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Lord; and endeavour to shew out the form which the evil spirit was beginning to assume, together with the further notices and prophecies which the Holy Ghost therein giveth of this apostasy. Thirdly; We shall then, from the Apocalypse, search out the history of this apostasy, so far as it is there revealed, until the coming of the Lord in judgment upon it. Thus shalí we have attained to all the information which the New Testament containeth concerning this mystery: after which, in a second part of this discourse, we shall endeavour to set forth the great and glorious ends which are attained unto God and Christ by the permission and ordination of such an apostasy in the church. And there will remain a third part, which should embrace the whole duty of a Christian church and of a Christian state, which God hath enlightened in the knowledge of this great mystery ; and how they should carry themselves towards those men and churches and states which are manifested as belonging thereto. Such shall be the method of our discourse ; and for the two remaining parts, we shall divide then into sections when we come to them in the course of our subject.
That an apostasy, or a mystery of iniquity, or an antichristian
system, is predicted in the Scriptures as about to come over the Christian church. § 1. What is contained thereof in the Gospels.
In order to establish the proposition laid down as the title of this part of our discourse, and to lay the basis of the whole future argument upon the apostasy, it is necessary that I should shew from the Scriptures that God did both purpose and predict an apostasy in his church: after which it will be proper to explain, as far as we are able, the end and intention of such purpose :
then it will fall in course to look out for that apostasy, and give it the conditions of time, place, and visibility: and, finally, shew how God's servants should carry themselves towards it in the church.
Now, in opening the first of these particulars, I think it is but reasonable that we should gather our documents, both to prove an apostasy, and to fix its name and place, from the Scriptures of the New Testament which contain the foundations and constitutions of the church. Not that we may not refer unto the Prophets, seeing, according to Paul, the church is “founded upon the Prophets” as well as upon “the Apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the Corner-stone:” seeing also, according to the Apostle Peter, the church is required to look unto “ the sure word of prophecy, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place;" and that the Prophets prophesied both of the sufferings of Christ
and of the glory which should follow.” But while I shall not be prevented falling back upon the Prophets both for illustration and confirmation, especially when they are alluded to in the passages of the New Testament which I shall examine, I shall be careful to build my arguments upon the plain announcements of Christ and his Apostles alone. And I begin, according to our method, by inquiring what notices and warnings of an antichristian system in the church are given by our Lord in the Gospels. And, first, I shall take those which are direct and explicit; then those which are indirect, or implied in the general tenor of his instructions.
In his first discourse, commonly called the Sermon on the Mount, a very large section, and that the concluding one, is devoted to this very subject, beginning expressly at the 15th verse of the vii th chapter, “ Beware of false prophets,” &c.; and impliedly, as I think, at the 13th verse, “ Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth unto destruction, and many there be which go in thereat : because strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” The destruction and the life here spoken of, are the same as the exclusion from and the entering into the kingdom of heaven mentioned in the 23d and 21st verses ; and therefore it is that I consider the wide gate of destruction and the strait gate of life, the broad way of destruction and the narrow way of life, to be the occasion of his warning his disciples against “ false prophets” in the next verse; which, with the following verses, I consider to be the first announcement from his own lips of an apostasy in his church. Peter announceth it under the same style of “ false prophets,” or false teachers, in his Second Epistle; and under the same name of “ the false prophet” is the apostasy destroyed at the coming of the Lord, Rev. xix. 20, xvi. 13. Let us, then, examine this passage of the Sermon on the Mount.
“ Beware of false prophets, which come unto you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” They come in sheep's clothing: that is, they have around them the air and appearance and vestments of meek and harmless and innocent pastors, but under that disguise make havoc of the flock; or, as it is expressed, Rev. xiii. 11, “ they have two horns like a lamb, but they speak as a dragon :” or, as it is Dan. vii. 8, “ And, behold, in this horn were eyes like the
eyes and a mouth speaking great things.” In the passage before us, our Lord doth not embody the false prophets into one system, present them as acting under one head; but certainly he forewarneth his church against false prophets under the guise of true shepherds, who should lead and conduct the many into the broad way of destruction. Against whom having warned them to
of a man,
beware, and instructed them to know them by their fruits, he addeth, concerning thein and their followers, this further information and most instructive lesson unto all, ver. 21 : “ Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” “
in heaven.” “Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, , Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you : depart from me, ye workers of iniquity.”. These false prophets were not to deny the name of Christ, but to say unto him, “ Lord, Lord: ""they were not to prophesy or preach in any name but in his name; they were to be of his church, and endowed with the powers of his church, to cast out devils, and to do many wonderful works : but because they did not the will of his father, but followed and worshipped their own will in matters of religion ; because they wrought iniquity, and did not connect morality and holiness of life with the profession of Christ, they are cast into outer darkness, and not suffered to enter into the kingdom, in the day when he cometh to judge the secrets of every heart, and to expose the hidden works of darkness. The language of this whole passage gives distinct notice of a false system of preaching and teaching in his church, which under cunning disguises should preserve its place until he should come in the glory of his father, to sit upon the throne of his judgment, and establish the kingdom of heaven upon the earth. Now this is all which we have undertaken to assert, and here we find it asserted by our Lord in his first discourse unto his disciples.
