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The author of the following dissertations respectfully bespeaks the reader's attention before he enters on their perusal. They are the substance of part of a series of lectures delivered during the winter of 1841–2 to the people of his charge, and are now given to the public in compliance with the desire expressed by many to have them in some visible and permanent form.
He is aware that he needs the reader's favor, so far at least as to dismiss the influence of preconceived opinions, and dispassionately to examine the subject presented in these pages. But he is satisfied, that the intrinsic merit of the subject, as well as its important bearing on personal interests, on Christian practice, on social welfare, and on the destinies of nations, will gain the reader's attention sufficiently to examine the evidence presented whether these things are so.
The great question which forms the nucleus of the whole discussion, is one, and very simple, viz. Is the kingdom of heaven a new dispensation, to be introduced on earth by the visible personal coming of Jesus Christ ? or has it been commenced, and is it now in the progress of its expansion, through the influence of moral and political causes, and especially the preaching of the gospel, designed in the providence of God to overcome human corruption, to prostrate every system of superstition, idolatry, and oppression, and to mould society, to control the legislation, to effect changes in the organic laws or constitutions of nations, and to restore to the world the dominion of truth, peace, and righteousness, without any accession of miracu'ous agency? The statesmen and politicians of the day will reason and speculate, intrigue and plan, and think that they descry, in the march of improvement, the increase of light, and the very posture of nations, the pledges that earth shall be redeemed, and liberty, virtue, science, and in. telligence bless the human race. The experience of the past presents but a sad, sad retrospect; and little, very little to afford a ground of hope for the future. What right have we to conclude, that as a people we have attained to superior knowledge and purity, and possess such superior skill in selfgovernment, and such perfect social and political institutions, that we must certainly escape the disasters and ruin which have befallen the highly civilized and refined nations of antiquity. It is the dictate of wisdom to suspect the suggestions of self-flattery when they thus come athwart the experience of the world. Nor should we be blind to the numerous proofs apparent, that some cementing and consolidating principles are yet wanting to give permanence and perpetuity to our institutions.
The Christian will betake himself to the word of God as to his guide, when he attempts to forecast the political destinies of the nations of the earth. No book can be found so full of general politics, so replete with valuable instruction, and so essential to the right understanding of the means, securities, and very elements of national prosperity, as the Bible. It unravels a thousand perplexing mysteries in human government, and gives a clue to the profitable study and practical uses to be made of the great principles which mark the providence of God, and the development of the plans of Heaven. It is of infinite importance to him, that he should be familiar with this blessed Book, and have drunk deep of its spirit. Erroneous views entertained with regard to the general scheme of God's providence, will not, and cannot fail to leave us ever at fault in understanding its particular evolutions.
The writer of these dissertations looks to the word of prophecy” as to the best and safest guide for our researches into the future. God, who sees the end from the beginning, and has laid his wise and holy plans in full view of all contingencies, and of all the various events that might arise, is prepared for every exigency, and has apprised us of the great crises which shall occur, as he unfolds his wondrous scheme. Nor has he left us without sufficient means of knowing and judging what is the grand design towards which all his movements tend, and what shall be the great and glorious result in which they shall all ultimate. That, it will be admitted, by every student of the Bible, is THE COMING AND KINGDOM OF JESUS CHRIST. The first promise implied in the threat against the serpent, brings it into view; and the successive promises and dispensations of God have but enlarged, defined, and eclaircised the Christian's legitimate hopes and expectations.
These things will scarcely be denied by any professed believer in the truth and authority of the Sacred Scriptures. Yet great is the difference in the results which flow from the use and application of them. According as the church of God, considered as a spiritual society, visibly organized in this world, and destined to ascendant influence, may be regarded, will men's views of the divine plans and providence take their character, and their estimate of divine procedures affecting it, be made. If we believe that the world is to be converted and blessed by the expansion of the church, and the gradual diffusion of her light, and means of moral influence:—if, in other words, the Gospel is destined to find its consummation entirely through the action of secondary causes, and the moral means, and social and spiritual influences, at present possessed, it is easy to perceive, that our ideas of the second coming of Christ, and of the great results designed by that Gospel, will and must be essentially different from what they would be, were we persuaded, that that coming is as literally to occur as did this first, and the present to be superseded by, and find its consummation in, a new and glorious state of things, as miraculously to be introduced as have been any and all the dispensations of his grace before it.
