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Obscurity, yet general Consent.
pedient that these disclosures should not be committed to writing. “Remember ye not,” says St. Paul to his Thessalonian converts, “that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.” And the Apostle goes on to speak in terms full of mystery. This, taken in connexion with the misapprehension into which, as we find, those early disciples had fallen, in regard to what the Apostle had declared to them concerning “ the day of Christ,” as though it were even then actually near at hand, would prepare us to find some variety and uncertainty resting on the early interpretations of the mysterious intimations of Prophecy. And this will appear the more natural, when we consider how it has ever been the procedure of Divine Wisdom to keep the future wrapt up in some degree of obscurity from the eyes of men; and, moreover, that the Christian Church, through the ages which have since elapsed, has had the advantage of witnessing the fulfilment, in part at least, of the Prophecies concerning the new dispensation and her own Divine and heavenly economy. Still, however, it will appear, that in the early Church there is to be found a general consent of interpreters, so far, at least, as regards the broad lines of Prophecy. And with respect more particularly to some prophetic descriptions, of which the almost universally received interpretation has recently been called in question, and to which I design on a future occasion to call your attention",—the consentient opinion of Antiquity
let), until he be taken out of 2 Thess. ii. 5, 6.
the way” (μόνον ο κατέχων 5 Ver. 7. “ For the mystery άρτι έως εκ μέσου γένηται).
). of iniquity doth already work: O Vid. inf. Lect, ii. only he who now letteth (will
και το κατέχον.
19 must be regarded as of irresistible force, inasmuch as it bears witness to the fulfilment of Prophecy attested by those who were actually living in the very midst of it. But, indeed, in regard to Prophecy generally, whether fulfilled or unfulfilled, great weight is to be attached to the consent of early times; especially when we consider how early in the course of Christian instruction, as it would appear from the instance already cited of St. Paul's teaching at Thessalonica, the prospect of the Church's future trials was unfolded to the new converts; and it certainly gives hope, in the present day, of greater agreement amongst expositors, when we find men, who differ widely on many points, unite nevertheless in appealing to Christian Antiquity for the interpretation of Scripture Prophecy.
And where early tradition forsakes us, we must look to the history of the Christian Church as our best interpreter. And here, again, our greatest security against error will be found in large views of the Divine procedure, and of the course of human things. We must read history, if I may so speak, in the spirit of true philosophy; watching principles in their germ; tracing their silent growth through ages; observing them rising to a head—broken off again perhaps, or thrown back ---and then again after an interval re-appearing, or gathering fresh strength; the tendency of events in one direction, checked it may be for a while, and then all at once putting forth its power, and prevailing ;-hidden elements bursting out suddenly, which yet, on a deeper view, may be found to have been long at work ;-or, on the other hand, a gradual advance perceptible or discoverable, like the tide on the sea-shore, which, while we watch each ripple,
Christian views of History. [LECT. scarcely seems to be gaining ground, or may even appear to be retiring, and which yet, by the strong wave at intervals rising continually higher, shows that it is all the while steadily setting in :-it is only by thoughtful contemplation, such as this, of the tide of human affairs, and the ebb and flow in the fortunes of the Church of God, that we can discover what Lord Bacon has happily designated as “the springing and germinant accomplishment” of Prophecy. Only we must ever be on the watch for what to human eyes might seem less important circumstances; remembering that “the Lord seeth not as man seeth ;" that His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways; that it is not the movements which most attract the notice of the world, that are most pregnant with important consequences to the world itself, much less to the Church of Christ'; that it was the stone cut out without hands, small in its origin, that smote the image on its feet, and became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth®; that it was the grain of mustard-seed, “the least of all seeds,” which became " the greatest among herbs” a tree shooting out
great branches, so that the fowls of the air might lodge under the shadow of it °;" that it was the
7 “In the providential history of the world, prospective results are frequently in the inverse proportion of present appearances. How insignificant, for example, in the eyes of contemporaries, must have appeared the first rise of the Ottoman power; how tremendous, on the contrary, the overwhelming inundation of the Moguls ! In the counsels of Providence, however, the Ottoman was des
tined to become the scourge and terror of Christendom ;' while the Tartar deluge receded without injury to the Church of Christ, and has left scarcely a
trace behind !”Forster's Mahometanism Unveiled, vol. i. p. 171, note.
Dan. ii. 35.
Matt. xiii. 31, 32; Mark iv. 30–32. Comp. Luke xiii. 18, 19.
21 “ little horn ” growing up among the rest, whose “ look was more stout than his fellows,” and whose mouth spake “great things'."
I have endeavoured thus far to draw your attention to some considerations which, in the present day, seem specially to recommend a calm and thoughtful study of Divine Prophecy; pointing out at the same time the chief sources of error in the conduct of such inquiries, and the best means and aids towards the discovery of the truth. In the following Lectures I propose to examine in order the prophecies of Daniel and St. John; which, from their distinctive chronological character, supply, as it were, the outline which other predictions help to fill up; and, moreover, exhibit, in the most vivid delineation, those principal objects in the Prophecies “concerning the Christian Church” which were primarily in the view of the founder of this Lecture.
Of the spirit and temper of mind in which subjects like these should be approached, it is the less needful for me to speak at large, inasmuch as it is implied in what has been already said respecting the dangers which beset the study. We must come to it in the spirit of true charity, free from party feeling and from the bitterness of the controversial temper; with earnest zeal and love for the cause of Christ's truth and of His holy Church, whether as it now exists in the earth, or as we trace its eventful history in past ages ;—with true loyalty of affection, rejoicing in its prosperity and sympathizing with its
We must come casting away presumption, and self-confidence, and unsubdued curiosity concerning things yet future;-we inust come with the
1 Dan. vii. 8.
[LECT. imagination controlled; with a mind free from prejudice; ready to receive with simplicity the revelations of Holy Writ, and using all diligence in the employment of the means afforded for its right interpretation. We must come with humble and lowly reverence for the Word of God; prepared to find in it things beyond our deepest thought and loftiest conception; and labouring to attain, by Divine grace, to that holiness and purity of heart and mind which may make us fit to receive the knowledge of heavenly mysteries. Above all, remembering from whom alone is to be obtained the grace of spiritual understanding, we must look to HIM continually for the light to guide our steps; and ever consecrate to Him all our labours by thankfulness for every degree of illumination or perception which He is pleased to vouchsafe to us.
The solemn season on which we are now entering in the holy services of the Church?, seems to sound in our ears in deeper tones the words of mingled encouragement and warning which seal the blessing pronounced in the text on him “ that readeth ” and on them “that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things that are written therein ;FOR THE TIME IS AT HAND." And if the words were true and faithful then, much more to us now, whose lot is cast in these “latter days,” and upon whom “the ends of the world are come.” time is” indeed “at hand;" and if the Church hath long waited for her Lord, and it seem as though He delayed His coming ; if Faith and Hope are ready to fail, and Charity to wax cold; and the “scoffers,”
2 Preached on Advent Sunday.
3 εις ούς τα τέλη των αιώνων katuvenOEV.—1 Cor. x. 11.