of the firmament, and of being themselves caught up to meet him at his coming in the air.
* 1 John, ii. 18. + 2 Ep. iii. 3, 4. # 2 Ep. iii. 11, 12. $ Ep. v. 7, 8, 9. || 1 Thes. iv, 15, 17. @ 2 Thess. ii. 2, 3. ** Ver. 7.
This fact, that neither the time nor the nature of the Lord's second coming was explicitly revealed to the primitive Christian Church, nor even to the Apostles themselves, is of so great importance, that, though I think it conclusively established by what has been already advanced, yet, as strong prejudices prevail on this subject, it shall be further confirmed by unquestionable testimony.
Let me, then, remind the reflecting, that while the Lord Jesus Christ himself often speaks, in the gospels, of his second coming, he at times so expresses himself, that they who understand his words literally must suppose him to mean, that his coming to judgment was not to be protracted beyond the age in which he delivered the predictions. Thus one of the most full and explicit of his prophetic declarations is that in Matt. xxiv.—"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Now learn a parable of the fig tree; "When his branch is yet tender and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily, I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled" (Ver. 29—34). Now all the Apostles, except Paul, heard this or other similar prophecies delivered, and Paul, it is certain, had a knowledge of the circumstances of the Lord's life and discourses on earth communicated to him by revelation; * accordingly, these predictions were the foundation of the knowledge possessed by the Apostles respecting the Lord's second coming, and all that is said on that subject in their writings consists of applications of these predictions, with some of a similar kind in the Old Testament. Thus the celebrated passage in 1 Thess. iv. 15 to 17, from which an extract is given above, is simply a paraphrase of the Lord's words just cited, which had been miraculously made known to the Apostle, whence he justly introduces it with stating, "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord" Consequently, if the true meaning of the symbolic language in which the Lord delivered his predictions was not, with the predictions themselves, made known to the Apostles (and of this their writings afford no trace whatever), they would naturally expect, as it is certain all other Christians did, who could only have taken their ideas from the teaching of the Apostles, that those prophetic announcements were to be literally fulfilled; whereas, that their literal sense is not their true sense, is evinced by the fact, that they have remained unaccomplished for seventeen hundred years beyond the period, at which, according to that sense, their accomplishment should have taken place.
* Gal i. 16, 17.
Since the preceding remarks were first written, I have been much pleased at meeting with the same arguments strongly urged by so judicious and highly esteemed a writer as Dr. Watts: the only difference between us in regard to this question is, that he supposes the Apostles to have known the truth of the matter, but purposely to have concealed it. So long as it is acknowledged that what they have said upon the subject is not the naked truth, it makes little difference to the main argument, whether they withheld the naked truth through ignorance or design, and I willingly leave the reader to adopt which alternative he pleases. The passage alluded to of Dr. Watts, is in his "Essay towards the proof of a Separate State of Souls," prefixed to his "World to Come;" and is as follows: "As the patriarchs and the Jews of old, after the Messiah was promised, were constantly expecting his first coming almost in every generation, till he did appear, and many modes of prophetical expression in Scripture, which speak of things long to come as though they were present, or just at hand, gave them some occasion for this expectation; so the Christians of the first age did generally expect the second coming of Christ to judgment, and the resurrection of the dead, in that very age wherein it was foretold. St. Paul gives us a hint of it in 2 Thess. ii. 1, 2. They supposed the day of the Lord was just appearing. And many expressions of Christ concerning his return, or coming again after his departure, seem to represent his absence as a thing of no long continuance. It in true these words of his may partly refer to his coming to destroy Jerusalem, and the coming in of his kingdom among the Gentiles; or his coming by his messenger of death; yet they generally, in their supreme or final sense, point to his coming to raise the dead, and judge the world. And from the words of Christ, also, concerning John, 'If I will that he tarry till I come' (John xxi. 22), it is probable that the Apostles themselves at first, as well as other Christians, might derive this apprehension of his speedy coming.
"It is certain (Dr. W. proceeds) that when Christ speaks of his coming in general and promiscuous, and parabolical terms, whether with regard to the destruction of Jerusalem or the judgment of the world, he saith, 'Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled' (Matt. xxiv. 34). And the Apostles frequently told the world, the coming of the Lord was near: 'The Lord is at hand,' (Phil. iv. 5): 'Exhorting one another—so much the more, as you see the day approaching' (Heb. x. 25): and that this is the day of the coming of Christ, verse 37 assures us; 'For yet a little while, he that shall come will come, and will not tarry? 'Now it is high time to awake out of sleep: the night is far spent; the day is at hand' (Rom. xiii. 12). 'To him who is ready to judge the quick and the dead' (1 Pet. iv. 5). 'The end of all things is at hand' (ver. 7). 'The coming of the Lord draweth nigh; Behold, the judge standeth at the door' (James v. 8, 9). 'Seal not up the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand' (Rev. xxii. 10): 'And behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give to every man as his work shall be' (ver. 12). And the sacred volume is closed with this assurance, 'Surely I come quickly:' and the echo and expectation of the Apostle, or the church, 'Amen' even so, come Lord Jesus.'
"It is granted (our author goes on) that in prophetical expressions, such as all these are, some obscurity is allowed: and it may be doubtful, perhaps, whether some of them may refer to Christ's coming by the destruction of Jerusalem, or his coming to call particular persons away by his messenger of death, or his appearance at the last judgment. It is granted, also, that it belongs to prophetical language to set things far distant, as it were before our eyes, and make them seem present, or very near at hand. But still these expressions had plainly such an influence on the primitive Christians, as that they imagined the day of resurrection and judgment was very near.—And though they [the Apostles] never asserted that Christ would come to raise the dead and judge the world in that age, yet when they knew themselves that he would not come so soon, they might not think it necessary to give every Christian, or every Church, an immediate account of the more distant time of this great event, that the uncertainty of it might keep them ever watchful; and even when St, Paul informs the Thessalonians, that the day if the Lord was not so very near as they imagined it, (2 Thes. ii. 2,) yet he does not put it off beyond that century by any express language."
