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Shewing that none of the Apostles believed the Day of Judgment was to happen in their Lifetime.
Grotius, Locke, and others, have affirmed, that the apostles of Christ believed the end of the world was to happen in their time; and that they have declared this to be their belief in various passages of their epistles. But these learned men, and all who join them in that opinion, have fallen into a most pernicious error. For thereby they destroy the authority of the gospel revelation, at least so far as it is contained in the discourses and writings of the apostles; because if they have erred in a matter of such importance, and which they affirm was revealed to them by Christ, they may have been mistaken in other matters also, where their inspiration is not more strongly asserted by them than in this instance. In imputing this mistake to the apostles, the deists have heartily joined the learned men above mentioned; because a mistake of this sort effectually overthrows the apostle's pretensions to inspiration. It is therefore necessary to clear them from so injurious an imputation.
And, first, with respect to Paul, who was an apostle of Christ, and Silvanus, who was a prophet and chief man among the brethren, and Timothy, who was eminent for his spiritual gifts, I observe, that the epistle under our consideration, affords the clearest proof that these men knew the truth concerning the coming of Christ to judge the world. For in it they expressly assured the Thessalonians, That the persons who made them believe the day of judgment was at hand, were deceiving them: That before the day of judgment, there was to be a great apostasy in religion, occasioned by the man of sin, who at that time was restrained from shewing himself, but who was to be revealed in his season: That when revealed, he will sit, that is, remain a long time, in the church of God, as God, and shewing himself that he is God: And that afterwards he is to be destroyed. Now as these events could not be accomplished in the course of a few years, the persons who foretold, that they were to happen before the coming of Christ, certainly did not think the day of judgment would be in their lifetime. And, as for the expressions in the former epistle, which have been thought to imply that Paul believed the day of judgment at hand, we have shewed in note 1. on 1 Thess. iv. 15. that they are mere rhetorical forms of expression, which ought not to have
been made the foundation of a doctrine of this magnitude. Besides, St. Paul, Rom. xi. 23.-36. by a long chain of reasoning having shewed, that after the general conversion of the Gentiles, the Jews in a body are to be brought into the Christian church, can any person be so absurd as to persevere in maintaining, that this apostle believed the end of the world would happen in his own lifetime?
Next, with respect to the apostle Peter, I think it plain, from the manner in which he hath spoken of the coming of Christ, that he knew it was at a great distance; 2 Pet. iii. 3. Knowing this first, that scoffers will come in the last of the days, walking after their own lusts: 4. And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For from the time the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as at the beginning of the creation. 8. But this one thing, let it not escape you, beloved, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9. The Lord who hath promised, doth not delay, in the manner some account delaying. Now, seeing Peter hath here foretold, that in the last age, the wicked will mock at the promise of Christ's coming, on account of its being long delayed; and from the stability and regularity of the course of nature, during so many ages, will argue that there is no probability that the world will ever come to an end; it is evident that he also knew the coming of Christ to judgment was at a very great distance, at the time he wrote that epistle.
The same may be said of James. For in the hearing of the apostles, elders, and brethren, assembled in the council of Jerusalem, he quoted passages from the Jewish prophets, to shew, that all the Gentiles were, in some future period, to seek after the Lord, Acts xv. 17. But if James looked for the general conversion of the Gentiles, he certainly could not imagine the end of the world would happen in his time.
Lastly the apostle John, in his book of the Revelation, having foretold a great variety of important events, respecting the political and religious state of the world, which could not be accomplished in a few years, but required a series of ages to give them birth, there cannot be the least doubt that he likewise knew the truth concerning his master's second coming. And therefore, to suppose that he imagined the day of judgment was to happen in his own lifetime, is a palpable mistake.
Upon the whole, seeing the apostles, and other inspired teachers of our religion, certainly knew that the coming of Christ to judgment was at a great distance, every impartial person
must be sensible they have been much injured, not by the enemies of revelation alone, but by some of its friends; who, upon the strength of certain expressions, the meaning of which they evidently misunderstood, have endeavoured to persuade the world, that the apostles ignorantly believed the day of judgment was at hand. These expressions may all be applied to other events, as shall be shewed in the next section; and therefore they ought to be so applied; because candour requires that sense to be put on an author's words, which renders him most consistent with himself.
Different Comings of Christ are spoken of in the New Testament.
In this Article I propose to shew, that there are other comings of Christ spoken of in scripture, besides his coming to judgment; and that there are other things besides this mundane, system, whose end is there foretold: and that it is of these other matters the apostles speak, when they represent the day of their master, and the end of all things, as at hand.
