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" the armies of the living God: yet he approaches not, lile “ Goliah, to call forth a Champion, but to insult and triumph over his va
vanquished Enemies." Among other Objections which the Historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire has urged against the truth of Christianity the learned University Preacher has, very properly, brought forward for public discuision, that which relates to the coming of Christ, as it certainly is, the most formidable and the most likely to make an impreslion upon the mind of the Reader of any that can be named, in the whole history of religious controversy. " In the primitive Church," says the Historian, “ the influence of truth was very powerfully " strengthened by an opinion which, however it may deserve
respect for it usefulness and antiquity, has not been found * to be agreeable to experience. It was universally believed " that the end of the world and the kingdom of heaven were
hand. The near approach of this wonderful event had ** been predicted by the Apostles; the tradition of it was
preserved by their earliest disciples and those who understood,
in their literal sense, the discourses of Christ himself were “ obliged to expect the second and glorious coming of the
6 Son of Man in the clouds, before that generation was totally " extinguished, which had beheld his humble condition upon " Earth. Yet," he adds, or the revolution of seventeen 6 Centuries has instructed us not to press too closely the “ language of Prophecy and Revelation. But as long as, for a wise purposes, this error was permitted to sublist in the " Church, it was productive of the most falutary effects on “ the faith and practice of Christians, who lived in the awful
expectation of that moment when the globe itfelf and all the 66 various race of mankind should tremble at the appearance of " their divine Judge." +
What renders this Objection the more formidable is, that it really contains nothing more than is to be met with in the Writings of Christians themselves, and of those too, of na finall eminence for their knowledge of the sacred Writings.
The learned University Preacher appears to have represented their opinions with great fairness and impartiality, so far as they relate to that part of the charge which afferts that the Apostles predicted the near approach of the end of the world.
* See Edwards’s Sermon on the Jewish and Heathen Rejection of the Christian Miracles, p. 4.
+ See Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 1. pages 470, 471.
they * See the Predi&tions of the Apostles concerning the end of the World. A Sermon preached before the University of Cambridge May 23, 1790, by. Thomas Edwards, LL.D. pages 12, 13.
It 'may noi,“' says he, “ be thought wonderful that Baronius “ and other Romanists, to avoid the application of the Man " of Sin, should earnestly contend that the speedy appearance “ of Christ was expected by the Apoitles, (See Mede's Works,
p. 665); but it is somewhat remarkable that the Orthodox ~ Father of the celebrated Prelate who translated Ilaiah, in a “ treatise designed to confute a supposed latitudinarian, should * affent to the validity of our Historian's Objection, by “confessing, without reserve, that the Apostles were mistaken. “ (See Lowth's Vindication, &c. p. 52.). Grotius infinuates, 6 that for wise purposes the pious deception was permitted to 6 take place ;-(Gibbon, Vol. II. p. 301. See Grotius de 6 Veritat. lib. ii. Ÿ 6. Cleric. ad 1 Thess. v. 10.) And an ".. ingenious Profeffor of our own University does not appear 66 extremely solicitous to relieve the 'Apostles from the - accufation of Error. (See Dr. Watson's Apology, p. 61.) 46. But how far these concessions
be founded on truth, be discovered only by an examination of those Passages * which are usually brought forward in the discussion of this
: In this examination, the learned University Preacher, with Dr. Watson, is so far from being solicitous to relieve the Apostles from the accufation of Error, that at the close of it he says, “ I have now completed the examination of those
passages, which I intended to notice ; others might be 5 added equally clear and determinate ; but these which I have “ felected feem abundantly fufficient to establish the justness 5 of Mr. Locke's opinion, (vide ad. 11. Cor. v. 3.) + that " the Apostles expected, in their own time, the end of the “ world and the appearance of Christ. It becomes, therefore, “ the Antagonist of our Historian, most earnestly to consider, “ whether the real Interests of Christianity would not be «s more essentially promoted, by conceding the objection to his “ Adverfary, than by vainly attempting to remove it. We
+ Mr. Locke's Note here referred to, is as follows : “ That the Apostle “ looked on the coming of Chrilt as not far off, appears by what he says, “ i Theff. iv. 15. and v. 6. which Epistle was written some years before this. * See also to the same purpose, i Cor. i. 3. and vii. 29, 31. and x. 11. * Rom. xiii. 11, 12. Heb. x. 37.
as need not be apprehensive that any injurious consequences " will arise from the concession, for as our ingenious Professor ri
very candidly acknowledges, (p. 64), the Apostles might, surely, be
witnesses of the life and resurrection of “ Jelus, though they were ignorant of the precise time when " he would come to judge the world *.” And Writer, now living, speaking upon this subject, in a private letter, says, “ I cannot help thinking that the primitive " Christians and, perhaps, even the Apostles, did expect the “ day of judgment to be near at hand. : I think that some of " St. Paul's expressions will hardly admit of any others " interpretation."