Now has not Dr. Watts here fully proved, that, whether or not the Apostles themselves knew that the Lord's second coming was not to take place in that age, they often spoke of it in such terms as conveyed the immediate expectation of it to the minds of the primitive Christians ? But what this popular writer says respecting the allowed obscurity of prophetical expressions, though true in itself, is not here strictly applicable. For the passages which he cites from the Epistles are none of them original prophecies; thus, properly speaking, they are not prophecies at all: this character only belongs to the single passage he has quoted from Matthew, and to those from the Revelation; the others, being only repetitions by the Apostles, in their own language, of declarations made by the Lord Jesus Christ when on earth, are not prophecies, any more than the repetition by any teacher, in his own language, of a prophetic declaration, is a prophecy. Some of the original prophetical expressions are indeed retained; but when these are repeated at second hand, without explanation, every hearer supposes that he who repeats them means them to be literally understood. As then the Apostles did thus repeat them, and it thus is certain that they meant their hearers or readers to understand them according to the literal expression, it becomes next to impossible to Suppose, that they themselves understood them any otherwise: and if so, it is a certain fact, that the true meaning of the prophecies respecting the second coming of the Lord was entirely hidden from the Church founded at his first coming, even from the Apostles themselves; just as the true meaning of the prophecies relating to his first coming has been hidden from the Jews, and even from the prophets by whom they were delivered.
To be quite certain, however, that this is not merely a probable surmise, I have examined all the passages in the writings of the Apostles in which any reference is made to a future coming of the Lord; and I earnestly advise all the Candid and Reflecting to do the same. Some of the texts, I find, might be equally suited to the context, whether that event were meant to be represented as near or distant; but in many of them the introduction of the subject is destitute of all force, and even of applicability upon any other supposition, than that the writer understood the event as near; and whilst, as has already been seen, there are many passages which expressly affirm it to be near at hand in the age of the Apostles, there is not one which speaks of it as being then distant, or which affords an inference that it was regarded as distant by the writer.*
* To give every reader an opportunity of easily ascertaining this for himself, I here add all the texts I have been able to find in which any mention of it is made by the Apostles, only omitting those decisive ones which have been cited already. (I have marked by Italic characters the expressions which would particularly lead the first readers to expect the great event in their own life-time).
Paul exhorts the Corinthians of that day to be "waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you unto the end, [compare Matt. xxiv. 13,] that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Cor. i. 7, 8], "For we write none other things unto you than what ye read or acknowledge; and I trust ye shall acknowledge even to the end; as also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours, in the day of the Lord Jesus" [2 Cor. i. 13, 14]. "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption" (Ep. iv. 30: compare Luke xxi. 28]. "He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it [or carry it on] until the day of Jesus Christ" [Phil. i. 6]. "And this I pray,—that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day.
Now let any one who had read the texts cited below, transfer himself in thought to the age in which such declarations were written, of Christ" [Ver. 9, 10]. "Our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Christ" [Ch. iii. 20]. "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory" [Col. iii. 4]. "Ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven" [1 Thes. i. 9, 10]. "What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing' are not even ye, in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, at his coming?" [Ch. ii. 19]. "The Lord make you to increase and abound in love, &c.—to the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord jesus Christ, with all his saints" [Ch. iii. 12, 13]. "Ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief" [Ch. v. 4]. "I pray God your whole spirit, and soul, and body, be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" [Ver. 23]. "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels," &c. [2 Thes. i. 6, 7]. "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ" [Ch. iii. 5]. "I give thee charge—that thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" [1 Tim. vi. 14]. "I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day" [2 Tim. i. 12]. "The Lord grant unto him that be may find mercy of the Lord in that day" [Ver. 18]. "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come: for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, &c.—from such turn away" [Ch. iii. 1—5; where, note, that the words being addressed to Timothy personally, imply that he should live to sec those last days]. "I charge thee before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom" [Ch. iv. 1]. "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but to all them that love his appearing" [Ver. 8]. "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and unto them that look for him he shall appear the second time without sin unto salvation" [Heb. ix. 28]. "Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time; wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations, that the trial of your faith, being more precious than of gold that perisheth, though if be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" [1 Peter, i. 5, 6, 7]. "Wherefore—hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" [Ver. 13]. "When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" [Ch. v. 4], "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" [1 John, iii. 2]. "For there are certain men crept in unawares, &c.—And Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, &c.— These are murmerers, complainers, walking after their own lusts, &c.—But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.—Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy; to the only wise God our Saviour," &c. [Jude ver. 4, 14—13, 24, 25], and then judge whether he would not have concluded, from the passages collected, in conjunction with those cited by Dr. Watts and in our previous observations, that they who thus spoke continually of the day of the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ, who declared that it was to take place in the last days or times, and who affirmed that the last days or times were then begun, meant to affirm, that the appearing of the Lord was in that age to take place, and to be witnessed by some then living. The event has proved that the expectation was erroneous; yet not one expression occurs which could tend to correct the mistake. Accordingly, it is universally allowed that such was the opinion entertained on the subject by the first Christians; and it is equally certain, that the first Christians could have no opinion on the subject bat what they derived from the first teachers of Christianity, the Apostles.
Yet most of the Commentators, unwilling to admit that any mystery whatever was kept hidden from the Apostles, have supposed with Dr. Watts, that notwithstanding they always spoke as if the second coming of the Lord was to be expected in that age, they well knew to the contrary. Thus, for example, the pious Doddridge, in his note on the words of Paul (1 Thes. iv. 15), "We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord"—notwithstanding he translates the original, still more strongly, "we who remain alive at the coming of the Lord"—appears much displeased with those who conclude, from the plain sense of the words, that the Apostle himself expected to be one of those who should then "remain alive." He begins his note with this statement: "This hath been interpreted by many, as an intimation, that the apostle expected to be found alive at the day of judgment: and, on that interpretation, some have urged it as an instance of his entertaining, at least for a while, mistaken notions on that head, as if the day of the Lord were nearly approaching:" to this Dr. D. objects, that "this is contrary to his own explication of the matter, 2 Thes. ii. 1, &c."—though, as Dr. Watts remarks, when the Apostle there "informs the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord was not so very near as they imagined it, he does not put it off beyond that century by any express language." Dr. Doddridge has only to object further, that it is contrary "to other passages in which he expresses his own expectation of death;" but this only proves, that when he says "we who remain alive," he does not mean to affirm positively that he should be one who should thus remain, but only that he thought it not impossible. Had he meant to affirm that the coming of the Lord would take place in that age, but certainly not till after his own death, he would not have said, "we who remain alive," but "you who remain alive:" but had he meant to exclude all that generation from the possibility of witnessing the event, he would neither have said "we," nor "you, who remain alive," but "they who shall be alive." It seems the more extraordinary that the worthy Expositor should here attempt to clear the Apostle from the imputation of imperfect knowledge, and by such weak arguments, when he had just before admitted a lower degree of the charge to be probably true; for in his note on verse 13, after quoting the remark of Saurin, that the Apostle "did not then exactly know whether Christ's appearance would be in that age, or at some much more remote distance of time," he very judiciously observes, "And this ignorance was certainly consistent with the knowledge of all that was necessary to the preaching of the Gospel;" referring to Mark xiii. 32.
