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producing the firmest conviction of its truth, SERMON the word of prophecy hath an evident tendency, in proportion as we see its accomplishment, to promote the great ends, for which it was given, till the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and all the inhabitants of the world shall learn righteousness d.
These uses are general, and concern all men: The
III. Next, I shall mention, is more especially addressed to thinking and inquisitive
When the view of things, exhibited under the two preceding articles, has raised our ad-miration, to the utmost, of the divine councils in contriving, preparing, and at length executing so vast a scheme, as that of Christianity, for the benefit of mankind; we are led to expect that the effect will correspond to the means employed, and that a striking change will, at length, be brought about in the condition of the moral world.
d Hab, ii, 14. Is. xxvi, 9,
But, in surveying the history of this new religion, the theme of so many prochecies, and the great, the favourite object, if I may so speak, of divine Providence, “ some are not a little scandalized to observe that nothing hath come to pass in any degree equivalent to such an expence of forethought and contrivance; that, for a season, indeed, virtue and piety seemed to triumph, in the exemplary lives of the first converts to this religion, and in the overthrow of Pagan idolatry; but that this golden age was soon over; and that, now, for more than fourteen hundred years, the passions of men have kept their usual train, or rather have expatiated with more licence and fury in the Christian world, than in the Pagan; that idolatry, in all its forms, has revived in the bosom of Christianity; and, as to private morals, that this Religion has even made men worse than it found them, or, at best, of corrupt sensualists, has only made them intolerant and vindictive bigots; that, in a word, the kingdom of heaven, as it is called, has, hitherto, neither served to the glory of God, nor to the good of mankind; at least, to neither of these ends, in the degree, that might have been expected from such high pretensions.”
The colouring of this picture, we will say, is too strong : but the outline, at least, is fairly given. The corruptions of the Christian world have been notorious and great'; and though they are indeed the corruptions of men calling themselves Christians, and not the vices of Christianity, yet he who the most dispassionately contemplates so sad a scene, can hardly reconcile appearances to what must have been his natural expectations.
Here, then, the prophecies of this book, I mean, of the Apocalypse, come in to our relief. This book contains a detailed account of what would befall mankind under this last and so much magnified dispensation. It foretells all that history has recorded. It sets before us the corrupt state of the Christian world in almost as strong a light, as that in which our indignant speculatist himself has placed it. But it, likewise, opens better things to our view. It shews, that the end of this dispensation is to promote virtue and happiness; and that this end shall finally, but through many and long obstructions, be accomplished. It represents the cause of righteousness, as still maintaining itself in all the conflicts, to which it is exposed; as gradually gaining ground, and prevailing, through the secret aid of divine
SERMON Providence, over all opposition, till it obtains
a firm and permanent establishment; till the Saints reign (not in a fanatical, but in the sober and evangelical sense of that word, reign) in the earth e; till the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
So far, then, as these prophecies appear to have been completed, they reconcile us to that disordered scene, which hath hitherto been presented to us; and give repose to the anxious mind, in the assured hope of better things to
The worst, that has happened, was foreseen; and the best, that we conceive, will hereafter come to pass. Thus, the reasonable expectations of men are answered, and the honour of God's government abundantly vindicated.
IV. The last use, I shall suggest to you, is that which immediately results from the study of the Apocalyptic prophecies concerning Antichrist ; I mean, the support that is hereby given to Protestantism against all the cavils and pretensions of its adversaries.
For, if these prophecies are rightly applied to Papal Rome, and have, in part, been sig.
e Rev. v. 10.
f Ibid. xix. 6.
nally accomplished in the history of that church, it is beyond all doubt, that our communion with it is dangerous ; nay, that our separation from it is a matter of strict duty. Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues 6 - are plain and decisive words, and, if allowed to be spoken of that church, bring the controversy between the Protestant and Papal Christians to a short issue.
I know, the advocates of Rome pretend, that, not a sense of duty, but a spirit of revenge operates in the minds of Protestants, when they affect to lay so great a stress on the Apocalyptic prophecies. “ Reward her, even as she rewarded you b”—is, they say, another of their favourite texts, by which they take themselves to be as much obliged, as by that which they so commonly alledge for quitting her communion. It is not, therefore, to cover themselves from the imputation of schism, but to authorize the vengeance, they meditate against us, that we are stunned with the cry of Antichrist and Babyloni.”
g Rev. xviii. 6.
h Rev, xviii. 4. i M. de Meaux : L' Apocalypse avec une explication. Avertisement aux Protestants, p. 303, &c. Par: 1690.