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hindrance, against every species of obloquy, or difficulty, or distress; and to reject and resist error, in the face of every solicitation, and blandishment, and bribe of a compromising world: to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good. *
I. First, then; an inquiry into the true interpretation of the unfulfilled prophecies of Scripture, ought not to be judged by the unscriptural conjectures in which some of its advocates have indulged. Precise dates have been given. Geographical, architectural, and other details have been insisted on. And even individual men and measures of modern times, have been confidently set forth, as specially intended in such and such prophecies. By interpretations (if they deserve that name) of this character, the writer of the following pages has been deeply grieved. But, surely, it would be most unreasonable to be thereby deterred altogether from any inquiry, into so large a portion of the word of God; All of which has been given by inspiration, and written for our learning. It is undeniable, that some persons abuse the doctrines of the
of God, and the all-sufficient atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, into an excuse for careless living. But does it therefore follow, that we must either become Antinomians, or reject the Gospel altogether? Surely not. In like manner, some persons abuse the true and proper humanity of the Lord Jesus, into Socinianism. But does it therefore follow, that we must either become Socinians, or deny the Saviour's manhood? Surely not.
In all such cases, discrimination is wisdom; and without pains-taking inquiry, men must fall into error, either of excess or defect. The same is true in the case now before us. Some persons have identified the "wilful king" of Daniel xi. with Napoleon Bonaparte; and one interpreter has proceeded gravely to inform his readers, that the “ships of Chittim," mentioned by the Prophet at the 30th verse of that chapter, designated the British fleet, under Lord Nelson, in the year
798, and more particularly, the squadron, under Sir Sidney Smith, which prevented Bonaparte from getting possession of St. John d'Acre.t Is it then a matter of necessity, that we must either adopt such a line as this; or altogether give up any further examination of what the prophets have written? Discrimination is wisdom; and if we refuse to exercise it upon
this subject, we expose ourselves to the risk of either receiving, as the word of God, the ingenious fancies of men, or of rejecting as the fancies of men, the true and faithful word of God.
* 1 Thess. v. 21.
† See Frere's Combined View, &c. pp. 404–406.
II. This subject ought not to be judged by the practical inconsistencies of individual advocates, however distinguished. This has been done in our own times. The names of certain prominent men were associated with a literal interpretation of prophecy, for a considerable time: and then, afterwards, when those men embraced erroneous doctrines, or at least contended for modes of expression, and proceeded into the wild extravagance of supposed miraculous inspiration, in support of this error, and so eventually added schism to heresy--the whole weight of the opprobrium so incurred, recoiled upon the study of unfulfilled prophecy, and many persons were deterred from the inquiry altogether, and others who had entered upon it, gave
it up, as though it were the inevitable precursor of some mischievous aberration.
The writer has been constrained to feel these things in deep bitterness of spirit; and he cannot look back upon the events of the last few years, without humbly adoring the rich unmerited mercy of a preserving God, by which a poor helpless sinner was enabled to detect the beginnings of error, and from that moment to resist the influence of associations long cherished; and at last, being compelled to the alternative, to break off all communication with men much beloved, rather than compromise his own convictions of the truth of God. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,” his watchful care, his restraining grace, his preserving power!
III. Man is a reasonable creature, and God deals with him as such. The great object, so far as man is concerned, of the truth revealed, is character to be produced. Sanctify them through thy truth, is the language of the great Intercessor, thy word is truth. But in order that truth may produce this transforming effect upon the character, it must be received as truth; really and cordially received; so that the heart can repose upon it with confidence as truth indeed. To require that any statement shall be felt to be practical before it is cordially believed to be true, is manifestly to subvert the order of cause and effect. The primary question is, what view of the subject is true? What is, indeed, revealed? What may I safely believe and trust in, so as afterwards to experience its practical influence?
“The coming of the Lord—the day of Christ-the day when the Son of man shall be revealed—the Lord himself shall descend from heaven—the Lord shall be King over all the earth -if we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him-we shall reign on the earth.” –Whatever may be the true meaning of these and similar expressions, it is certain that by them all watchfulness, sobriety, diligence, and universal devotedness to
God, are most urgently pressed upon the Church, in the Holy Scriptures.
In a work, for which I gladly avail myself of this opportunity to express my grateful acknowledgments to the learned Author, (a gratitude which I feel, in common, I am persuaded, with a large number of my Brethren in the ministry of the Church) Mr. Townsend, thus states the difference between the Jewish and the Christian expectation of a Messiah.