But surely, the supposition that the Apostles knew that the Lord's coming would not take place in that age, and yet spoke so as naturally to beget that belief in their readers, lays them open to much worse imputations than follow from that of mere ignorance or mistake. Thus, as Doddridge himself notices, the Jew Orobio affirms, that Paul expressed himself as he did to the Thessalonians through artifice, to serve a present purpose, holding out the expectation of being taken up alive into heaven in a very little time, as a bait to invite people to Christianity. So the author of a deistical publication, insidiously denominated "Not Paul but Jesus," * draws one of his reasons for regarding that Apostle as a self-interested impostor, from this occurrence, which he describes as a bait of another order. According to the representation of this subtle writer, Paul wished to produce a persuasion that the end of all things was at hand, to render people indifferent to their worldly property, in order that they might be more ready to give him a good share of it; but the measures he took for this purpose with the Thessalonians operated so much more strongly than he intended, that many were thrown into such a panic as to neglect all business entirely (which, the objector urges, is stated in 2 Thes. iii. 11); wherefore he found it necessary, in a second Epistle, (ch. ii. 1, &c.) to put the expected end of all things a little further off, and to endeavour to allay, in some measure, the terrors he had raised.
* This work was published under the name of "Gamaliel Smith," but the real author was the celebrated Jeremy Bentham.
Is there then any view of this affair which will clear the Apostles from the imputation either of disgraceful ignorance or of wilful misrepresentation, and thus will at once take away the ground of the cavils of Jewish and infidel objectors, and obviate the necessity for such weak excuses as are usually resorted to fry Christian defenders ? Do we not obtain such a view, when we see that, while every thing relating to the doctrines of the primitive Christian Church, and to the interpretation of the prophecies of the Old Testament relating to the Lord's first advent, was clearly revealed to the Apostles, after having been kept hidden till the time of their accomplishment had come, the prophecies of the New Testament relating to his second advent were in like manner kept hidden till the time for their fulfilment should arrive ? Does not this evince, that ignorance upon this single subject,—the time and manner of the fulfilment of the prophecies of the New Testament,—no more forms a flaw in the character of the Apostles, than ignorance respecting the time and manner of the Lord's first coming constitutes a blemish in the character of the Jewish patriarchs and worthies? The two advents of the Lord belong to two different dispensations: according to the order always observed in the Divine Economy, the things peculiar to a later dispensation are never openly revealed under a former: consequently, It would have been inconsistent with the order always observed in the Divine Economy, had the Apostles, whose province it was to proclaim the Lord's first advent, with the discoveries proper to it, been equally well informed respecting the circumstances of his second.
But satisfactorily, as it appears to me, as this view of the subject reconciles the Apostles' imperfect knowledge on this one point,—on what was beyond their commission,—with their full knowledge on others,—on all that was within it; and fully as it relieves them from the imputation either of disgraceful ignorance or wilful misrepresentation; I do not expect that it will meet the approbation of those advocates for common opinions, not belonging to the class of the Candid and Reflecting, who had rather deliver the sacred writers, gagged and bound, into the hands of their enemies, to be dealt with as they see fit, than vindicate them by an explanation which detects deficiencies in the system of their interpreters. But should any such undertake the refutation of what has here been advanced, let them recollect, that, to succeed in that attempt two things are necessary: first, they must show that some of the passages quoted above, and in the note, from the writings of the Apostles, do explicitly state, that the second coming of the Lord was not to be expected in that age nor for seventeen centuries after it; and secondly, that none of the above cited texts do affirm that it was then at hand. Unless these points be proved,—that is, unless the Apostles' language can be made to affirm the contrary of what it does affirm,—all that may be alleged against the view here offered will be entirely beside the question.; and it will be difficult to deny, that the time and manner of the Lord's second coming, and the meaning of the prophetic language in which that event is predicted in the Gospels and the Apocalypse, were not revealed to the Apostles, because that time had not then arrived.
But surely, whoever should reflect a little upon the subject, might easily see, that the manner in which the Lord's second coining is always described in Scripture, such as his appearing in the clouds, attended by angels blowing trumpets, &c., is purely figurative and symbolic; that it is couched in the purely prophetic style of writing; and all expositors admit that there is a distinct prophetic style used in the Scriptures, in which the ideas intended are representatively shadowed out by the images used for expressing them. Only look at the subject with some degree of elevation of mind, and you will see, that for the Lord Jesus Christ to appear in the clouds which float about the earth, at a height never exceeding a very few miles from its surface, in a form visible to the natural eyes of the inhabitants of the earth, is really an absolute impossibility. At his first advent, indeed, the Lord was beheld by men in the natural world, and even dwelt for a considerable time among thorn: but the reason was, because he was then in a natural body, not yet glorified, assumed from the mother, Mary: but, as I propose to show in a future Section of this Appeal, during his abode on earth, and at his resurrection, he made his human nature completely divine, and it was in a glorified or deified form, no longer partaking of the gross properties of matter, that he ascended to heaven: Hence he never was visible to any after he rose again, except when, he expressly manifested himself to them, which was done by opening the sight of their spirits. Had he still been visible to the natural eye, how came it to pass that he never was seen by the Jews after his resurrection ? Had he still been in a body that was obvious to the natural senses, how did he appear suddenly in the midst of his disciples, when they were assembled secretly, for fear of the Jews, and the door was fastened to secure them from interruption ? Our natural sight will not penetrate through walls and doors; how then, to such sight, can that divine form bo visible, which Avails and doors could not exclude? Thus the Lord's glorified person can now only be made visible to man by opening the sight of his spirit, as was done in all the cases of spiritual appearance recorded in the Scriptures; and the Lord can only thus be manifested to those who are in the acknowledgment of him: for this reason he never made himself visible, after his resurrection, to the gainsaying Jews; and for the same reason he never will make himself visible to the inhabitants of the world at large: consequently, it is not in a natural sense that he will appear in the clouds of the sky, showing himself to all the dwellers upon the earth.
