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agree together to keep a day of fasting and prayer, on some special occasion; or when public days of fasting and thanksgiving are kept throughout a Christian province or country And though it be ordinarily the manner of the civil magistrate to lead in the setting apart such days; yet that alters not the case: If it be Pharisaism in the society openly to agree in such extraordinary exercises of religion, it is not less Pharisaism, for the heads of the society leading in the affair. And if that were now the case with the Christian church, that once was, for about three hundred years together, that the civil magistrate was not of the society of Christians, nor concerned himself in their affairs; yet this would not render it the less suitable for Christians, on proper occasions, jointly and visibly, one to another, to engage in such extraordinary exercises of religion, and to keep days of fasting and thanksgiving by agreement.
ANS. 2. As to the latter part of the objection, there can be no room for it in this case. It cannot be objected against what is proposed in the memorial, that if persons should comply with it, it would look like affecting singularity, and open distinction from others of God's professing people, in extraordinary religion, such as was in the Pharisees of old: Because it is evident, the very design of the memorial, is not to promote singularity and distinction, but as much as possible to avoid and prevent it. The end of the memorial is not to confine and limit the thing proposed, that it may be practised only by a few, in distinction from the generality; but on the contrary to extend it, and make it as general among professing Christians as possible. Some had complied with the extraordinary duty proposed, and therein had been distinguished from others, for two years, before the memorial was published; and they were more distinguished than they desired; and therefore send abroad this memorial, that the practice might be more spread, and become more general, that they might be less distinguished. What they evidently seek, is to bring to pass as general a compliance as possible of Christians of all denominations, intreating that the desire of concurrence and assistance, contained in the memorial, may by no meanɛ
be understood, us restricting to any particular denomination of arty, or those who are of such or such opinions about any former instances of remarkable religious concern ; but to be extended to all, who shall vouchsafe any attention to the proposal, and have at heart the interest of vital Christianity, and the power of godliness; and who, however differing about other things, are convinced of the importance of fervent prayer, to promote that common interest, and of scripture persuasives, to promote suck prayer.
OBJECT. IV. Another objection, that is very likely to arise in the minds of many against such extraordinary prayer as is proposed for the speedy coming of Christ's kingdom, is that we have no reason to expect it, until there first come a time of most extreme calamity to the church of God, and prevalence of her Antichristian enemies against her; even that which is represented, Rev. xi. by the slaying of the witnesses; but have reason to determine the contrary.
ANs. It is an opinion that seems pretty much to have obtained, that before the fulfilment of the promises relating to the church's latter day glory, there must come a most terrible time, a time of extreme suffering, and dreadful persecu tion of the church of Christ; wherein Satan and Antichrist are to obtain their greatest victory over her, and she is to be brought lower than ever by her enemies. Which opinion has chiefly risen from the manner of interpreting and applying the forementioned prophecy of the slaying of the witnesses. This opinion, with such persons as retain it, must needs be a great restraint and hinderance,with regard to such an affair as is proposed to us in the memorial. If persons expect no other, than that the more the glorious times of Christ's kingdom are hastened, the sooner will come this dreadful time, wherein the generality of God's people must suffer so extremely, and the church of Christ be almost extinguished," and blotted out from under heaven; how can it be otherwise, than a great damp to their hope, courage and activity, in praying for, and reaching after the speedy introduction of those glorious promised times? As long as this opinion is retained, it will undoubtedly ever have this unhappy influence on the
minds of those that wish well to Zion, and favor her stones and dust. It will tend to damp, deaden and keep down, life, hope and joyful expectation in prayer; and even in great measure, to prevent all earnest, animated and encouraged prayer, in God's people, for this mercy, at any time before it is actually fulfilled. For they that proceed on this hypothesis in their prayers, must, at the same time that they pray for this glorious day, naturally conclude within themselves, that they shall never live to see on the earth any dawning of it, but only to see the dismal time that shall precede it, in which the far greater part of God's people, that shall live until then, shall die under the extreme cruelties of their persecutors. And the more they expect that God will answer their prayers, by speedily bringing on the promised glorious day, the more must they withal expect themselves, to have a share in those dreadful things, that nature shrinks at the thoughts of, and also expect to see things that a renewed nature shrinks at and dreads; even the prevailing of God's enemies, and the almost total extinguishing the true religion in the world. And on this hypothesis, these discouragements are like to attend the prayers of God's people, until that dismal time be actually come: And when that is come, those that had been prophesying and praying in sackcloth, shall generally be slain : And after that time is over, then the glorious day shall immediately commence. So that this notion tends to discourage and hinder all earnest prayer in the church of God for that glorious coming of Christ's kingdom, until it be actually come; and that is to hinder its ever being at all.
