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If there must needs be euthusiasts and visionaries, (and it would seem that there must be), why may not this department of exegetical theology exhibit its due proportion?
Once for all, however, we may beseech such interpreters to listen to a word of caution. I will not reproach some of them, as I might do, with the presumption of undertaking, without any knowledge of the original Scriptures, to expound a book, which, of all others in the Bible, demands the deepest knowledge of the original language of Scripture, and of prophetic idiom. But may I not ask, how it came about, that when Jerusalem was to be destroyed, the exact time was so carefully kept back until the very eve of its accomplishment, from the disciples of Christ? Mark tells us (13: 3), that the three favourite disciples went to Jesus, and asked him questions respecting the time of its desolation. He also tells us, that Jesus declared "that time (v. 32) to be unknown, not only to men, but to the angels in heaven, yea to the Son himself." It was only after the Roman army was in Palestine and had begun their task, that the time was declared to John, Rev. 11: 2.
But we may appeal to a passage still more applicable to the present case, and which comprises more within its grasp. The anxious disciples asked of the risen Saviour: When wilt thou restore the kingdom to Israel? It matters not what particular thing they had in mind, i. e. whether it was purely the spiritual kingdom of Christ, or the ecclesiastico-political kingdom which they had once been expecting. The answer is one which should be engraven on a frontispiece and put upon the study door of every writer on the prophecies, who indulges the expectation of being able to point out the day and the hour of fulfilment. It was this: IT IS NOT FOR YOU TO KNOW THE TIMES OR THE SEASONS, WHICH THE FATHER HAS PUT IN HIS OWN POWER. Acts 1: 6, 7.
If now it was not for even apostles to know these secrets, is it for every curious and speculating mind, that knows little indeed either of history or exegetical science, to tell us all about such matters? Is it not presumption to engage in such an undertaking? God has undoubtedly determined upon the times and seasons, when all events that respect his church will take place. But it does not follow, that he has revealed this matter to us. We are satisfied that he has not. Why not leave to him the secret things which he claims as his own prerogative? Why assumie to ourselves a position, which he does not allow us to assume?
But alas! all the disappointments of writers teeming with fancy and filled with confidence, in days that are past, seem to have made no serious impression on the like class of writers at the present period. As soon as ruthless time mows down one bed of flowers with his scythe, another is planted on their ruins, with the hope of its producing a more permanent crop. And so it will still be. When 1843 has passed away, and the world still moves on without being jostled from its orbit; the Pope still issues his decrees from the Vatican; the Sultan still haughtily points to his peering minarets and to the banners of Islam; and faithful and humble Christians are still labouring and suffering as before; then some more fortunate adventurer will discover latent error in former calculations, (as recently has been done in respect to those of Bengel), and we shall then have a new period fixed upon as the consummation-period of all. But this will, in all probability, be far enough in advance to be out of the reach of the generation who are addressed, and therefore beyond their power of absolute denial or of decisive correction. When this is once done with some good degree of ingenuity, then a new tune will be played upon the old instrument; and it will be listened to and applauded because it is new. Thus we
go on, amusing ourselves from one decennium to another, ever pursuing in fact the same phantoms, although we give chase to them in different directions. When such pursuit will be over it would be as difficult to say, as to fix upon the specific period of the Millennium.
It may not be improper here to remark, that while the exact time cannot be discovered by us, and is not (as I believe) revealed in the Scriptures, yet something may be said in respect to the probable period, when the general diffusion of Christianity will take place. My answer to the question respecting this would be, that it will speedily take place, when all Christians, or at least the great body of them, come up to the standard of duty, or come very near to this standard, in their efforts to diffuse among the nations of the earth the knowledge of salvation. The divinely appointed means will secure the end, because God will bless them. Every Christian, then, and every society for propagating the knowledge of Christianity, is helping to usher in the millennial day, when they ply this work to the best of their ability. On such a ground, the strongest encouragement is held out to all faithful disciples. They may rest assured, that "their work and labor in the Lord are not in vain."
But let us, on the other hand, suppose that a definite time has been disclosed in the Apocalypse, or elsewhere in the Scripture, before which it is impossible that the Millennium should commence; what encouragement could Christians have to engage in efforts to christianize the world before that period arrives? They must take every step with the assurance that the end is unattainable. Divine decree has fixed the time, and disclosed it to them, before which all means and all efforts to convert the nations must be unavailing. The consequence of course would naturally be, a total remission, on the part of true
believers in the divine word, of all efforts to evangelize the world. And can it be thought credible, that the same voice which has proclaimed: "Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature," has also proclaimed (and therefore we may rest assured) that before the middle or close of the 19th century the nations will not hearken to it? This is not the manner in which the great Head of the Church is wont to deal with his servants. He has told them, that the times and the seasons the Father keeps in his own power. For the rest, they have only to obey his commands as to proclaiming the gospel, and leave the event with him.
One thing more I feel constrained to say, before I quit this theme of the latter day of glory. Whether we have respect to the Millennium, usually so named, or to a more prosperous period still, near the close of time, the extravagant apprehensions so often entertained and avowed respecting this season of prosperity, seem quite unworthy of credit. The prophets have indeed employed most glowing language, in describing the future season of prosperity; and all they have said, will doubtless prove to be true, in the sense which they meant to convey. But let him who interprets these passages remember well, that they are poetry, and are replete in an unusual degree with figurative language and poetic imagery. Let him call to mind, moreover, that the language employed in the last twentyseven chapters of Isaiah, in order to describe the return from the Babylonish captivity, and the prosperity which would ensue, is scarcely, if at all, less glowing than that which has respect to the future prosperity of the Messiah's kingdom. Besides all this, he must never forget that the present stage of our existence is probationary, and therefore sin, suffering, and sorrow must be connected with it. Are we to be told in earnest, that men will, at some future period, be born destitute of any taint or free from any
evil consequence of Adam's fall, and that they will be without sin, and need no regeneration or sanctification? And must we thus be persuaded to believe, that they will not need a Redeemer too? for this would be a necessary consequence of such a state of things. Christian churches, also, and a ministry of reconciliation, will no longer be needed; and even all civil government may be dispensed with! No; we must not indulge in such visionary conceits as these. The time will never be, so long as probation lasts, when there will not be unregenerate men to be converted; Christians to be instructed, guided, comforted, reproved, chastened; and therefore abundance of work for Christian ministers. Their labours will indeed be crowned with success; but occasion for labour will always be occurring. "Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth," is a truth never to be lost sight of, in the preparation of sons and daughters for a state of glory. In the hands of God, suffering and trial become the means of the Christian's higher good; and therefore we cannot expect those means to be excluded from the millennial state. A great diminution of evil of every kind we may well expect, when the latter day of glory shall come. But men will still be frail dying creatures, and undergo pain and decay. They will be imperfect in holiness, and will need admonition and correction. They will still only "know in part, and believe in part," and will need a constant process of sanctification and illumination. The visionary schemes then, which represent the Millennium as the return of the primitive paradisiacal state, are not for a moment to be listened to by a sober and discreet man. The state of Adam's race is fixed and certain. A world of sin and suffering is as sure to be their probationary habitation, as that the decree of God will stand. Yet this same world will be the place where his rich and abounding compassion will be