But that the Lord is not literally to make his second advent in this manner, is evident from another consideration, the force of which every one may appreciate, whether he sees the strength of the last argument or not: and that other circumstance is, that in other passages of Scripture his coming is described in a different fashion. In the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, he is represented as coming riding on a white horse, with all the armies of heaven following him upon white horses. Now, who ever understood that this description was to be taken literally ? No person ever conceived that He would come to judgment riding on horseback, followed by innumerable troops of angels, all likewise mounted on horseback: yet there is no reason for rejecting the expectation of his coming in this manner, and regarding the language as entirely figurative, than there is for adopting that of his coming in the clouds, and regarding this as a literal representation of the fact. The truth is, that both are entirely figurative, and of nearly the same signification; since his coming on a white horse denotes his restoring the right understanding of the Word, and illuminating thereby the intellectual faculties of man; and his coming in the clouds with power and great glory denotes the unfolding of the literal sense of the Word, and his presence in the bright glory of its spiritual and genuine signification. I have endeavoured to prove this at length in another publication; in which it is attempted to be shown, that the Lord is called the Son of man, in Scripture, in reference to his character as the Word or Divine Truth;* and it is always by his title of Son of man that the Lord himself speaks of his second coming; So, the passage just referred to in the Revelation expressly states, that he who is to come riding on the white horse, is the Word of God. Evidently then, the promised coming of the Lord as the Son of man and the Word of God, must denote a new discovery of the divine truth of his Word,—a restoration of the genuine doctrines of the church,—a revival of a just knowledge of the Lord and of his worship, and an opening of the sacred contents of his Holy Word.
* Plenary Inspiration, &c., p. 333, &c. + Ver. 1, 2, 3.
But that this is, in general, what is meant by the second coming of the Lord,—by the appearing of the Son of man in the clouds with power and great glory, and by his riding in heaven, as the Word of God, on a white horse,—is further evident from the fact, that it is to be accompanied or followed by the descent from heaven of a New Jerusalem. We read in Rev. xxi, "I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God."+ Now what can this, with any degree of consistency, be understood to signify, but a renewal of the true church of God among mankind ? Many, I know, apply it to the state of the saints in heaven: but in this they do the most palpable violence to the words: for how can that be pretended to be in heaven, which is expressly said to come down out of heaven? how can that describe the state of saints in heaven, which is expressly said to be the tabernacle, or abiding place, of God, with men? Accordingly the best interpreters apply it to a new state of the church on earth. Thus Dr. Hammond, a celebrated writer of the Church of England, comments upon it thus: "That it signifies not the state of glorified saints in heaven, appears by its descending from heaven in both places [where it is mentioned]; and that, according to the use of the phrase, ch. x. 1 and xviii. 1, is an expression of some eminent benefit to the church: and being here set down, with the glory of God upon it, it will signify the pure Christian Church, joining Christian practice with the profession thereof, and that in a flourishing condition, expressed by the new heaven and new earth. In this sense," he adds, "we have the supernal Jerusalem (Gal. iv. 26), and the New Jerusalem (Rev. iii. 12), where, to the constant professor is promised, that God will write on him the name of God, and the name of the city of God, the New Jerusalem; which there is the pure Catholic Christian Church." As to its being first said, that John saw a new heaven and a new earth, because the former heaven and earth had passed away, all commentators admit, that that is a phrase constantly used in the prophetic style to denote a complete renovation of the thing treated of,—the putting of an entire end to one order of things, and the commencement of a new one, either with respect to particular or to general churches; in which sense it occurs in numerous passages of the Old Testament, where a new heaven and earth cannot literally be meant.
The common reader of the Scriptures naturally supposes, when he comes to a prophecy respecting the passing away of heaven and earth, that the phrase refers to the end of the world; though the most simple reader must be somewhat puzzled to understand how the new heaven and new earth, spoken of as to succeed the former, can relate to the state of saints in heaven, which is the only state that our natural apprehensions lead us to look for after the end of the world. The learned, however, have long been so fully convinced, that these phrases do not in general relate to the end of the world, and to the state of the saints expected to succeed that event, that it is wonderful how they can. still retain the opinion, that the end of the world is, nevertheless, predicted by any of them. To show how the learned in general understand these prophetic phrases, I will here subjoin a few quotations.
Sir Isaac Newton, whose scheme of symbolical language has been adopted, with some variations, by all succeeding commentators, states his general principle, and his application of it to the phrase, "heaven, and earth," thus: "The figurative language of the prophets is taken from the analogy between the world natural, and an empire or kingdom considered as a world politic. Accordingly, the whole world, natural, consisting of heaven and earth, signifies the whole world politic, consisting of thrones and people.—The creating of a new heaven and earth, and the passing of an old one, or the beginning and end of a world, are put for the rise and ruin of a body politic." A little extending this idea, the Rev. Mr. Faber, in his "Dissertation on the Prophecies," states his view of these symbols thus: "The symbolical heaven, when interpreted temporally, signifies the whole body politic. On the other hand, the symbolical heaven, when interpreted spiritually, signifies the whole body of the church militant.—The earth, when taken in a temporal sense, imports, in the abstract, the territorial dominions of any Pagan or irreligious empire.—In a spiritual sense, the earth denotes a state of paganism or apostacy." So Dr. Doddridge, in his paraphrase of the Lord's words, "The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken," says, "That is, according to the sublimity of prophetic language, the whole civil and ecclesiastical constitution of the nation shall not only be shocked, but totally dissolved." To the same purport, Beausobre and L'Enfant, in their note on the words, "the sun shall be darkened," observe, "The prophet Isaiah uses the same expression when foretelling the destruction of Jerusalem: it is a prophetic style, which must not be literally understood. Jesus Christ gives in these words a description of the total overthrow of the Jewish state, that was closely to follow the destruction of Jerusalem." Whether the expositions given in these examples have any truth in them or not, they are sufficient to evince that the learned have found it necessary to relinquish the literal interpretation of those passages of Scripture which speak of the passing away of heaven and earth, or of such convulsions in the heavenly bodies, as, if actual, would involve the destruction of the world. I will subjoin a few passages of Scripture, which must convince every one that such phrases are not to be literally understood.