“You demand a temporal-we a spiritual deliverer. In this lies the difference between us. If a temporal Messiah is the object of the prophecies, he has not come; if a spiritual Messiah is to be expected, Jesus of Nazareth was the desire of nations!” He then further defines what he supposes the Jew to expect, under this title, a temporal Messiah. “In looking for a temporal Messiah, you anticipate a Being fit for earth alone. The Messiah whom we receive, was fit for earth, and for heaven. Your Messiah is a mere mortal, who must linger through his few years of feverish renown, 'pleased with this trifle still, as that before. Our's is an immortal; who came down from an invisible world, to elevate the whole human race, and restore them to communion with God. Your Messiah is expected to triumph, as a Cæsar or Napoleon, over the bodies of the slaughtered, amid the groans of the dying, and the tears of the widow and the orphan; our's shall mount to universal dominion by subduing the heart, and by changing the sword into the ploughshare, and banishing tears and grief for ever: Which is most glorious? Your's is compatible with all the lion passions of the heart: our's is only compatible with the conquest of self, with pure motives, and a holy life. Which is most worthy of an immortal—which yields most praise to God?"*
It is not my present purpose, to inquire how far this is an accurate representation of the opinions of such Jews (if there be any such) as believe Moses and the prophets. I quote the passage, because I apprehend that it expresses the difference which is very generally supposed to exist, between two classes of Christian interpreters—the spiritual, and the literal. In reference to the first Advent of the Messiah, there is no difference among Christian interpreters, in this respect. All understand the prophecies literally. But in reference to his second Advent, those who advocate a similarly literal interpretation, are too often spoken and written against, as if they anticipated a Being fit for this earth alone, in its present fallen state: a mere mortal conqueror like Cæsar or Napoleon, whose character is compatible with the indulgence of all the lion passions of the heart.
* Towsend's Arrangements of the New Testament. Edit. 3. Introduction -pp. lxxviii. and lxxiv.
Nothing, however, can be more remote from our anticipations. We do indeed expect a Messiah fit for earth; but it shall be that new earth which God hath promised, and wherein dwelleth righteousness. And we do believe that the new earth so promised, and so described, is not some other region in space, or some other planet created for the purpose; but this planet renewed: that is, restored from all the accursed consequences of the sin of the first Adam; and made the everlasting abode of that most glorious manifestation of God, which is given in the human nature of the second Adam, Jesus Christ our Lord, and in the members of his mystical body raised and transformed into his perfect likeness, both body and soul. We do, indeed, expect a conquering Messiah; and as the result of his conquests, we anticipate the fulfilment of that glorious prediction, The kingdoms of this world (for his kingdom will then be on earth) are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his anointed; and he shall reign for ever and ever.
“To maintain the contrary supposition, is surely to destroy the consistency of the scheme of Revelation, and to render void the most solemn declarations of Jehovah. If, according to the prevalent opinion, this material world be doomed to destruction, and not to renovation; if Christ shall come only as a mighty judge, to hold a last assize, to separate the righteous from the wicked, and then to annihilate the globe on which the career of guilt has been achieved, will not the bright promises of creative power to man be blighted and defaced?
Will not a boast of dreadful blasphemy console the host of hell; And when they mark the EARTH, encircled by the burning flame which now blazons forth its doom of death to higher abodes; and when they shall contrast the fearful scene with that quiet home of heavenly eulogy, in which the morning stars sang together, and the sons of GOD shouted for joy,' will they not rejoice in the strength of their misrule, and find a recompense for rebellion in the successful wreck of a fair and beauteous world?
“It may confirm the view here given of the future, to inquire into the nature of that felicity which our Lord himself has taught us to expect. It would be natural to suppose, that in the selection of blessings, which he condescended to make the subject of our prayers to God, the consummation of his own work of mercy would find a marked place. The supposition is consistent with the fact. He has concentrated a prayer for the completion of his own work, in the two remarkable ex
* Rev. xi. 15.
pressions, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on EARTH as in heaven.” If we lay aside the prepossessions of education, shall we refuse to admit that our Lord here bounds our view to this scene of earth? In heaven, that is, in the other regions of the universe of God, his will is already done: but here we are surrounded with a scene of rebellion, anarchy, and
Does he then teach us to pray for a translation from this unquiet land to another and distant orb? He puts no such request within our lips: he directs us to pray for the establishment of his kingdom, and this kingdom appears to belong exclusively to this material earth. Thy will be done in earth, as in heaven. Is not the inference twofold, first, that the earth is the theatre of his kingdom; and secondly, that conformity to his will is the absolute enjoyment of heaven? and that no loftier supplication can be associated with our thoughts, than that the hallowed sceptre should be replaced in human hands, even in the hand of the mighty Antitype, the second Adam, the Lord from heaven.'"
"I ask then the Christian reader, if it be not our duty to call away our minds from human opinions; from the influence even of great names; from popular belief, however ancient; from theories, however venerable; from the prescriptive applause of centuries; from the vague and indistinct ritual of education; and to take our firm, courageous, and patient stand upon the plain, grammatical, unwarped text of Scripture, the clear and lucid decisions of Eternal Wisdom and Truth.”
“That wondrous volume, the charter of human hope, the anchor of human faith, affords instruction definite, and expectations precise. Jesus Christ is linked to our world by ties less fragile than those which human theology has framed. Surely he will COME AGAIN, and exhibit those ties in all their beauty and in all their strength.”*
IV. The Jewish nation occupies a very distinguished feature in the history of the world; and it is no slight argument in favour of the literal interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy, that while that nation presents an unmanageable difficulty to others, it forms one of our strongholds. Some interpreters seem scarcely aware of the inconsistency they incur, by allowing a literal interpretation of the prophecies respecting the restoration of the Jews, while they refuse to admit a similarly literal interpretation of the prophecies, respecting the reappearance and reign of the King of the Jews; though they are interwoven in the same contexts, by the inspiring Spirit of truth. Mr.
* Prospects of the Christian Church, by the Hon. and Rev. G. T. Noel, pp. 24–27.