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nant of Israel is to be brought back; the elect of God to be gathered from the four winds of heaven. And when the apostles speak of that event as at hand, which is to close this great scheme of Providence-a scheme in its parts so extensive and so various—they mean to intimate how busily the great work is going on, and with what confidence, from what they saw accomplished in their own days, the first Christians might expect in due time the promised consummation.
That they are to be thus understood may be collected from our Lord's own parable of the fig-tree, and the application which he teaches us to make of it. After a minute prediction of the distresses of the Jewish war, and the destruction of Jerusalem, and a very general mention of his second coming, as a thing to follow in its appointed season, he adds, “ Now learn a parable of the fig-tree: When its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, ye know that summer is nigh. So likewise
ye, shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors." That it is near; so we read in our English Bibles; and expositors render the word it, by the ruin foretold, or the desolation spoken of. But what was the ruin foretold, or desolation spoken of? The ruin of the Jewish nation--the desolation of Jerusalem. What were all these things, which, when they should see, they might know it to be near? All the particulars of our Saviour's detail; that is to say, the destruction of Jerusalem, with all the circumstances of confusion and distress with which it was to be accompanied. This exposition, therefore, makes, as I conceive, the desolation of Jerusalem the prognostic of itself,—the sign and the thing signified the same. The true rendering of the original I take to be, “So.likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that He* is near at the doors.” He, that is, the Son of man, spoken of in the verses immediately preceding, as coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. The * # partur af at han
*[ Phot) righ" - e evens at the time
approach of summer, says our Lord, is not more surely indicated by the first appearances of spring, than the final destruction of the wicked by the beginnings of vengeance on this impenitent people. The opening of the vernal blossom is the first step in a natural process, which necessarily terminates in the ripening of the summer fruits; and the rejection of the Jews, and the adoption of the believing Gentiles, is the first step in the execution of a settled plan of providence, which inevitably terminates in the general judgment. The chain of physical causes, in the one case, is not more uninterrupted, or more certainly productive of the ultimate effect, than the chain of moral causes in the other. “ Verily, I say unto you,
generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.” All these things, in this sentence, must unquestionably donote the same things which are denoted by the same words just before. Just before, the same words denoted those particular circumstances of the Jewish war which were included in our Lord's prediction. All those signs which answer to the fig-tree's budding leaves, the apostles and their cotemporaries, at least some of that generation, were to see. But as the thing portended is not included among the signs, it was not at all implied in this declaration that any of them were to live to see the harvest,—the coming of our Lord in glory.
I persuade myself that I have shown that our Lord's coming, whenever it is mentioned by the apostles in their epistles as a motive to a holy life, is always to be taken literally for his personal-coming at the last day.
It may put the matter still farther out of doubt, to observe, that the passage where, of all others, in this part of Scripture, a figurative interpretation of the phrase of “our Lord's coming” would be the most necessary, if the figure did not lie in the expressions that seem to intimate its near approach, happens to be one in which our Lord's coming cannot but be literally taken. The passage to
which I allude is in the fourth chapter of St. Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians, from the thirteenth verse to the end. The apostle, to comfort the Thessalonian brethren concerning their deceased friends, reminds them of the resurrection; and tells them, that those who were already dead would as surely have their part in a happy immortality as the Christians that should be living at the time of our Lord's coming. Upon this occasion, his expressions, taken literally, would imply that he included himself, with many of those to whom these consolations were addressed, in the number of those who should remain alive at the last day. This turn of the expression naturally arose from the strong hold that the expectation of the thing, in its due season, had taken of the writer's imagination, and from his full persuasion of the truth of the doctrine he was asserting,--namely, that those who should die before our Lord's coming, and those who should then be alive, would find themselves quite upon an even footing. In the confident expectation of his own reward, his intermediate dissolution was a matter of so much indifference to him, that he overlooks it. His expression, however, was so strong, that his meaning was mistaken, or, as I rather think, misrepresented. There seems to have been a sect in the apostolic age,-in which sect, however, the apostles themselves were not, as some have absurdly maintained, included,—but there seems to have been a sect which looked for the resurrection in their own time. Some of these persons seem to have taken advantage of St. Paul's expressions in this passage, to represent him as favouring their opinion. This occasioned the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, in which the apostle peremptorily decides against that doctrine; maintaining that the Man of Sin is to be revealed, and a long consequence of events to run out, before the day of judgment can come; and he desires that no expression of his may be understood of its speedy arrival;- which proves, if the thing needed farther proof than I have already given of it,
that the coming mentioned in his former epistle is the coming to judgment, and that whatever he had said of the day of coming as at hand, was to be understood only of the certainty of that coming.
The most difficult part of my subject yet remains,—to consider the passages in the gospel herein the coming of our Lord is mentioned.
Tell us, when shall these things be and what shall be the signs of thy
coming, and of the end of the world ?-Matt. xxiy. 3. I PROCEED in my inquiry into the general importance of the phrase of “the coming of the Son of man” in the Scriptures of the New Testament.
I have shown, that in the epistles, wherever our Lord's coming is mentioned, as an expectation that should operate, through hope, to patience and perseverance, or through fear, to vigilance and caution, it is to be understood literally of his coming in person to the general judgment. I have yet to consider the usual import of the same phrase in the gospels. I shall consider the passages wherein a figure hath been supposed, omitting those where the sense is universally confessed to be literal.
When our Lord, after his resurrection, was pleased to intimate to St. Peter the death by which it was ordained that he should glorify God, St. Peter had the weak curiosity to inquire, what might be St. John's destiny. “Lord, what shall this man do?” “Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me.” The disciples understood this answer . as a prediction that St. John was not to die; which seems to prove, what is much to our purpose, that in the enlightened period which immediately followed our Lord's ascension, the expression of his coming was taken in its literal meaning. This interpretation of the reply to St.
Peter was set aside by the event. In extreme old age, the disciple whom Jesus loved was taken for ever to the bosom of his Lord. But the Christians of that time being fixed in a habit of interpreting the reply to St. Peter as a prediction concerning the term of St. John's life, began to affix a figurative meaning to the expression of “our Lord's coming,” and persuaded themselves that the prediction was verified by St. John's having survived the destruction of Jerusalem ; and this gave a beginning to the practice, which has since prevailed, of seeking figurative senses of this phrase wherever it occurs. But the plain fact is, that St. John himself saw nothing of prediction in our Saviour's words. He seems to have apprehended nothing in them but an answer of significant, though mild, rebuke to an inquisitive demand.
If there be any passage in the New Testament in which the epoch of the destruction of Jerusalem is intended by the phrase of our Lord's coming,” we might not unreasonably look for this figure in some parts of those prophetical discourses, in which he replied to the question proposed to him in the words of the text, and particularly in the twenty-seventh verse of this twenty-fourth chapter of St. Matthew's gospel, where our Saviour, in the middle of that part of his discourse, in which he describes the events of the Jewish war, says, “For as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be." And he adds, in the twenty-eighth verse, “ For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.” The disciples, when they put the question, “Tell us, when shall these things be; and what shall be the signs of thy coming, and of the end of the world;" imagined, no doubt, that the coming of our Lord was to be the epoch of the demolition with which he had threatened the temple. They had not yet raised their expectations to any thing above a temporal kingdom. They imagined, perhaps, that our Lord would come by conquest, or by some display of his extraordinary