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THE following Lectures were originally delivered in London. My leading object in their composition was to make intelligible to large mixed congregations, a subject which I considered of great importance, and which I believed to be very rarely made the theme of popular discourse from the pulpit.
That subject is the purpose of God concerning the Jewish nation, as it is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. In examining this, my chief auxiliary has been the decision which history has already pronounced upon the right interpretation of prophetic language; and in my anticipations of the future, all I assume is, that the species of interpretation which events have rendered imperative, as it respects fulfilled prophecies, ought to be adhered to, with consistency and candour, in the examination of those prophecies which are as yet unfulfilled.
The language of the prophets is often, almost always, figurative in some degree: but the events predicted are not the less on that account literal events. When the Holy Ghost spake by the mouth of Zechariah, saying, Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered, the language was figurative, our Lord not being literally a shepherd, neither his disciples sheep. But the event predicted in that figurative language was a literal event; and to the matter of fact, as it occurred in Gethsemane, the prophecy is applied by St. Matthew xxvi. 31. It is, therefore, no objection to the literal interpretation which I advocate, to say that the prophetic language is figurative. I admit that it is so-sometimes highly so. The question is, What do the figures mean? Do they mean other figures, or do they mean facts? My opinion is, that facts are the legitimate themes of prophecy. I appeal to history, comparing it with the prophetic volume, for the establishment of a principle by precedents; and I endeavour to convince by candid argumentation. I dogmatize not at all. I am open to conviction, when a more excellent way of interpreting the language of the
prophets shall be pointed out. But I must be permitted to say to some of my esteemed Brethren, who have opposed the interpretation here offered, without themselves offering any other; that a simple denial without reasons assigned, or the true interpretation given to supersede the false, cannot in fairness be expected to have any weight of conviction. I have heard such denials frequently, but in vain. I have heard them accompanied with much persuasive eloquence, with many tender and affectionate appeals, sometimes with ill-dissembled personal mortification, but all in vain. I do not mean to imply that the system of interpretation which I advocate, is divested of all difficulty. Far otherwise: but I protest against such a criterion of truth being set up. Nothing that deserves the name of interpretation is, or can be, free from difficulty. Our decision must be made between measures and degrees of embarrassment. It is comparatively easy to urge objections against any system, when it is tangibly propounded.
The nature of the difficulties incurred, ought, however, in sound reason, to be taken into chief consideration. Now, it appears to me, that our chief embarrassments arise, not from finding any passages of Holy Scripture, in the obvious meaning of the language, contradicted by our scheme; but from a lack of more revelation, to explain to us how these things can be, and thereby to supply us with answers to curious (sometimes captious) questions: whereas, the spiritualising scheme has to encounter the direct grammatical contradiction of revelation given.
It is one thing to anticipate the facts predicted, according to the literal meaning of the same words, when used in other books, or in other places of the same books, acknowledging our ignorance as to the mode of accomplishment, because that mode is not revealed: and it is quite another thing, to put a different meaning on the same words, in different places of the same sentence, in order that the mode of accomplishment may be thereby rendered intelligible.
I had rather avow my inability to answer the question "How can that be?"-in a thousand instances, than put an evasive interpretation upon a single verse of the word of God.
When our Brethren shall cease to beat the air in refutation of what we never advanced; when they shall see the absurdity of prejudging the question, by good-natured lamentations over our sad, sad delusion; and when they shall gird up their loins to the work in good earnest, betake themselves to study the subject patiently in detail, and produce grave and solid arguments, not negatively alone, in opposition to an erroneous system of interpretation, but positively also, in support and
confirmation of a genuine system; I repeat, I am open to conviction, and shall, in all sincerity, rejoice to be instructed. I protest, with all my soul, against the idea of any man supposing that he knows enough, and thereupon refusing to inquire into the depths of revealed truth, on the plea of dangerous. novelty, or non-essential speculation. Additional instruction in the meaning of the Scriptures, is growth in the knowledge of God; and in that knowledge, it is my desire and hope that I shall increase, not only during this life present, but throughout eternity.
Since these Lectures were delivered, many extremely interesting points of doctrine have engaged the attention of the churches in this kingdom; and an attempt has been made to identify, with prophetic investigation, those opinions which are considered heterodox in themselves, and dangerous in their tendencies. The unfairness of such an attempt will be manifest to every man who is acquainted with the subject, and who possesses sufficient candour for the exercise of discrimination. Yet, notwithstanding its unfairness, it has succeeded in strengthening existing prejudices, and exciting conscientious alarms. Discrimination is indispensable to the acquirement of true wisdom. It is foreign to my present purpose to examine in detail the doctrines referred to. But the manner in which the present revived discussion of those doctrines stands connected with the study of prophecy is sufficiently remarkable; and exhibits, in its true light, one of the many recommendations of that study.