It is not necessary that we should take the following verses for confirmation ; but for illustration of the truth above stated they serve not a little. By the similitude of a man building his house upon a rock, and of another man building his house upon the sand, he setteth forth the opposite fate of those who hear his sayings and do them, and of those who hear them but do not do them. Both classes hear them that is to say, both profess to take Christ for their teacher--but one part do them not, but follow the inclinations of their own will; not worshipping and obeying God in Christ, but their own imaginations. This division of the church, led away by those false prophets into the broad way of destruction, build a house and found it upon the sand; the other, who obey Christ as well as hear him, build a house and found it upon a rock. Compare this with the saying of our Lord to Peter,“ Upon this rock will I build my church (Matt. xvi. 18); with the saying of Paul, “ Whose house are ye, if ye hold fast the beginning of your confidence stedfast unto the end” (Heb: iii. 6); with the saying of the prophet Zecha
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riah (v. 11), that they“ built a house" for iniquity in the land of Shinar, where Babylon stood; and with other passages of Scripture where the like language is used, as 1 Cor. iii.; and 1 Pet. ii.; and you will see more to be meant in this language than a common metaphor; and that it is a sacred symbol whereby is set forth the continuance, side by side, of the church of Christ and the synagogue of Satan, until the stormy day of God's wrath and indignation should arise to overthrow and to destroy every building which is not founded upon Christ the Rock, and to root up every plant which our Father in heaven hath not planted.
2. The next document for proving that God determined and that Christ foresaw an apostasy in his church, is taken from the xxiv th chapter of Matthew, which, while it helpeth mainly in the general issue, doth especially certify us as to the fact of its continuing until, and being strongest at, his coming, as well as of its beginning immediately upon his departure. This discourse consisteth of two parts, of which the first treateth of the beginning of sorrows, ver. 8; and the last, of the end and consummation of all sorrows in the day of his coming. Twice over are they warned of men deceiving them, under the fair pretension of false Christs and false prophets, verses 5–11, and 23, 24; the first of these warnings being immediately antecedent to the destruction of Jerusalem, the latter to the coming of the Son of man; and both together proving that the spirit of Antichrist should start against Christ in the beginnings of his church, and should continue acting against Him until he should come and destroy it by the brightness of his coming. This power of delusion shall be greatest towards the end; and of its greatness, it is thus written, ver. 24: “ For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets; and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the
The universal apostasy of those days is further evidenced in this document, by the declaration, ver. 30, “That all the tribes of the earth shall mourn, when they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” Now, wherefore should they mourn, unless they had reason to dread his fiery indignation ? which indeed is expressly declared, in the comparison of the state of the earth at that time with its condition in the days of Noah. In the corresponding passage of Luke the disciples are spoken of as in great distress, and are called upon to look up, and lift up their heads, for their redemption draweth nigh; and they are told to watch and pray, that they may be counted worthy to escape all those judgments. Now the Lord, foreseeing that his church was to be established over large portions of the earth, could not have thus ..spoken, unless Christendom were to come into the state of op
pressing and persecuting his saints, concerning whom he saith that “ they shall be hated of all men for his Name's sake.” It clearly appeareth, therefore, that he contemplated his churchthat is, his faithful disciples as about to live during his absence, and to be found living at his coming, in the midst of a persecuting people; and how this could be, unless an apostasy should cover the nations of Christendom, I cannot understand, and I may say is utterly impossible. This will more clearly appear from the third document I am about to produce from the holy Evangelists.
3. This shall consist of various isolated and detached passages gathered around the centre of Christ's last discourse to his disciples where the experience of his church is set forth as about to be an experience of suffering and sorrow. (John xiv, xv. xvi.) “ If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my sayings, they will keep yours also.... These things have I spoken unto you, that you should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues ; yea, the hour cometh that whosoever killeth you will think he doeth God service.... Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice; ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come ;
but soon as she is delivered, she remembereth not her anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world : and ye now therefore have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your hearts shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” These passages, together with the whole strain of the discourse, set forth the “ little while” of Christ's absence as a time of great distress and sorrow to Christ's disciples which should only grow greater and greater as the event draws nigh, and, like child-birth, should be greatest immediately at the appearing of that for which she longeth ;-the sorrow of the church coming in like manner unto a height, until she that hath been travailing shall bring forth her glorious hope, when her sorrow shall be turned into joy, and that a joy which no man taketh from her; and therefore the Holy Spirit, the Divine Person whom in the mean time they should enjoy, is called their Comforter, in allusion to the great need of comfort which they should have, and the only source of comfort which they should possess in the Holy Spirit. The like truth is taught us throughout all the Gospels :