We read in Isaiah, ch. xxxiv.: "All the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll; and all their host shall fall down, as the leaf falleth off the vine, and as the falling fig from the fig-tree." This is stated as a consequence of a judgment to be performed in the land of Idumea, or Edom; for it is added. "For my sword shall be bathed in heaven; behold, it shall come down upon Idumea, and upon the people of my curse, to judgment." And the reason is given for it a little further on: "For it is the Lord's day of vengeance, and the year of recompenses, for the controversy of Zion;"— that is, because the Lord will plead the cause of his Church, signified by Zion, against those who would destroy her, signified by Idumea. But whatever judgments may at any time have visited the land of Idumea, they certainly were not accompanied by the dissolution of the heavens. Similar statements are made in Ezekiel xxxii., on occasion of predicting the conquest of Egypt; and in Isa. xiii., in connection with the announced destruction of Babylon: yet though it is certain that Babylon was captured by Cyrus, and Egypt subdued by Cambyses, we do not find that the heavenly bodies quaked in sympathy with those events, and fell into convulsions or dissolution. The prophet Joel also announces similar disorders in the heavens as to happen at the time of the Lord's advent in the flesh, almost in the same terms as are used by the Lord himself in reference to his second coming: "I will show wonders in the heavens above, and signs in the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come;" which prophecy is quoted by Peter (Acts ii. 16) as being then fulfilled. As then no destruction of heaven and earth, and no such convulsions as would include their destruction, took place at that time, so, we may conclude, neither will such things happen when the Lord's predictions respecting his second coming are fulfilled, or when that great change takes place which the revelator foretells under the figure of the removal of heaven and earth. In like manner, the establishing of new heavens and a new earth is announced in prophecies which have received their fulfilment. Thus the whole 65th chapter of Isaiah treats of the calling of the Gentiles and rejection of the Jews at the Lord's coming into the world, and establishing the Christian Church: which last event is figuratively predicted by the Lord's saying, "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind:" that the church under a new dispensation, or in a new and improved state, is what is here treated of, is evident from its being immediately added, "Behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy:" and all that follows shows, that it is not a state in the other world that is spoken of, but in this. That this is the purport of the phrase, is further evident from a passage in the 51st chapter; where speaking of the restoration of the church, the Lord says, "I have put my words into thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of my hand, that I may plant the heavens and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people."
Thus then we also find, that, in the Old Testament as well as in the Revelation the formation of new heavens and earth is mentioned in connection with the restoration and re-establishment of Zion or Jerusalem: the reason is, because Zion and Jerusalem are constantly mentioned in prophecy as types of the church itself. In the Old testament, when their restoration is spoken of, they are evident types of the church which was to be raised in consequence of the Lord's coming into the world, and called the Christian Church, to distinguish it from the Israelitish or Jewish; consequently, in the Revelation, a new Jerusalem, can mean nothing else than a New Church,—a restoration of pure Christianity to more than its primitive glory. And both these events are said to he accompanied with the formation of a new heaven and new earth, to denote the entire newness of the respective churches as to their inward life and outward conversation, internal principles and external practice; all the corrupt persuasions and evils which had perverted the former churches being wholly removed.
Surely then it must be allowed to be evident, that the circumstance of the manifestation of the New Jerusalem being fixed by the prophet after the passing away of the former heaven and earth, and the formation of a new heaven and earth in their place, so far from sanctioning the opinion that it is a figure used to describe the state of the saints in heaven, only proves, more conclusively, that it is intended to denote an entirely new state of the church on earth; for it is palpably evident, that in every other instance throughout the Scriptures in which the passing away of heaven and earth, or convulsions in the heavenly bodies equivalent to their dissolution, are mentioned, such catastrophes in outward nature are not meant, but that they are prophetic phrases solely intended to express an entire change and renewal in the thing which is the subject of the prophecy.
II. Here, then, I trust you will admit, we have a clear and, at least, highly probable view of the signification of the prophecies which announce a Second Coming of the Lord, and the manifestation of a New Jerusalem: the next consideration is, Are there any circumstances and signs observable at the present day, which lead to the conclusion, that the time for the great divine interference thus prophetically delineated has arrived ? Permit me, before I proceed to offer an answer to this question, to observe, that an affirmative reply does not, as too many are inconsiderately apt to suppose, necessarily involve an absurdity. All who acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures, must allow, that the Second Coming of the Lord most assuredly will take place at some period or other; and if, as I trust has been conclusively shown, the commonly imagined mode of his appearance cannot be the true one, it is the more probable that it will take place, as is also plainly predicted, in an unexpected time and manner;—"in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh."* It is to be expected then, that, come when it may, multitudes—perhaps the majority—of the Christian world will be unwilling to credit the tidings, and will deride those who believe them as silly enthusiasts:— As the Lord declares again, "When the son of man cometh, shall he find faith in the earth?" + When therefore we announce to the world our belief, that this consummation of divine prophecy is now taking place, we are aware that we shall draw upon ourselves tile contempt and ridicule of the superficial and the frivolous: but we are at the same time sure, that all the sober and the reflecting,—all who will candidly examine the reasons which have brought us to this conviction, must become sensible of their strength, and will find it no easy matter to put them aside. Certain it is, that all divine prediction must one day be fulfilled: if then what is advanced in proof of such fulfilment having taken place be not altogether unworthy of the subject, they who urge it are at least entitled to be listened to with candour, and to have their arguments fairly considered. If, on the contrary, the mere asserting that the time has arrived for the accomplishment of a great Scripture-prophecy, is sufficient to authorise the treatment of those who advance it with derision and contempt, then it was right in the Scribes and Pharisees to treat with contempt the testimony of the Baptist; and it will be difficult to prove them wrong when they crucified the Saviour himself.
* Matt. xxiv. 44. + Luke, xvii. 8.