1. First then, in the prophetic writings of the Jews, (2 Sam. xxii. 10.-12. Psal. xcvii. 2.-5. Isá. xix. 1.) great exertions of the divine power, whether for the salvation or destruction of nations, are called the coming, the appearing, the presence of God. Hence it was natural for the apostles, who were Jews, to call any signal and evident interposition of Christ, as governor of the world, for the accomplishment of his purposes, his coming, and his day. Accordingly, those exertions of his power and providence, whereby he destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, abrogated the Mosaic institutions, and established the gospel, are called by the apostles, his coming and day: not only in allusion to the ancient prophetic language, but because Christ himself, in his prophecy concerning these events, recorded Matt. xxiv. hath termed them the coming of the Son of Man, in allusion to the following prophecy of Daniel, of which his own prophecy is an explication; Dan. vii. 13. I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days. And they brought him near before him. 14. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him! His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. This prophecy, the Jewish doctors with one consent interpreted of their
Messiah, and of that temporal kingdom which they expected was to be given him. Farther, they supposed he would erect that temporal kingdom by great and visible exertions of his power, for the destruction of his enemies. But they little suspected, that themselves were of the number of those enemies whom he was to destroy; and that his kingdom was to be established upon the ruin of their state. Yet, that was the true meaning of the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven. For while the Jewish nation continued in Judea, and observed the institutions of Moses, they violently opposed the preaching of the gospel, by which Messiah was to reign over all people, nations, and languages. Wherefore, that the everlasting kingdom might be effectually established, it was necessary that Jerusalem and the Jewish state should be destroyed by the Roman armies. Now, since our Lord foretold this sad catastrophe, in the words of the prophet Daniel, Matt. xxiv. 30. And they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory; and, after describing every particular of it with the greatest exactness, secing he told his disciples, ver. 34. This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled; can there be any doubt that the apostles (who, when they wrote their epistles, certainly understood the true import of this prophecy,) by their master's coming, and by the end of all things, which they represent as at hand, meant his coming to destroy Jerusalem, and to put an end to the institutions of Moses? It is no objection to this, that when the apostles heard Christ declare, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down, they connected the end of the world, or age, with that event. Matt. xxiv. 3. Tell us when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming, nas ouvreλelas 78 diavos, and of the end of the age. For, as the Jewish doctors divided the duration of the world into three ages; the age before the law, the age under the law, and the age of the Messiah; the apostles knew that the age under the law was to end when the age under Messiah began. And therefore, by the end of the age, they meant, even at that time, not the end of the world, but the end of the age under the law, in which the Jews had been greatly oppressed by the heathens. And although they did not then understand the purpose for which their master was to come, nor the true nature of his kingdom, nor suspect that he was to make any change in the institutions of Moses; yet when they wrote their epistles, being illuminated by the Holy Ghost, they certainly knew that the
institutions of Moses were to be abolished, and that their master's kingdom was not a temporal, but a spiritual dominion, in which all people, nations, and languages, were to be governed, not by external force, but by the operation of truth upon their minds, through the preaching of the gospel.
Farther, that the apostles, by the coming of Christ, which they represented as at hand when they wrote their epistles, meant his coming to establish his spiritual kingdom over all people, nations, and languages, and not his coming to put an end to this mundane system, is evident from what Christ himself told them, Matt. xvi. 28. There be some standing here, who shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. And, agreeably to this account of the coming of Christ, and of the end of all things, I observe, that every passage of their epistles, in which the apostles have spoken of these things as at hand, may, with the greatest propriety, be interpreted of Christ's coming to establish his everlasting kingdom over all people, nations, and languages, by destroying Jerusalem, putting an end to the law of Moses, and spreading the gospel through the world. Thus, 1 Cor. x. 11. These things are written for our admonition, upon whom tyλn Tay alwvwv, the ends of the ages are come, means, the end of the age under the law, and the beginning of the age under the Messiah.-Philip. iv. 5. Let your moderation be known to all men: the Lord is nigh; namely, to destroy the Jews, your greatest adversaries.-Heb. ix. 26. But now, once επι συντέλεια των αιώνων, at the conclusion of the ages, the Jewish Jubilees, he hath been manifested to abolish sin-offering by the sacrifice of himself.—Heb. x. 25. Exhorting one another daily, and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching: the day of Christ's coming to destroy Jerusalem and the Jewish state.Ver. 37. For yet a very little while, and he who is coming will come, and will not tarry.—James v. 7. Wherefore, be patient, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.-Ver. 8. Be ye also patient: strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord to destroy the Jews, your persecutors, draweth nigh.-Ver. 9. Behold, the Judge standeth before the door.-1 Pet. iv. 7. The end of all things, the end of Jerusalem and of the temple, and of all the Mosaic institutions, hath approached. Be ye therefore, sober, and watch unto prayer. John ii. 18. Young children, it is the last hour of the Jewish state; and, as ye have heard from Christ, in his prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, that the antichrist cometh, so now there are many antichrists; whence we know that it is the last hour of the Jewish state,