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** the earliest ages; and it still prevails
. We owe to it, the “ corruptions of Popery, and that infinity of heresies which “ have so much debased the simplicity of Gospel Truth, and os driven so many men of sense from embracing Christianity, " Every one who will weigh the subje&t'must perceive, the « unfairness with which men usually proceed in forming
systems in Theology. By stringing together detached sen
tences, an Ausonius 'may compel the chaste Virgil to fur66nish materials for an indecent poem ;-and from the Bible, 6 itself, a system of impiety might; by such means, be 66' extracted:"; *!
To the same purpose Bishop Newton has observed, as has been, formerly noticed, " that Men interpret Scripture according to " their opinions, and frame not their opinions according to " Scripture. They quote the Scripture, and one would think « .they understood at least what they quote; but alas, in their “ quotations they manifestly regard the bare words more than “ the meaning, and so that there is but something apposit in the os sound, no matter how remote soever it is in the signification. “ Thus it is we read the Scriptures through coloured glasses, " and then are confident that we see there what we really
see not." + This learned Prelate has, very justly remarked, “ That these
are not the faults of Scripture, but only of men interpreting " Scripture;" and it behoves the Commentator and the Guide of others, above all men, to see that his quotations are apposite,-not only in sound, but in signifcation, and par ticularly, that he guard against the pernicious practice of intro ducing double meanings, which militate against the sober rules of grammar, of reason, and of good sense, and which, consequently could never have been intended by the Sacred Writers !
Under these restrictions, Scripture will be found to be the best interpreter of Scripture, and in no case, perhaps, will this be more evident, than in the fifth chapter of St. Paul's First Epistle, and his second chapter of his Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, when compared with the xxivth of Matthew; the latter affording à more easy solution of the principal difficulties of those chapters, than is to be found any where else. This, it is probable, the Reader has been strongly inclined to believe, if not to be fully convinced of, from the examinas tion of the first of these chapters. Indeed there is, so striking a reference in that chapter, to some great national calamity, that it has been thought, even by those who have imagined the Apostle to have been treating of the day of Fudgment, in that chapter, that he interweaves with it, a re ference to the destruclion of Jerusalem. But Dr. Benson has very judiciously observed, that " particular expressions, in " any Author, smay be váriously applied, when detached « from their connection ; but the current of the Apostle's “ discourse here, is concerning only one grand and signal
* See Bishop Watson's two Sermons and Charge, pages 70, 71.
+ See Bishop Newton's Dissertation on the Difficulties of Scripture, Vol. VI. pages 221, 222,
day." And it is remarkable, that even Dr. Benson has repeatedly referred, in his Notes on this chapter, to Matt. xxiv. 36, 37, 43. Luke xxi. 34, 35, 36. and even to Luke xvii. 26, &c. to prove, that that grand and signal day is the day of final judgment. *
If the reasoning which hath hitherto been adopted, in endeavouring to ascertain the meaning of the fifth chapter of this Epistle, shall, upon examination, be found to be accurate and conclusive ; it will, in the strongest manner, be confirmed, by a close attention to the second chapter of the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, with which it is, on all hands, allowed to be intimately connected.
This chapter hath exercised the ingenuity of the most learned men in Christendom, and there is none, about the meaning of which, their opinions have been more divided ; some applying it to the apostacy of the Romish church; while others have thought that it relates to the destruction of Fetua salem, and the Jewish State. Among those who have entera tained this latter opinion are, the great Grotius, Le Clerc,
It is not meant, in this instance, to charge Dr. Benson with inconsiste mcy, in referring to these passages ; for he actually thought they related to the day of Judgment. See pages 123, 124, of this work ;---but it is remarkable the same references are made by Messrs. Beausobte and L'Enfant, and also by Mr. Le Clerc, as well as by most other Commentators. The former, in their Note on a Thess. v. 2. say, “ Ils avoient appris ce que le Seigneur avoit dit là dessus à se's 'Disciples. Voy. Matt xxiv. 42. And, on the 3d verse they say,---Il s'agit des impies & des profanes ; en particulier des Juifs impenitens. Il y a là des allusions au deluge, & à la ruïne de Jerusalem. Voyez Luc. xvii
. 26-30. The latter, in his Note on ver. 2. quotes Matt. xxiv 43% and has this remarkable expression---les Thessaloniciens l'avoient apris, i. e. The Thessalonians learnt the coming of the day of the Lord from Mati xxiv. 43,
Hammond, Hammond, Whitby, and Wetsteini, and though a much greater majority of the learned apply it to the former, and it appears to be at present the prevailing opinionyet still it is liable to some very formidable objections, which will fully justify a suspicion, that the Apostle's meaning has not yet been thoroughly understood, and consequently will be a suf. ficient apology for bespeaking the candid attention of the Reader to a critical and minute review of the Apostle's language in this chapter.
As it is obvious that the meaning of the whole chapter depends upon the meaning of the phrase the coming of Christ, in the first verse; it will be necessary to ascertain, with all possible precision, what that meaning is.