It being so, this opinion being of such hurtful tendency, certainly it is a thousand pities it should prevail and be retained, if truly there be no good ground for it.
Therefore in answer to this objection, I would, with all humility and modesty, examine the foundation of that opinion, of such a dreadful time of victory of Antichrist over the church, yet to be expected: And particularly shall endeavor to shew that the slaying of the witnesses, foretold Rev. xi. 7... 10, is not an event that remains yet to be fulfilled. To this end, I would propose the following things to consideration.
1. The time wherein the witnesses lie dead in the streets of the great city, doubtless signifies the time wherein the true church of Christ is lowest of all, most of all prevailed against by Antichrist, and nearest to an utter extinction; the time wherein there is left the least visibility of the church of Christ yet subsisting in the world, least remains of any thing appertaining to true religion, whence a revival of it can be expected, and wherein all means of it are most abolished, and the state of the church is in all respects furthest from any thing whence any hopes of its ever flourishing again might arise. For before this, the witnesses prophecy in sackcloth; but now they are dead: Before this, they were kept low indeed, yet there was life, and power to bring plagues on their enemies, and so much of true religion left, as to be a continual eye sore and torment to them; but now their enemies rejoice and feast, and have a general public triumph, as having obtained a full victory over them, and having entirely extirpated them, and being completely delivered from them, and all that might give them any fear of being ever troubled with them any more..... This time, wherever it be fixed, doubtless is the time, not only, wherein fewest professors of true religion are left in the world; but a time wherein the truth shall be farthest out of sight, and out of reach, and most forgotten; wherein there are left fewest beams of light or traces of truth, fewest means of information, and opportunities of coming to the knowledge of the truth; and so a time of the most barbarous ignorance, most destitute of all history, reliques, monuments and memory of things appertaining to true religion, or things, the knowledge of which hath any tendency to bring truth again to light; and most destitute of learning, study and inquiry.
Now, if we consider the present state of mankind, is it credible, that a time will yet come in the world, that in these respects exceeds all times that were before the reformation? And that such a time will come before the fall of Antichrist, unless we set that at a much greater distance, than the farthest that any have yet supposed? It is next to impossible, that such a change should be brought about in so short a time: It cannot be without a miracle. In order to it, not on
ly must the Popish nations so prevail, as utterly to extirpate the Protestant religion through the earth; but must do many other things, far more impossible for them to effect, in order to cover the world with so gross and confirmed a darkness, and to bury all light and truth in so deep an oblivion, and so far out of all means and hopes of a revival. And not only must av ast change be made in the Protestant world, but the Popish nations must be strangely metamorphosed; and they themselves must be terribly persecuted by some other power, in order to bring them to such a change: Nor would persecution without extirpation be sufficient for it. If there should be another universal deluge, it might be sufficient to bring things in the world to such a pass; provided a few ignorant barbarous persons only were preserved in an ark: And it would require some catastrophe, not much short of this, to effect it.
2. In the reformation, that was in the days of Luther, Calvin and others, their contemporaries, the threatened destruction of Antichrist, that dreadful enemy, that had long oppressed and worn out the saints, was begun; nor was it a small beginning, but Antichrist hath fallen, at least, half way to the ground, from that height of power and grandeur, that he was in before. Then began the vials of God's wrath to be poured out on the throne of the beast, to the great shaking of its foundations, and diminution of its extent; so that the Pope lost near half of his former dominions: And as to degree of au thority and influence over what is left, he is not now possessed of what he had before. God now at length, in answer to the long continued cries of his people, awaked as one out of sleep, and began to deliver his church from her exceeding low state, that she had continued in for many ages, under the great oppression of this grand enemy, and to restore her from her exile and bondage in the spiritual Babylon and Egypt.... And it is not agreeable to the analogy of God's dispensations, that after this, God should desert his people, and hide himself from them, even more than before, and leave them more than ever in the hands of their enemy, and all this advantage of the church against Antichrist should be entirely given up and VOL. III. 3 G