« PreviousContinue »
from which very probable conclusions on that subject may be drawn. Experience, it is said, contradicts their calculation. But it is not considered, that the fall of Antichrist, is not a single event, to happen all at once; but a state of things, to continue through a long tract of time, and to be grad. ually accomplished. Hence, the interpretation of the prophecy might be rightly formed, though the expectations of most men are disappointed.
It is visible, I suppose, that the Papal power (if we agree to call that, Antichrist) is now on the declinę; whensoever that declension began, or how long soever it may be, before it will be finished, And therefore interpreters may have aimed right, though they seemed to others, and perhaps to them. selves, to be mistaken.
Suppose, the ruin of the Western empire had been the subject of a prediction, and some had collected, beforehand, from the terms of the prophecy, that it would happen at a particular time; when yet nothing more, in fact, came to pass, than the first irruption of the barbarous nations. Would it be certain that this collection was groundless and ill made, because the empire subsisted in a good degree of vigour for some centuries after ? Might it not be said, that the empire was falling* from
• St. Jerom, who lived in this time, speaks in the very terms here supposed. Romanus orbis RUIT. Ep. jii.
that era, or perhaps before ; though, in the event, it fell not, till its sovereignty was shaken by the rude hands of Attila, or rather, till it was laid flat by the well directed force of Theodoric ? . .
But we have an instance in point, recorded in sacred scripture. It had been gathered from the old prophecies,* that, in the last times (that is, when the Messiah was come,) a new earth and new heavens should be created. The style is symbolical; but the meaning is, and was so understood to be, that a new law should be given to mankind and prevail over the whole world. This law was accordingly promulged and began to prevail in the days of the apostles. Yet there were some who said, Where is the promise of his coming ? for, since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the creation of the world. It was taken for granted, we see, that this great and glorious work, equivalent to the production of a new world, would taķe place suddenly and at once; which not being the case, it seemed to follow, that the prophecies were false, or at least ill understood : when yet, surely, they were then fulfilling under the eyes of these scoffers. .
• Isai. Ixv. 17.2 Pet. iii. 4, 13.
. It will be considered, how far these hints may go towards rescuing some respectable interpreters (for I speak only of such) from that contempt, which has fallen upon them, and, from them, on the prophecies themselves, for some hazardous conclusions, or, (if you will) predictions, formed and given out by them, concerning the reign and fall of Antichrist. My meaning, however, is not to make myself responsible for these conclusions. They may not be rightly drawn from the premises, laid down; or the premises may be such, that the precise date of those transactions cannot be determined from them, at least, not, till the scene of prophecy be closed, or, in the prophetic language, till the mystery of God be finished.* In the mean time, it is not clear and undeniable that there is no ground at all for such conjectures: or, if it were, it would only follow that they, who made them, had been rash and indiscreet in com. menting too minutely and confidently on prophecies unfulfilled ; and it would be weak, as we have seen, to contract a prejudice against the subject itself from the mistakes of such commentators.
V. After all, the main and master prejudice, I doubt, is, that levity of mind which disposes too many to take their notions on this, and other sub
* Rev. 2.7.
jects of moment, from certain polite and popular, it may be, but frivolous and libertine writers : men, who have no religion, or not enough to venerate the prophetic scriptures; who have no knowledge, or certainly not enough to understand them.
But with such cavillers, as these, I have no concern; this Lecture, and the subject of it, being addressed to men of another character, to fair, candid, sober, and enlightened inquirers, only : For so the inspired person, who first announced these wonders concerning Antichrist, to mankind, ex. pressly declares, or rather propheciesNone of the wicked shall understand: but THE WISE shall understand.*
* Daniel xii. 10.
THE PROPHETIC STYLE CONSIDERED.
EZEKIEL XX. 49.
- They say of me, Doth he not speak Parables ? IN recounting the various prejudices, which have diverted many persons from giving a due attention to the prophecies concerning Antichrist, I may be thought to have overlooked one of the most considerable: which ariseth from the peculiar style, in which they are delivered. But this being a subject of larger compass, and nicer inquiry, than, the rest, (in which, too, the credit of all the prophetic scriptures, as well as those respecting Antichrist, is concerned) I have purposely reserved it for a distinct and separate examination.
WithOUT DOUBT, a plain man, brought up in our customs and notions, and unacquainted with theological studies, when he first turns himself to