Whether that long-predicted and expected coming of Jesus Christ, and of the kingdom of Heaven, are matters of literal verity, according to the grammatical import of the expressions, or analogically to be understood, and therefore to be interpreted altogether figuratively or spiritually, is a question of deep and wonderful bearing: nor is it to be slighted and sneered at, by any one professing to love and reverence the sacred oracles of God. It is vital to all our hopes, and forms
APPRISED OF THE CHANGE.
the very warp and woof of all the scriptural revelations on the subject. It must be met; and will be candidly examined by every man who loves the truth, and is unwilling to be swayed by the dogmas of others. The decision, we contend, must be had from the word of God itself. It seems reasonable, and is the very dictate of all simple and unsophisticated minds, that the ideas of those who indicted the Scriptures,their notions of the things of which they wrote and spoke, and their rules and principles of interpretation,-should be respected by us. We are not at liberty to assign different meanings to their words, and to understand them as teaching things of which they had no conception. Nor are we to take any part of their writings, and apply them to scenes and events which we may have excogitated, and pass it off as their description. The same authority which dictated the oracles, in the first instance, must be appealed to, as interpreter of their meaning. If words have changed their import, and A SPIRITUAL or analogical system has superseded A LITERAL, WE MUST BE DISTINCTLY
It is easy for us to excogitate for ourselves an import of expressions which shall eviscerate the sacred oracles.
This, it is thought, by some excellent and beloved brethren, is what the millenarian has done; while he, in his turn, believes that the spiritualist is the aggressor here. The most common and plausible objection against the millenarians' literal interpretation of prophecy, grows out of an assumption of certain things, which must be PROVED, before they can be employed as the key to unlock its meaning. The conversion of the world, by means of present appliances and instrumentalities, increased in number and power,—and the universal and ascendant influence of Christianity, as a system of moral and religious truth, at present known and understood amid discordant philosophical and ecclesiastical sects, and expounded by different theologians and metaphysicians--are points assumed, from which motives to exertion are drawn, and attempts made to urge the Christian community forward in Ceeds of Missionary daring and benevolent activity. Too much activity and benevolent expenditure cannot be made, for the accomplishment of the great end, which God designs by his
Gospel. Nor should we ever look indifferently on, or willingly and unnecessarily throw away, the motives by which the Christian church may be stimulated to action, in obedience to the command of Jesus Christ, to go and “teach all nations," to evangelize all nations, and to preach his Gospel to every creature.
But it certainly may be suggested, and is worthy of the gravest consideration, whether we may not appeal to and employ a class of motives, which neither the word nor providence of God will justify. The hope of success, it is correctly urged by Mr. Harris,* is an essential element of activity, and if this be gone, and we are to believe that the world is not to be evangelized by the noiseless and gradually augmented instrumentality of the Christian church, accompanied by the energizing influence of the Holy Spirit, at least one powerful class of motives will be rendered unavailable or inoperative. He has made an issue between those who believe in the instrumentality of man, as designed of God, for the conversion of the world, and for the consummation of the Gospel scheme, and of those whose views in prophecy lead them to look for a fearful and solemn crisis, to be signalized by the personal coming of Jesus Christ for the introduction and establishment of his kingdom, on the ruins of existing nations hostile to his supremacy. He admits, that many, who adopt the latter view, are not only friendly to Missionary enterprise, but profess to derive from it motives to increased diligence in the cause of God : and he bears very honorable testimony to their piety, and to the fact, that some of them “number among the liberal and active supporters of our religious institutions.” But he allows himself,-certainly by no means conformably with the Christian rule, or the Christian spirit,—to SUSPECT that
of such instances, we are indebted for what they do, rather to the very natural desire of recommending their peculiar views to others, than to the views themselves,—that their conduct is in this respect better than their creed,—that it is the triumph of their piety over their opinions,”—and that whatever of Missionary zeal and benevolent activity they now evince, is to be referred rather to the influence of principles
* See his Great Commission, p. 135.