If then the view of the nature of the promised Second Advent of the Lord, and descent of the New Jerusalem which has now been imperfectly sketched, should be deemed probable and satisfactory, I might urge, that the publication, in the present day, of a system of Christian doctrine in which such a view is afforded, alone gives reason to apprehend, upon the principle that the prophecies of Scripture are never exactly understood till the time of their accomplishment, that the time for the accomplishment of these great prophecies has arrived, or, at least, must be near at hand. It is indeed true, as has been shown, that many have before concluded, from the known signification of Jerusalem, in prophetic language, as denoting the church (a signification explicitly assigned it by the Apostles *), that the New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse must signify a new and greatly improved state of Christianity in the world: our explication then of this sublime prophecy is not new, except in regard to the greater precision with which the particulars of its signification are unfolded: but the explication of the prophecy of the coming of the Lord in the clouds of heaven, as denoting his presence in the literal sense of his Word and the unfolding of the bright glory of its spiritual or internal sense, was never known in the church, till delivered in the doctrines which we believe to be those of the "New Jerusalem:" if then this is the true explication (and that it is so is capable of being proved with a weight of evidence that makes negation difficult +), this circumstance alone affords a sign, that the time for the accomplishment of these predictions, in their true sense, which is their spiritual sense, has arrived. The mere statement of this argument here may not appear to carry much weight: but when it is connected with a knowledge of what the doctrines which we believe to be those of "the New Jerusalem" are; when these doctrines are seen to exhibit all the great truths of pure Christianity in a clearer light than ever they were placed in before, and to discover with demonstrative evidence the errors of the sentiments by which their genuine lustre has been long obscured; when, together with the doctrines of pure Christianity, the spiritual sense of the Scriptures is seen to be truly unfolded, its existence demonstrated, and the Word of God proved in consequence to be the Word of God indeed:—when, I say, these truths are seen, as they may be seen, in the writings of the Author we so highly esteem; every mind which duly appreciates them will be apt to conclude, that such discoveries could never have been made by any unassisted human intellect, and that the only probable way of assigning them an origin, is, to regard them as a consequence of that Second Coming of the Lord which they announce. I do not however insist upon this argument at present; but I trust that some of the considerations which give it weight, will appear in the progress of this Appeal.
* Gal. iv. 26; Heb. xii. 22.
But beside such evidences that the present is the era of the Second Coming of the Lord as require examination to discern them, are there none which may be obvious even to the superficial observer? It is said, that "every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him;" * words which imply, that his coming must be attended with signs perceptible to every understanding, even to those who do not, and will not, acknowledge him, how palpably soever the signs may declare his advent. Are there then any such signs as these exhibited before the world at this day? I answer without hesitation, Such signs are abundant and obvious; so much so, that there is not one person in this country, possessing a share of information and observation sufficient to raise him above the most stupid of the vulgar, who has not remarked them with astonishment,—who does not behold them making continually fresh calls upon his attention. It is true, that, though the signs are obvious, the true cause from which they proceed is not generally adverted to. Because the manner of the Lord's second coming, like that of his first coming, differs from the common expectation, his presence is not generally discerned now, any more than it was then: But this only strengthens the parallelism of the case; since the Lord rebuked that generation also, because they could not "discern the signs of the times." + But whether discerned, —rightly weighed and discriminated,—or not, the signs have been such as to force themselves on the notice of all. Does not every voice confess that we are living in a most extraordinary era of the world?
* Rev. i. 7. + Matt. xvi. 3; Luke, xii. 56.
Is not every mind impressed with the conviction that there is something almost preternatural in the character of the present times ? Has not the change which has taken place during the last forty or fifty years, the seeds of which had been fermenting for twenty or thirty years previously, in the whole aspect of Europe, of Christendom of the world, been such as has filled with amazement every one who has witnessed it, every one who contemplates it ? After every section of the great family of mankind has been seen struggling through convulsions which seemed to threaten the dissolution of all human society, does not order,—a new and improved order,—appear again to be emerging out of chaos ? Are not extraordinary improvements, in every thing connected with the comforts of human life, and the advancement of the species in civilisation, in knowledge, and, ultimately, in virtue, continually springing up ? and are they not continually calling forth, from every quarter, exclamations of surprise, and expanding every bosom with the hope, that the opening of a new and happier day than the world has ever before seen is now dawning on mankind ? But I forbear to enter more particularly into this delightful part of my argument at present, as it will be necessary to turn to it again when I come, in the next Section but one, to treat of the Last Judgment, —a subject intimately connected with that of the Second Coming of the Lord. Meanwhile, this slight hint may suffice, perhaps, to open new ideas in the minds of the Reflecting, when they turn their attention to these striking facts. At present I will only say, that in the wonderful visitations of Providence, both in the way of judgment and of mercy, which the present generation has witnessed and is witnessing still, we behold plain signs of the times of the Second Advent. They are such, unquestionably, as are commensurate with the grandest cause which can be assigned for their production: and how can they so worthily be considered, as by beholding in them the results of the fulfilment of the last great predictions of Holy Writ,— as by viewing them as harbingers of the Second Coming of the Lord ?
Ultima Cumsei venit jam carmlnis getas: Magnus ab integro sseclorum nascitur ordo: Jam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna.
III. But, in the third place, while there are many circumstances and signs in the political and social aspect of the world at this day, which indicate that the time for the divine interference described in Scripture as the Second Coming of the Lord has arrived; are there not also circumstances in the situation of the world in regard to religion, which evince, that the restoration of true religion, promised under the figures of a Second Coming of the Lord and establishment of a New Jerusalem, cannot be much longer delayed without the most serious injury to the human race ? It may at first perhaps appear paradoxical, that I should, on the one hand, advert to signs of the times which promise to the human race a new career of improvement and happiness, and draw thence an argument for the present being the era of the long-expected Second Coming of the Lord; and, on the other hand, that I should point to signs which threaten to the human race most serious injury, to deduce thence also an argument in proof of the same position. But when the matter is accurately inspected, it will be found that there is, in this, no inconsistency, and that the two arguments, instead of neutralising, do in reality strongly support each other. For all the pleasing circumstances that have been alluded to only refer to man as a rational being and an inhabitant of this world; his state in regard to religion refers to him as a spiritual being also, and the destined inhabitant of eternity: an improvement of his condition in the former respect evinces an increased action of the divine influences in his behalf, the ultimate aim of which is, to effect an improvement of his condition in the latter: but could the designs of Providence in this latter respect be frustrated, no improvement of the lower kind could bring real blessings, or could possibly be permanent. When a piece of new land is to be brought into cultivation, the first thing to be done is, to clear the surface of its useless products, and to prepare the soil: the next is, to sow the seeds from which is to be produced the desired harvest. All improvements in the general condition of the human race, and in the natural powers and attainments of the human mind, answer to the process of the preparation of the soil; but when it is thus prepared, unless the seeds of genuine Divine Truth be sown in it, the rankest weeds will spring up in abundance, and all the pains of the preparation be made abortive.
