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42 The Declensions of Christianity, &c. [jerm. 3. But if we descend to particulars, and examine the prophecies with attention, we shall find that the defections, which were to take place antecedent to the reign of the Redeemer, were to be of two kinds —that they were to arise at different times, and from different sources that one was to be a corruption of religion, the other a rejection of itthat the former was to antecede and prepare the way for the latter.
This will be the subject of another discourse.
The Declensions of Christianity, an Argument of
LUKE xviii, 8. When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the
earth? THAT the coming of the Son of man, is here intended of Christ's coming at the commencement of the latter day glory,hath been alleged in the preceding discourse, and several considerations adduced in proof. Additional evidence will arise from a view of the prophecies relative to the great declen. fions which were to take place in the church, during the gospel day. These, we observed, are of two kinds, one, a corruption of religion, the other its reje&tion.
The intimations given of them in the new testament, are chiefly found in the writings of St. Paul, Peter and John. They are noticed also by Jude. The two former suffered martyrdom under Nero. When the time of their departure drew nigh, they had separately a view of the then future state of the church ; particularly of the declen,
fions which were to take place in it, before " the kingdoms of this world, shall become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ.” St. John had the same opened to his view in the isle of Patmos,
St. Paul in his second epistle to the Theffalonians, after rectifying the mistake of those who thought the day of judgment then at hand, proceded to inform them that there would be great declensions in the church before the end of the world. “Let no man deceive you, by any means, for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition ; who opposeth himself above all that is called God, or is worshipped ; so that as God, he fitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God." The antichristian defec. tion is here evidently intended. The apostle toucheth on the same subject in his first epistle to Timothy, and directs him “ to put the brethren in re. membrance of these things,” to prevent surprise when they should happen. This was the first great declension which was to be permitted in the church,
In his second epifle to the same Christian bishop, written not long before his death, he resumes the subject of the defections which were to happen in the church, but with a more particular reference to defections of a different kind, and of a later date. Having exhorted Timothy to faithfulness in the discharge of official duty, he adds a Teason ; " For the time will come when they will not endure found doctrine ; but after their own lufts, shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears ; and they shall turn their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
This doth not answer to the Romish defection. It was never the character of that church to "heap to themselves teachers.” They never ran after those of other persuasions, who brought new doctrines. Their errors were of the contrary kind, They rejected and persecuted every teacher who did not derive from their infallible head, and teach as he directed. But “itching ears" have misled many of those who "aremoved away from the hope of the gospel. By turning to fables they have made fhipwreck of faith, and fallen a prey to those who lie in wait to deceive.”
St. Peter wrote with equal plainness of the general defections ; but those of infidelity are the subject of his prophecies—“There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the truth shall be evil spoken of.” The heresies here intended are depicted too minutely to be mistaken. The heresiarchs are defcribed as immoral, vain and proud, pretending to superior knowledge and penetration, despising law and government, and trampling them under their feet.
Toward the close of his second epifle, the apostle remarks, that he " wrote to stir up pure minds by way of remembrance ; that they might be mindful of the words spoken before, by the holy prophets”—that is, of the predictions of inspired men, who had forewarned them of those deceivers -"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days, fcoffers, walking after their own lufts, and saying where is the promise of his com: ing ?" And he refers them to St. Paul, who had predicted their rise in the church-" Even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you : As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things.” He adds Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware, lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness."
The short epistle of St. Jude is little other than a prophetic description of the same apostacy and its leaders, whom he terms “ ungodly men, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Chrif These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts, and their mouths speaking great swelling words-But beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ ; how they told you there should be mockers in the last time, 'who should walk after their own lusts."
The errors of Rome are not here intended. They are manifestly errors of a later date, which were to appear after those of Rome should subside, having lost their influence. It is repeatedly noted that they were to arise in the last days. They are