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If we enquire who they are that are called God, it immediately, occurs, that the expression cannot so properly denote God himself as the vicegerents of God; those who are called by his name. And who are they? The Scripture itself will answer us : I have said, ye are gods; which words are spoken of princes and rulers ; as it is also said in the law (Exod. xxii. 28.) thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people; where the latter clause is but explanatory of the for
The reason of this is plain ; rulers are called God, because they act under him, and execute his laws by his own authority. The question therefore is partly answered: they that are called God are kings and rulers. Our blessed Saviour himself tells us who they are in the New Testament-He called them gods, to whom the word of God came. John X. 35. The name of God, therefore, is plainly given to men, on account of their office and commission under the word of God, whether they be princes, prophets or, priests; because they act in God's stead with respect to mankind. Our Saviour, therefore, even in his human capacity, had a right to be called God, in virtue of his commission; and this seems to have been the intention of his
argument with the Jews, as an argumentum ad homines, taken from the words of their own law.
We shall obtain some farther light into the character of the man of sin, if we go on with the apostle's account of him. The subject, it appears, had been mentioned to the disciples before, and privately expounded to them; for, says he, ye know what withholdeth, that he might be revealed in his time ; for the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now letteth, will let, till he be taken out of the way; and then shall that reicked one be revealed whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of his coming. This part of the description informs us, first, that the man
of sin, and that mystery of iniquity which worketh for the producing of the character, was even then in the, world, and would have broken out; but that, secondly, there was some restraining power, which served as a let or hinderance, to keep it down; till the time should come, when it should rise up in its true shape, and be fully displayed to the world. And, lastly, as it is to be destroyed by the actual presence of the Lord in judgment, it must be the last form of sin, or power of iniquity, that shall appear in the world. It may be worth distinguishing here, though I would build no, thing upon it, that the word for wicked one is (not cornpos but avoue@], lawless ; as casting out, and res nouncing all authority of law, as well human as divine.
What has been said amounts to this : that, in the last
age of the world, before the coming of Christ, there should be an actual apostacy, or departure from the Christian faith and worship: that the sinful nature of man, rising up against the powers of religion and government, which had restrained it for so many ages, should break loose, and take a form of iniquity, such as may properly be called a new revelation of sin, which the world had never seen before. More particularly, that this form of sin should exalt itself against the authority of God in his ministers, whether civil or religious: that it should even seize upon the temple of God, and convert it into the temple of man; that it should exclude God, and make a God of itself, claiming the honours of divine worship. That this spirit of disobedience had always been at work; but that there was a power which hindered it from shewing itself to the world, till the proper season; when that restraining power should no longer operate, but be taken out of the way, either by the violence of man, or the just judgment of God, or by the one co-operating with the other. And finally, that this is the last and most desperate state of sin, on which Christ himself shall come to take vengeance, when its measure (of which he is the only proper judge) shall be filled up. Then shall this wicked one, whose sin is the same with that of Lucifer, the rival of the Most High ; and of Corah, who exalteth himself against the authority of God in his ministers Moses and Aaron, the king and the priest ; perish as they did. Satan was cast down, and the flames of heaven followed bim.' The fire of the Lord came forth, to destroy Corah and his company: and after the like form shall judgment be taken on this man of sin ; who is to be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power, when he shall be revealed in flaming fire.
I will not omit, though it be scarcely necessary to observe after what has been said, that, in detecting the man of sin, we may use the same method as John the Baptist did for discovering the true Messiah, “when he sent his disciples with this question, Art thou he that should comè, or look we for another ? The messengers in this case were bidden to observe, what was done by Jesus Christ, and were assured, that Joho would thence know for certain, who he'was that did it: the works of salvation would infallibly point out the Saviour. So if we are inquiring after the man of sin, let us but observe what he does, and we shall be sure who he is. Thus for example; if instead of the sacred right of government, we find the sacred right of insurrection ; instead of God only wise, the wisdom of man deified and adored in the temple of God; instead of the liberty of serving God, which is the only true freedom, the liberty of disobeying him;
instead of that justice and mercy, in which only man can be like to God; the power of death, the delight of the devil, wantonly exercising itself in destroying men's lives; instead of laws for securing property, rapine and sacrilege laying every thing waste; we desire to know, what the true man of sin, whoever he is to be, and whenever he is to come, can do more? If there could be such a thing as an actual incarnation of the prince of the infernal regions, it does not appear what he could do worse. He might perhaps display greater acts of power, as being an angel that excels in strength; but he could not commit greater acts of sin: For, what sins do we know of beyond rebellion, sacrilege, murder, and blasphemy? two of which are more than Lucifer was guilty of when he was cast out of heaven.
Little did we think, twenty years ago, that we should live to see these things fulfilled so nearly as they have been; and in shewing this, I shall have no occasion to invent or to exaggerate : the facts are such as will speak for themselves; and there is scarcely a person here present, who could not say to me what I am about to say to him. We all know, that in the neighbouring country, a direct apostacy hath taken effect. The Christian religion hath been renounced ; not negatively, through corruption of manners, or neglect of truth; but positively, publicly, and in solemn form. The restraining power of government, and the obligą. tions of law, have not been interrupted and defied, in the fury of tumultuous agitation, but absolutely taken out of the way and abolished. The will of a wicked nation hath been admitted as the only sovereiga law now to be obeyed : and while the Gospel teaches, that there is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy, we see a portentous company risen up, who
take to themselves the sublime denomination of legislators ; not under the authority of God, but in their own right; exclusive of his legislation, and in opposition to his power. And, that nothing may be wanting to the fulfilling of the prophecy, even in the letter, the churches have been shut up from the worship of God, and opened to admit the worship of reason ; an idol unknown to the temples of Pagan antiquity. And what is the reason here intended ? It is the reason of man; that is, of the philosopher or the plow-inan; for the one is as much a man as the other; and where all are equal, as good a man. And what is the reason of man, but the mind of man! And what is the mind of man, but man himself; who now, as God, is actually seated in the temple of God to be worshipped. This is what the wisest man living could not have suspected some years ago; and what the most incredulous man cannot now deny: it is published and gloried in before the face of all people: the publication of Christianity itself was not more notorious. Government hath been murdered in the person of their prince; sin and blasphemy of every kind, like wild beasts that have broken their chains, have over-ran the country. No law subsists : the will of sinful man, or of the man of sin, is a law unto itself; and as the apostle once said, that the law was the strength of sin; so now it may be said, the strength of sin is the law; and there is no other. It is a law, which doth not punish robbery, but ordains it: a law, which doth not protect or save men's lives, but destroys them: and, if it had power according to its will, would not leave one honest man upon the earth. And hereby the man of sin proves himself to be, what the apostle calls him, the son of perdition ; that is, the son of the destroyer, whose name is Apollyon;