The other part of the charge of the Historian of the Declineand Fall of the Roman Empire, viz. that those who " understood, in their literal sense, the discourses of Christ
himself, were obliged to expect the second and glorious coming of the Son of Man in the clouds before that generation was totally extinguished which had beheld his " humble condition upon Earth," is founded upon such passages as the following, Matt. X. 23. Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.---xvi. 28.There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. xxiv. 30. They shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven. Luķe xxi. 31, 32. When ye see these things come to pass, know ve that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled,
Upon this latter passage, the learned University Preacher quotes Dr. Sykes, as very readily allowing that, by the kingdom of God, weare here to understand, its glorious state and perfection in a future world. And, he says himself, that any 2 other interpretation would, indeed, be utterly groundless ;" and that our Lord decisively foretells that the generation " then existing should not be totally extinguished till it had
witnessed his second and glorious appearance in the clouds " of heaven.” + Mr. Mede says, “ Í utterly deny that to be " the kingdom, viz. which took place at Christ's first coming, " our Saviour prophesies of, Luke xxi. 31. and answerably " in the other Gospels:” And, in another place, he says that " the Church hath always grounded her faith of the second " coming of Christ, upon those passages in the Gospels which
* See Edwards's Sermon on the Predictions of the Apostles; pages 35, 36. # Ibid. pages 19 ---33,
speak of his coming in the clouds of heaven."* And, to mention no more, a Writer in the Theological Repository, whose signature is Idiota, says, “ We find it very evident " that our Lord is recorded by his Historians, Matthew, “ Mark (xiii. 30.), and Luke, to have declared, that his
second coming was one of those events which would happen “ during the lives of some of his Contemporaries. We find " ourselves obliged to make this concession, and let Mr. “ Gibbon make every advantage of it that he can." +
If this be an impartial view of the present state of the Controversy concerning the doctrine of the coming of Chrift, the observation of the learned University Preacher, already mentioned, cannot be very remote from the truth,—that the Hiftorian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, • Proud and elated by the weakness of his adversaries, insults " and triumphs over his vanquished Enemies." I
To a person who attends to the state of religious controversy in the present age, it must be evident that the press teems with defences of Christianity; many of which do the highest credit to the learning, the abilities, and the piety which they display ; but however meritorious and praise worthy, such exertions, in the Christian cause may be, they must lose much of their intended effect, in converting the Unbeliever, while such formidable objections to the truth of Christianity appear, by the confeffion of Christians themselves, to stand in their full force. Nor will the Believer himself be able to pay any attention to these objections, and return, with full satisfaction, to the perusal of the facred Writings, while any doubt remains upon his mind, of the true meaning of those passages upon which the Historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, has founded his Objections.
* See Mede’s Works, Vol. II. p. 349, 306. Edit. 1650. + See the Theol. Reposit. Vol. VI. p. 162.
See Edwards’s Sermon on the Jewish and Heathen rejection of the Christian Miracles, p. 4.
“ It is very remarkable that the Bishop of Landaff “ has passed over in silence, the objection of the Historian of the Decline and “ Fall of the Roman Empire, so far as it relates to our Lord, as if conscious “ that it was not to be refuted. He, no doubt, must have perceived its “ connection with the charge brought against the Apostles, and therefore it “ deserved his first consideration; for it was natural for the Apostles to have “ taken their opinions from him; and white a suspicion remained that Christ “ taught such a doctrine, the attempt to exculpate the Apostles from such a “ charge must inevitably be fruitless.”
To the Believer, therefore, as well as to the Infidel, this Controversy is of the utmost importance, as the language upon which the Objections of the Historian of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire are founded, particularly as it relates to our Lord himself, runs throughout the whole of the Gospel History ; as it was evidently uitered with a design to make a strong impression upon the minds of those to whom it was addressed; and as it is utterly impossible, otherwise, to understand, what is the great and leading object which it has in view ; for as the learned University Preacher has, very properly, observed, " the Objections of the Historian of the Decline and Fall of “ the Roman Empire are now levelled, not only against the « doctrines of particular feets, but against the entire fabric of
Christianity itself ;--that the conteft does not lie between 4 Paul and Apollos, or Apollos and Cephas; but between “ Revelation and Reason --Faith and Infidelity,--the purest
Religion in the world, and no religion at all. The essential Interests therefore," as this Writer farther obferves, “ of
our Holy Rcligion-the credit and character of the Clerical “ profeffion, most importunately demand such a complete « refutation of our inveterate" (but, in this instance, not uncandid) “ Enemy, as may defeat his purposes, repreis his 46 confidence, and silence his reproaches."' *
If the passages upon which this charge is founded, 'be considered in their connecion, and with a view to the Gospel as an History, and, more particularly, as an History of the claims of Jesus to the character of the Mofiah, and to the situation and circnmstances of things, when Jefus appeared in the world, this Champion of Infidelity—this formidable Adversary--this inveterate Enemy, as the learned University Preacher has termed him t, will be despoiled of all his armour in which he boasted,--the envenomed shafts of his sarcastic ridicule, deprived of their poison, will fly harmless; and Christianity, far from being injured in the contest, will gain a degree of luftre to its truth, which all, who are capable of judging of the nature of evidence, will be forced to ackno dge to be among the strongest recommendations of its Celestial Origin. Nor will it be among the least advantages attending this examination, that it will present to the Christian world a specimen of the only legitimate method of studying the
* Sce Edwards's Sermon on the Miracles, p. 4.
* Ibid. pages 3, 4•