All truth is linked together in one harmonious chain: an accurate investigation, therefore, of any one point, in all its bearings, is invariably connected with such a clearing up of collateral points, that existing error is detected, and unlookedfor controversy thereby elicited. To the study of prophecy, we are thus indirectly indebted for the re-examination of many important doctrines which had been allowed to fall into comparative neglect. And whatever may be said (and too truly said) about the acrimonious spirit in which religious controversy is usually conducted, still it is a recognised fact, that the most prosperous times of the church have been times of controversy. In this deadening world we have much more to fear, as Christians, from stagnation, than from storms. Indifference at heart to the distinguishing peculiarities of vital truth, concealed beneath a superficial bustle about outwardly useful things, is far from a prosperous state. The ease, and harmony, and seeming unanimity engendered by it, are fatal symptoms of a growing, though disclaimed, latitudinarianism. An intruder upon the fascinating spell is condemned as an enemy to
peace. And since the bond of its union is not the depth of truth, the man who presses forward any deep truth, whatever his particular view of it may be, is deemed an intruder: not in reference to what he says, for that is not carefully examined; but in reference to his saying any thing which every body does not say. It would not, indeed, sound well to bring the real accusation against him-to wit, that he is a searcher into more of the truth of God than is usually brought forward; and that he proclaims what he knows with the boldness of honest enthusiasm, "uncaring consequences;"-this were an honourable charge: it suits better with the temper of the times to charge him with a breach of love, a want of brotherly kindness, a harsh, Ishmaelitish spirit.
But what shall a Christian man say of that love which extends its wide, indiscriminating embrace, not only to Christians of various denominations, but also to antichristians: to men who deny the Godhead, and reject the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, and deride as fanaticism the inspiration of the Holy Ghost? When attempts are made to limit the operation of Christian love within the narrow circle of any one favourite class, it becomes a Christian man to protest against the bigotry of such a limitation: but when, on the other side, this boasted love enlarges itself beyond all Christian classes, and calling itself universal charity, or religious liberty, gives the right hand of fellowship to the enemies of the cross of Christ, it equally becomes a Christian man to protest against the foul abuse; yea, to lift up his voice like a trumpet, and bear witness against the infidel amalgamation.
Ye who profess submission to the Bible, do ye not hear the Bible? Ye who combine for the distribution of the Bible, do ye not read the Bible? For it is written, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was WITH GOD, and THE WORD WAS GOD. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father. Whosoever abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds. A professedly religious union between members of the church of Christ and avowed Socinians (such as we see formed and boasted of as a signal triumph of this enlightened age) is a virtual denial of the Gospel of our salvation, and a high offence against God. I repeat,
a professedly religious union; because every man is at full liberty to join his fellows in the furtherance of secular objects, without any reference to their religious opinions. Whatsoever, saith the Apostle, is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake. The seller might be a heathen, a sacrificer to idols. The Christian purchaser need not inquire: religion was in no way involved. But when the ostensible object of a combination among men is declared to be religious, and when the leading theme of proud congratulation is the liberality on every side, which thus delightfully combines; the state of the case is wholly altered. If any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, EAT NOT. How can conscientious Socinians combine in anything connected with religion with us, whom they must abhor as abominable idolaters? That is, if they have zeal and faith sufficient to rise into the dignity of abhorrence: for, it should be remembered, that indifference and indecision are frequently the real roots of apparent meekness.
I deny not, that the defenders of Christian truth are often betrayed into unchristian tempers; that the sons of Zebedee, in their indignation at the ill treatment received by their Master, forgot what manner of spirit they are of themselves. Meanwhile, however, they are his instruments for keeping prominent and pure those fountains of living water, at which their brethren drink and are satisfied. Athanasius is raised up in defence of the doctrine of the Trinity. In the performance of his work, he loses the serenity and self-possession of Christian meekness, and writes with unchristian acrimony against Arius. Meanwhile, he guards from insidious adulteration that bread from heaven, upon which thousands of Christians have fed daily for centuries: he vindicates the glorious truth, that in one God, essentially and immutably One, there are three co-equal and co-eternal Persons; that cardinal truth of the Catholic faith, "which faith, except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly."
I say not this to justify, or in the slightest degree to palliate, unchristian tempers. God forbid! But I observe it in devout meditation upon the hand that rules the storm; and I write it to allay, in some measure (if the Lord will), the petty clamours which are raised against those men of God, who in all sincerity, though encompassed with our common infirmity, are doing the work of our heavenly Father.
With respect to the spirit in which the present volume is written, I have only to say, that my design has been to avoid any approach to either of two extremes. On the one side, I detest that whining affectation of tenderness, which libels while