Bishop Newton has observed, that “ The phrases of the “ coming of Christ, and the day of Christ, may be understood, es either figuratively of his coming in judgment upon the " Jews, or literally of his coming in glory to judge the world. 66 Sometimes indeed they are used in the former sense, but," says he, “they are more generally employed in the latter, by the • Writers of the New Testament.” And he, asserts, “ that the " latter is the proper signification in this place as the context " will evince beyond contradi&tion."
With respect to the context, and the learned Bishop's observations upon it, they will presently be considered ;-but if there be any truth in the representation, which, in the preceding pages, has been made, that the Gospel History is an History of the great controversy between Jesus and the Jews, concerning the true nature of the Messiah's character, and that the destruction of Jerusalem was a crowning proof, and a decisive completion of that controversy ; it will necessarily follow, that till that controversy was finally decided, the lead. ing idea of the coming of Christ, and that upon which his corning to judge the world depended, was his coming in judgment upon the Jews; for upon the accomplishment of that cvent, he had rested the issue of that controversy!
It is a most important circumstance that must not, by any means, be forgotten in the consideration of the meaning of the phrase the coming of Christ, as used by St. Paul, in the passage in question, that our Lord's predi&tion concerning the true nature of his coming, as the Messiah, was in answer to the question of the Disciples-What shall be the sign of thy coming and of the end of the world, or age,-i, e. as was observed in the examination of the meaning of that chapter of his coming as the Messiah. *
Now it is particularly worthy of the judicious Reader's Notice, that there is a remarkable resemblance between our Lord's language upon that occasion, and that of St. Paul, in the chapter under consideration, as will be seen by the following view of them.
Matt. xxiv. 4, 6. Take heed that no man deceive you-See that
be not troubled.
2 Thess. ii. 1, 2, 3. Mark xiii. 5, 7.
Now we beseech you that ye
be not soon shaken in mind Take heed lest any man de
or be troubled. Let no mar ceive you. Be ye not troubledo deceive you by any means.
Luke xxi. 8, 9. Take heed that
be not deceived. Be not terrifed.
* The Bishop of London, in his Lectures on St. Matthew, has observed that “ the expressions here made use of, the sign of thy coming, and the end “ of the world, at the first view, naturally leads our thoughts to the coming " of Christ at the day of Judgment, and the final dissolution of this oc
earthly globe. But a due attention to the parallel passages in St. Mark and “ St. Luke, and a critical examination into the real import of those two " phrases in various parts of Scripture, will soon convince an impartial
enquirer, that by the coming of Christ is here meant, not his coming " to judge the world at the last day, but his coming to execute judgment
upon Jerusalem ; see Mark xiii. 4. Luke xxi. 7. Matt. xxiv. 4, 5. xvi. “ 28. John xxi. 22. and that by the end of the world is to be undetstood, " not the final consummation of all things hete below, but the end of that 54. age, the end of the jewish state and polity, the subversion of their City, " Temple, and Government.” The Bishop adds, in a Note at the foot of
The Greek word (here translated the world) frequently means " nothing more than an age,'certain definite period of time. See Matt. “ xxiv. 6, 14. Mark xiii. 9. Luke xxi. g. compared with ver. 20. Heb. " ix. 26." Lectures, Vol. 11. p. 139, 140.
Here, it must carefully be observed, that both in the Epistle and in the Gospels--the subject treated of, unquestionably is the coming of Christ. In the latter the question of the Disa ciples, is what shall be the sign of THY COMING? In the former, the Apostle's language is Now we beseech you concerning THE COMING OF CHRIST. And the cautions, in both; are almost the same verbatim. The language therefore, and the subject are so strikingly the same, that scarcely a single doubt can be entertained, that the one has an immediate and direct reference to the other, even though no other evidence of the fact could be produced, But when to this it be added, that our Lord, in a very particular and earnest manner, spoke of the destructiou of Jerusalem, as declarative of the true nature of his coming as the Messiah, and particularly pointed out the signs of its approach, in order that they should make a deep impression upon the minds of those who should be living at the time, saying, in the most impressive language-Behold I have told you before.—When all these circumstances are maturely and attentively weighed—there can hardly exist a doubt in the mind of any impartial person that by the coming of Christ, in the passage under consideration, the Apostle had an immediate reference to the destru&tion of Jerusalem. And this meaning of the phrase the coming of Christ is strongly confirmed by the language which he had made use of in the fifth chapter of his former Epistle, that the coming of the Lord and the day of the Lord were at hand—as well as by that event being confessedly at no great distance. At least it must be admitted, that there is no inconsistency in the supposition, that the Apostle referred to that event,
"! But,” says Bishop Newton, “ the proper signification “ of the phrase the coming of Christ in this place is, his Rr coming in glory to judge the world, as the context will 6 evince beyond contradiétion.". And to prove this, he reasons as follows: “St. Paul himself," says he, “ had planted 56 the church in Thessalonica ; and it consisted principally " of converts from among the Gentile idolaters, because it " is said, 1 Thess, i.9. That they turned to God from idols, to “ serve the living and true God. What occasion was there 66 therefore to admonish them particularly of the destruction " of Jerusalem ? Or why should they be under such agitations " and terrors upon that account? What connection had Ma"cedonia with Judea, or Thessalonica with Jerusalem? What