Here then let us ask a few questions. Do the views of religion generally entertained afford these seeds ? Are the seeds which they do afford such as the soil of the human mind, in its present improved state of preparation, finds congenial to itself, and which it will willingly admit into its bosom ? If not, is there not a manifest necessity, if man continues to be an object of regard to his Maker, that a new dispensation of Divine Truth, adapted to the present state and wants of the human mind, should be communicated from its Divine Source;—a dispensation by which the veil of error, in which the doctrines of genuine Christianity have been too long involved, should be torn away, and the face of pure Religion, in all the glory of her native beauty, should be again discovered to mankind? And should such a dispensation be too long withheld;—in other words, should the Second Coming of the Lord be too long delayed: is there not reason to apprehend that the rank weeds of Infidelity, which have already, in copious abundance, begun to appear, would overspread the whole field of the human mind, and blast all hopes of any real improvement, in wisdom and happiness, for the human race?
To consider each of these questions with the attention which its importance demands, would require more space than can consistently be allowed to this portion of our Appeal: I shall therefore answer them very briefly, and leave you, to whoso reflections my Appeal is addressed, more maturely to weigh them for yourselves.
The first of them,—Do the views of religion now generally entertained afford the pure seeds of Divine Truth?—will perhaps receive a conclusive answer in some of the future Sections of this Appeal: for if it shall then appear that the Doctrines of Genuine Truth on the most momentous subjects of faith and life are different from those commonly maintained, it is evident, that pure divine truth is not in these to be found: and I had rather this should thus appear by inference, than enter into a harsh exposure of what we esteem the errors of the prevailing views on religion.
The second question,—Are the seeds which the prevailing views of religion do afford, such as the soil of the human mind, in its present improved state of preparation, finds congenial to itself, and which it will willingly admit into its bosom?—may perhaps be answered without offence to any one; for it is a simple question of fact; and the fact, as obvious to every one, decidedly answers it in the negative. Is it not a fact which every one has observed, that the great bulk of mankind, at the present day, hold their religious sentiments much more loosely than was formerly the case ? They, even, who are most decidedly convinced of the truth of the Christian religion in general, are, for the most part, much less tenacious than their fathers used to be of the truth of any particular scheme of it: indeed, were I to say, that few feel any considerable confidence in the truth of the doctrines held by their respective sects as the very doctrines of Christianity, I believe I should only state the sum of all individual experience on the subject. Among the evident signs of a great change which has taken place in the human mind, or in men's modes of thinking, this is one; that men are universally become more disposed than formerly to inquire into the truth of the doctrines which they are required to believe, and are becoming daily less and less capable of acquiescing in implicit faith without the exercise of their own reason and understanding: how then is it possible that doctrines, the chief of which nave always been acknowledged by their advocates to be incomprehensible,—to be matters of such a faith as rejects all interference of the understanding, because, if the understanding were allowed its exercise, it would reject them;—how is it possible that such doctrines can retain their influence over the human mind in its present altered state ? Most unquestionably true is the remark of a late celebrated Christian orator,—a remark made by him long before he diverged into his peculiarities,—that the forms under which, religion is usually presented, though sufficient to feed with spiritual sustenance the minds of men in past ages, are no longer suited to the necessities of the present, but are become as "lifeless and bare trunks containing in them neither sap nor nourishment." * Unsatisfying dogmas, if they led the well-disposed mind to the acknowledgment of his God and Saviour and to the life of religion, might answer the main ends of true religion, so long as the human mind could simply acquiesce in them without inquiry: but when the human mind has come into such a state as to be satisfied with a blind faith no longer;—when it also is prepared, by the improved culture of its rational powers, for the reception of the seeds of the pure and genuine truth;—it no longer finds such unsatisfying dogmas congenial to itself; it no longer can draw from them its needed stores of spiritual nourishment; and it refuses therefore to admit their seeds into its bosom. That this is, most extensively, the state of the human mind at this day in regard to the views of religion commonly prevailing, is too evident for the most determined advocate of those views to deny.
Then, assuredly, our next question must be answered at once in the affirmative; and it must be admitted. That there is a manifest necessity, if man continues to be an object of regard to his Maker, that a new dispensation of Divine Truth, adapted to the present state and wants of the human mind, should be communicated from its Divine Source:—in other words, that the long expected Second Coming of the Lord should in these times be revealed. This dispensation must be such, as to remove the clouds of error in which the beauty of pure Christianity has been long involved; to restore the right understanding of the Word of God, and conclusively to demonstrate its divine origin; to exhibit, in a rational as well as Scriptural light, the divinity of the Christian Redeemer, without the just acknowledgment of which no Church truly called Christian can exist; and to display in a satisfactory manner the nature of man's immortality and of his life hereafter, at the same time that it re-discovers the true nature of the means by which that immortality may be made an immortality of happiness. In short, it must be a dispensation which shall effect the union of reason with religion, without divesting the latter of its spirituality, as merely rational (as they are called) schemes of religion invariably have done; but which shall add spirituality to reason, and exalt it with both. Whether the system of religion embraced by those who humbly trust that they belong to the New Church of the Lord, which they believe to be predicted in the Revelation under the figure of a New Jerusalem, answers to this character, may in some measure appear as we proceed: but, without reference to any specific system, it seems difficult to deny, that the communication of such a dispensation of Divine Truth as we have here slightly sketched an idea of, is essentially important to the present state and spiritual necessities of mankind.
* Rev. E. Irving in his Farewell Sermon at Glasgow on his first coming to London.
