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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."*
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 intreat 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 shew, 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 sec
* Acts xxvi. 6, 7.
ond place I will shew, 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 Scrpiture 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 shewing, 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. though 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 everything 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 he 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 † Acts i, 6.
* Mark x. 35 to 40.
admitted themselves, and which they were to preach to
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.
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 from the Church. Accordingly, it is 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 † Ch. xi. 2, 3. Ch. xv.
* Acts x.
have heard that anti-christ 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, 66 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, "T-in which he refers to a prophecy of Daniel: nevertheless he declares that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work,"** and thus still inti* 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 Thes. ii. 2, 3. ** Ver. 7.
mates that the expected coming of the Lord was by no means 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 been 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.*
But surely, whoever should reflect a little upon this subject might easily see, that this manner of describing the second coming of the Lord is purely figurative and symbolic; that it is couched in the purely prophetic style
* 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 is conclusively established by what is advanced above, it may be expedient to adduce further unquestionable testimony for its confirmation.
It is to be observed, 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."
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.