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masters of the question, though neither they nor we may U be competent to the resolution of it. This instruction would more effectually secure them against the poison of modern corruptions, than the practice, dictated by a false discretion, of avoiding the mention of every doctrine that may be combated, and of burying every text of doubtful meaning. The corrupters of the Christian doctrine have no such reserve. The doctrines of the divinity of the Son; the incarnation; the satisfaction of the cross as a sacrifice, in the literal meaning of the word; the mediatorial intercession; the influences of the Spirit; the eternity of future punishment; are topics of popular discussion with those who would deny or pervert these doctrines: and we may judge by their success what our own might be, if we would but meet our antagonists on their own ground. The common people, we find, enter into the force, though they do not perceive the sophistry, of their arguments. The sanie people would much more enter into the internal evidence of the genuine doctrine of the gospel, if holden out to them, not in parts, studiously divested of whatever may seem mysterious,-not with accommodations to the
prevailing fashion of opinions--but entire and undisguised. Nor are the laity to shut their ears against these disputations, as niceties in which they are not concerned, or difficulties above the reach of their abilities : and least of all are they to neglect those disquisitions which immediately respect the interpretation of texts. Every sentence of the Bible is from God, and every man is interested in the meaning of it. The teacher, therefore, is to expound, and the disciple to hear and read with diligence; and much might be the fruit of the blessing of God on their united exertions. And this I infer, not only from a general consideration of the nature of the gospel doctrine, and the cast of the Scripture language, which is admirably accommodated to vulgar apprehensions, but from a fact which has happened to fall much within my own observation,—the proficiency, I mean that we often find, in some single-sci
ence, of men who have never had a liberal education, and who, except in that particular subject on which they have bestowed pains and attention, remain ignorant and illiterate to the end of their lives. The sciences are said, and they are truly said, to have that mutual connexion, that any one of them may be the better understood for an insight into the rest. And there is, perhaps, no branch of knowledge which receives more illustration from all the rest, than the science of religion: yet it hath, like every other, its own internal principles on which it rests, with the knowledge of which, without any other, a great progress may be made. And these lie much more open to the apprehension of an uncultivated understandingthan the principles of certain abstruse sciences, such as geometry, for instance, or astronomy, in which I have known plain men, who could set up no pretensions to general learning, make distinguished attainments.
Under these persuasions, I shall not scruple to attempt a disquisition, which, on the first view of it, might seem adapted only to a learned auditory. And I trust that I shall speak to your understandings.
I propose to consider what may be the most frequent import of the phrase of “our Lord's coming.” And it will, if I mistake not, appear, that the figurative use of it, to denote the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, is very rare, if not altogether unexampled in the Scriptures of the New Testament; except, perhaps, in some passages of the book of Revelation: that, on the other hand, the use of it in the literal sense is frequent, warning the Christian world of an event to be wished by the faithful, and dreaded by the impenitent,-a visible descent of our Lord from heaven, as visible to all the world as his ascension was to the apostles,—a coming of our Lord in all the majesty of the Godhead, to judge the quick and dead, to receive his servants into glory, and send the wicked into outer darkness.