For should such a dispensation be too long withheld, must we not answer our last question also in the affirmative, and conclude, That there is reason to apprehend that the yank weeds of Infidelity, which have already, in copious abundance, begun to appear, would overspread the whole field of the human mind, and blast all hopes of any real improvement, in wisdom and happiness, for the human race? The strong hold of Infidelity is, the irrationality of the doctrines commonly affirmed to be those of the "Word of God. These are such. as reason, when once it ventures to look at them, must reject: and when such doctrines are supposed to be those of the Scriptures, and the true nature of the Scriptures themselves is also totally misunderstood, the inevitable consequence is, that the Scriptures are rejected with them. Set then the Scriptures in their proper light; especially, prove that they are written by the laws of that invariable correspondence or analogy which exists by creation between natural things-and spiritual, whence, while merely natural things are for the most part treated of in their literal sense, they are only used as types of purely spiritual ideas;—thus, prove that the Scriptures have in them a spiritual sense in which the wisdom of God in all its glory shines: then show what their doctrines really are, and evince that the genuine dictates of Scripture invariably harmonise with the genuine dictates of Reason,—that though they contain truths far beyond the reach of unassisted Reason to discover, they always are such as Reason, thus enlightened, accepts, approves, and can by numerous arguments confirm: thus, exhibit the main topics of religion in their proper light; and you immediately deprive Infidelity of its power over the unsophisticated mind, that retains its unbiased love of truth, and desire of knowing it. But certainly, nothing like this is done in the views of religion commonly prevailing; and we see the awful consequence: we see, not only deism, but atheism, unblushingly avowed by numbers even in this favoured land; while on the continent of Europe it is too well known that they are far more universal, both among the Roman Catholic and the Protestant States. The fashionable school of divinity, even, through a great part of Christendom, led by the late Drs. Semler and Eichhorn, allows nothing of the proper nature of inspiration to the New Testament, and denies it to the Old testament altogether, insomuch that the Consistory of Wurtemberg have gone to the length of forbidding the clergy to take from the Old Testament the subjects of their sermons.* Here are plain symptoms indeed of a growing tendency to infidelity: Is there anything in the views of the Scriptures, and the doctrines of Christianity, commonly entertained, which is capable of stemming the torrent? Is there not then reason to apprehend the most disastrous consequences to the human race, should the proper antidote be much longer withheld,— should the Second Coming of the Lord, in the sense explained above, be much longer delayed ?
* See the Intellectual Repository for the New Church, Second Series, vol. i. p. 608.
IV. To come to the conclusion of the present subject.
What has been offered, may, I would fain hope, have been sufficient to satisfy all who consider the important subject with due reflection, that our pretensions are not very extravagant when we affirm our belief, that a new dispensation of Divine Truth is in reality in this day communicated, and that we are actually living in the age of the Second Coming of the Lord. But some of you, perhaps, may be afraid to give ear to the arguments presented by the signs we have considered, and to admit the belief, that the light by which they are discovered, and the doctrines with which they are connected, are really those of the New Jerusalem, for fear of incurring the reproach of enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the charge with which the world is ever ready to stigmatise all who sincerely believe that God exercises a providence in human affairs, especially in whatever relates to his Church, and who practically admit the acknowledgment, that the predictions of Scripture are not to remain a dead letter for ever, but that it really is possible, that what Divine Truth has foretold, may one day come to pass. Indeed, none can consistently ridicule others for believing that a prediction of Scripture has come to pass, but they who in their hearts do not believe in the Scriptures at all, nor even in the Omniscience and foreknowledge of the Deity. It is true that there have been wild enthusiasts enow, who have grounded their idle fancies on the prophecies of Scripture. But how have such enthusiasts usually acted ? By expecting some great thing to take place in outward nature, and themselves to be exalted to high honour and worldly dignity;—by fancying that Jesus Christ would come in person to reign on the earth, and that they that have faith to believe this would be made his vicegerents in the government of mankind: with other extravagances of a similar kind, originating in a misconception of the true nature of divine prediction, and of the manner in which it is to be fulfilled. Look at the pretensions of the false Christs and false prophets that have arisen in different ages; and you will find notions of this kind to pervade them all. All such flights of enthusiasm find a complete antidote in the doctrine, which we are satisfied is as true now as at the Lord's first coming in the flesh, that his kingdom is not of this world. If we were to hold out, as enthusiasts have done, peculiar privileges on this side of the grave, we perhaps might, like some of them, soon find many more disciples; but they would be such as would not he worth having, because such as, like unconverted Peter, savour not the things of God, but the things that be of men.* We have no worldly dignities to offer,— no, nor any short path to heaven. The only path to the blissful seats, with which we are acquainted, is the path of repentance and regeneration; and these operations, we believe, cannot be radically performed, but by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, believed in as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, received in humility, and combined with hearty obedience on the part of man. The law that regulates admission into the New Church or New Jerusalem, is, that "there shall in no wise enter therein any thing that is unclean, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie;"+ by which we understand, that whosoever would be benefited by the new dispensation of the everlasting gospel, must regulate his life, from his inmost thoughts to his outmost deeds, by the immutable laws of order contained in the divine commandments; especially labouring to remove from his affections whatsoever is inconsistent with the love and purity of the heavenly kingdom, and from his thoughts or opinions whatever is disowned by the Divine Truth, which constitutes the law of that kingdom: and this he must do in humble dependence upon, and devout elevation of his mind to, the Lord Jesus Christ, as Him who ever reigns in that kingdom, the King of kings and Lord of lords. We do not believe then that a new dispensation of the everlasting gospel is offered to man, to contradict, in the slightest degree, former dispensations, but to fulfil them, by introducing into them their proper spirit and life. We are convinced, that they who embrace the new dispensation should walk in newness of the spirit, not in oldness of the letter; that as all former dispensations have required men to love God and keep his commandments, so in this they must do so from a deeper ground in the heart, and with more entire conformity in their practice. Thus we believe that the distinguishing superiority of the new dispensation will consist solely in these things;—the superior clearness with which the person and nature of the God who is therein to be worshipped will be seen, with a more plain discovery of the way in which an acceptable service can be offered to him; combined with the more powerful communication of a divine influence from him, enabling those who acknowledge him to fight successfully against their own corruptions, and so to render to him this acceptable service. Whilst then we point out to mankind the signs which demonstrate that the Second Coming of the Lord is arrived, we do not mean to fill their heads with idle fancies of no one knows what; but to enforce upon them the fact, that now are they called, more unequivocally than at any former period, to acknowledge the only true God, and to be assured that the first of all the commandments is, to love the Lord our God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that the second is like unto it—to love our neighbour as ourselves We only wish to urge upon them the necessity of becoming such servants of God and such friends of mankind, by the assurance that every divine aid is offered that will enable them to do so. If this be enthusiasm, it is an enthusiasm, allow me to say, which every sincerely well disposed mind ought by all means to foster: it is an enthusiasm which every friend of humanity ought to desire should become universal: for it is an enthusiasm which, if once made universal, would speedily banish evil and misery from the earth, and bring on halcyon days of Universal contentment and peace.
* Matt. xvi. 23. + Rev. xxi. 27.