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SERMON 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 i from that æra, 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 m, 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
1 St. Jerom, who lived in this time, speaks in the very terms, here supposed, Romanus orbis RUIT. Ep. ij.
m Isai. lxv. 17.- 2 Pet. üi, 4. 13.
was taken for granted, we see, that this great SERMON and glorious work, equivalent to the production of a new world, would take 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.
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 con.
Rev. x. 7.
jectures: or, if it were, it would only follow
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 subjects 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, expressly declares, or rather prophesies — None of the wicked shall under. stand: but THE WISE shall understand.
! Daniel xii. 10.
THE PROPHETIC STYLE
EZEKIEL XX. 49.
- They say of me, Doth he not speak
IN recounting the various prejudices, which SERMON 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 pf all the prophetig
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 the contemplation of the Jewish and Christian prophecies, will be surprised, perhaps disgusted, to find, that he understands little, or nothing of them. His modesty may incline him to think, that such writings are too mysterious for his comprehension: or, his laziness and presumption may dispose him to reject them, at once, as perfectly unintelligible; to consider the language of them, as a jargon, to which no ideas are annexed; or, at least, as a kind of cypher, of so wild and fanatical a texture, that no clear and certain construction can be made of it.. '
Now, this prejudice, whichever way it points, will be obviated, if it can be shewn,
1. That the prophetic style was of common and approved use, in the times when the prophecies were delivered, and among the people to whom they were addressed.