In the Epistles of St. Paul, St. Peter, and St. James, we find frequent mention of the coming of our Lord, in
terms which, like those of the text, may at first seem to imply an expectation in those writers of his speedy arrival. There can be no question that the coming of our Lord literally signifies his coming in person to the general judga ment, and that it was sometimes used in this literal sense by our Lord himself; as in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew's gospel, where the Son of man is described as coming in his glory--as sitting on the throne of his glory-as separating the just and the wicked, and pronouncing the final sentence. But, as it would be very unreasonable to suppose that the inspired writers, though ignorant of the times and seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power, could be under so great a delusion as to look for the end of the world in their own days—for this reason it has been imagined, that wherever in the epistles of the apostles, such assertions occur as those I have mentioned, the coming of our Lord is not to be taken in the literal meaning of the phrase, but that we are to look for something which was really at hand when these epistles were written, and which, in some figurative sense, might be called his coming. And such an event the learned think they find in the destruction of Jerusalem, which may seem, indeed, no insignificant type of the final destruction of the enemies of God and Christ. But if we recur to the
passages wherein the approach of Christ's kingdom is mentioned, we shall find that in most of them, I believe it might be said in all, the mention of the final judgment might be of much importance to the writer's argument, while that of the destruction of Jerusalem could be of none. The coming of our Lord is a topic which the holy penmen employ, when they find occasion to exhort the brethren to a steady perseverance in the profession of the gospel, and a patient endurance of those trying afflictions, with which the providence of God, in the first ages of the church, was pleased to exercise his servants. Upon these occasions, to confirm the persecuted Christian's wavering faith.-- to revive his weary hope--to invigorate his drooping zeal—nothing could be more effectual than to set before him the prospect of that happy consummation, when his Lord should come to take him to himself, and change his short-lived sorrows into endless joy. On the other hand, nothing, upon these occasions, could be more out of season, than to bring in view an approaching period of increased affliction for such was the season of the Jewish war to be. The believing Jews, favoured as they were in many instances, were still sharers, in no small degree, in the common calamity of their country. They had been trained by our Lord himself to no other expectation. He had spoken explicitly of the siege of Jerusalem as a time of distress and danger to the very elect of God. Again, if the careless and indifferent were at any time to be awakened to a sense of danger, the last judgment was likely to afford a more prevailing argument than the prospect of the temporal ruin impending over the Jewish nation; or indeed than any thing else which the phrase of
our Lord's coming,” according to any figurative interpretation of it, can denote. It should seem, therefore, that in all those passages of the epistles, in which the coming of our Lord is holden out, either as a motive to patience and perseverance, or to keep alive that spirit of vigilance and caution which is necessary to make our calling sure—it should seem, that in all these passages, the coming is to be taken literally for our Lord's personal coming at the last day; and that the figure is rather to be sought in those expressions which, in their literal meaning, might seem to announce his immediate arrival. And this St. Peter seems to suggest, when he tells us, in his second epistle, that the terms of soon and late are to be very differently understood, when applied to the great operations of Providence, and to the ordinary occurrences of human life. “The Lord,” says he, “is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness. One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Soon and late are words whereby a compa
rison is rather intended of the mutual proportion of different intervals of time, than the magnitude of any one by itself defined; and the same thing may be said to be coming either soon or late, according as the distance of it is compared with a longer or a shorter period of duration. Thus although, the day of judgment was removed undoubtedly by an interval of many ages from the age of the apostles, yet it might in their days be said to be at hand, if its distance from them was but a small part of its original distance from the creation of the world—that is, if its distance then was but a small part of the whole period of the world's existence, which is the standard, in reference to which, so long as the world shall last, all other portions of time may be by us most properly denominated long or short. There is again another use of the words soon and late, whereby any one portion of time, taken singly, is understood to be compared, not with any other, but with the number of events that are to come to pass in it in natural consequence and succession. If the events are few in proportion to the time, the succession must be slow, and the time may be called long. If they are many, the succession must be quick, and the time may be called short, in respect of the number of events, whatever be the absolute extent of it. It seems to be in this sense that expressions denoting speediness of event are applied by the sacred writers to our Lord's coming. In the day of Messiah the Prince, in the interval between our Lord's ascension and his coming again to judgment, the world was to be gradually prepared and ripened for its end. The apostles were to carry the tidings of salvation to the extremities of the earth. They were to be brought before kings and rulers, and to water the newplanted churches with their blood. Vengeance was to be executed on the unbelieving Jews, by the destruction of their city, and the dispersion of their nation. The Pagan idolatry was to be extirpated- the Man of Sin to be revealed. Jerusalem is yet to be trodden down; the rem