Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

the rather, that being imputed to Paul, it was utterly subversive of his apostolical character and inspiration. The state, therefore, of the Thessalonians was no sooner made known to the apostle, than he wrote to them this second epistle: in which, as in the former, Silas and Timothy joined him, to shew that they were of the same sentiments with him concerning that momentous affair.

The foregoing account of the occasion and design of writing the second epistle to the Thessalonians, is taken from chap. ii. 1. where the apostle besought the Thessalonians, with relation to the coming of Christ, and their gathering together around him (described in his former epistle, chap. iv. 14—18.), not to give the least heed to any teacher, pretending to a revelation of the Spirit, who affirmed that the day of Christ was at hand; or who brought any verbal message or letter to that purpose, as from him. The whole was a falsehood, wickedly framed. And to convince them that it was a falsehood, he assured them in the most express terms, that before the day of the Lord there will be a great apostasy in the church; that the man of sin is to be revealed; that he will oppose and exalt himself above every one who is called God, or who is an object of worship; and that he will sit, or continue a long time, in the church, as God. Then he put this question to the Thessalonians, ver. 5. Do ye not remember, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things? So that if they had recollected the apostle's discourses, they would easily have perceived the falsehood of the things, which the deceivers pretended to inculcate as a message from him. -The chief design, therefore, of this epistle, was to convince the Thessalonians, that the apostle and his assistants did not entertain the opinion imputed to them, that the coming of the Lord and the day of judgment were to happen in their lifetime: and to foretell the rise and progress of the mystery of iniquity, together with the coming and destruction of the Man of Sin; that the faithful, being forewarned, might not be surprised at these events, when they took place in the church.

SECTION II.

Of the Time and Place of writing the second Epistle to the Thessalonians.

Paul's second epistle to the Thessalonians is thought, by the best critics and chronologers, to have been written fron. Corinth, during his first abode in that city. For the error it was designed

to correct, being of a most pernicious nature, as shall be shewed immediately, and requiring a speedy remedy, it is natural to suppose the apostle would write it as soon as possible, after the messenger who carried his former letter returned, and gave him an account of the disorders which prevailed among the Thessalonians.—That the apostle wrote this second letter not long after the first, seems probable for this reason also, that Timothy and Silvanus, who joined him in his first letter, were still with him, and joined him in the second. And seeing in this epistle he desired the brethren to pray that he might be delivered from brutish and wicked men, chap. ii. 2. it is probable he wrote it soon after the insurrection of the Jews at Corinth, in which they dragged him before Gallio the proconsul of Achaią, and accused him of persuading men to worship God contrary to the law, Acts xviii. 13. It seems the ignorance and rage of the unbelieving Jews had made such an impression upon the apostle's mind, that he was afraid of encountering them again : and therefore he begged the Thessalonians to pray that God would deliver him from all such furious bigots, who, though they professed to believe in the true God, shewed, by their actions, that they were destitute of every good principle whatsoever.—This epistle, therefore, being written at Corinth, soon after the former, we cannot be much mistaken in supposing that it was dated A. D. 52. in the end of the twelfth, or in the beginning of the thirteenth year of the reign of Claudius, the successor of Caius.

On supposition that this is the true date of the epistle, Grotius, who makes the Emperor Caius the man of sin, and Simon Magus the wicked one, whose coming is foretold, 2 Th. ii. hath fallen into a gross error; as hath Hammond likewise, who makes Simon Magus the man of sin and the wicked one. From the history of the Acts we know, that Simon had of a' long time bewitched the Samaritans with his sorceries, when Philip preached the gospel to them. After leaving Samaria he went, according to Grotius and Hammond, to Rome, and was honoured as a god, in the beginning of the reign of Claudius. Now, seeing in the second epistle to the Thessalonians, which was written in the end of the reign of Claudius, the revelation of the man of sin is spoken of as an event to happen in some future period, it is plain that neither Caius, who was then dead, nor Simon, who is said to have revealed himself at Rome, as a god, in the beginning of the reign of Claudius, can be, the man of sin, and wicked one, whose coming and revelation arc foretold in that cpistle.

SECTION III.

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 mat. ters 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 shewinghimself 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 cpistle, which have been thought to imply that Paul believed the day of judgment at hand, we have shewed in note l. on 1 Thess. iv. 15. that they are inere 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.

SECTION IV.

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. Isa. 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

« ZurückWeiter »