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Jerom in a note, which have afforded some colour of plausibility to the groundless declaration of Thomas Paine, a declaration on which he lays much stress (in his Age of Reason), that the belief of Christianity, and the belief of a plurality of worlds, are altogether irreconcileable. “What are we to think,' asks this celebrated writer, of the Christian system of faith, that forms itself upon the idea of only one world, and that of no greater extent, as is before shewn, than 25,000 miles"'?' Certainly if this narrow, unphilosophic idea formed really a part of the Christian system, this circumstance would throw over it very strong suspicions. But the fact is, that the idea ought to be separated from it, and that Christianity stands perfectly clear of the charge'.
11 P. 39–46. In animadverting on the manner in which Mr. Paine has spoken of the book of Revelation, Mr. Wakefield says, that the random fiction of
a distempered brain should be marked with such characters of consistency and truth, as are found on the face of the Apocalypse, is to me perfectly inconceivable: not much unlike a suspicion, that the fabric of St. Peter's at Rome was not the work of architectural ingenuity, but thrown up in its present form by an earthquake or a volcano.' Exam. of the Age of Reason, 2d ed. p. 45.
12 In truth, the study of revelation, by teaching us, that we are beings designed for immortality tends to enlarge our views with respect to the probable destination of many of the planetary orbs, which revolve either round our own or more distant suns. To
that the particular state of being and happiness, or the particular place of residence, to which vir. tuous men will be transported at their departure from this world, will for ever remain the same, is, I conceive, an expectation contracted and unphilosophic, though it has, indeed, been frequently countenanced by the declarations of divines. In the chain of existence, man, it may be presumed, constitutes no very elevated link. The distinctions of being, which intervene between man and the oyster, numerous as they are, it is likely, are surpassed in number by those which separate man from the Deity. Is it credible, that an immortality should be passed, on a single spot of creation, or in a uniform routine of occupations ! Is it not rather to be expected, that there will be a long succession of states and of worlds, in which improvements will gradually succeed to improvements, the faculties of the celestial inhabitants being more and more enlarged, and their prospects becoming more and more extensive ? The promises of never-ending happiness, which the New Testament promises to the virtuous, do then perfectly correspond with those magnificent ideas of the extent of space, and the capaciousness of the heavenly bodies, which the study of Astronomy suggests. The extreme brevity of the period of our continuance on earth, when contrasted with the boundless extent of eternity, bears, indeed, some analogy to the difference, which subsists between the immensity of the material universe, and the comparative diminutiveness of the solar system, which, to an eye placed in the centre of existence, would appear but as a point, and, if annihilated, would be far from occasioning any perceptible veracity.
Had the discourse of Jesus been prophetic of the dissolution of the world and of the day of Judgment, surely it might have been expected, that some notice should have been taken in it of the resurrection of the dead, of their being summoned before the bar of Christ, of the solemn sentence there to be pronounced, and of the varying situations of felicity and wretchedness in which each individual shall then be placed. But to these momentous circumstances there is no allusion in the prophecy.
Bp. Newton, Dr. Macknight, Mr. Nisbett, and some other modern writers, plainly discerning that this interpretation of our Lord's prophecy, as referring to the end of the world, is altogether untenable, have advanced another, which they flatter themselves is more free from difficulties. The whole of it they explain as relating to the Jewish state alone, and the subversion of the Jewish capital and policy. As the interpretation they reject is principally grounded upon an erroneous translation of yow; in the same manner that which they have adopted derives its prime support from the ambiguity of a single word. But the argument, drawn from the equivocal meaning of devede, is spoken of by bp. Newton as if it were decisive and irresistible. “It is,' says he, to me a wonder how any man can refer part of the foregoing discourse to the destruction of Jerusalem, and part to the end of the world, or any other distant event, when it is said so positively here in the conclusion, all these things shall be fulfilled in this generation'.' In order to account for the wonder expressed by the prelate, and for his having sincerely felt it, candor might incline one to suppose, were the supposition admissible, that he had never heard of another signification having been annexed to the word. But since it was differently explained by the generality of the fathers, and, as has already been seen, by Brenius, and Mede, by Wolfius, Marckius and Dr. Sykes ; and since the world was in possession of their respective writings, antecedently to the publication of the bishop's Dissertations, not to mention other well known authors who had noticed this explication of the word ; it is not credible, that so diligent a student as his Lordship could have been ignorant of it, or of its having been advanced by critics of eminence.
13 Vol. II. p. 317.
The reader has already seen, that in Matthew the question of our Lord's disciples runs thus (and it is in Matthew that it is most fully expressed), Tell us, when shall these things be ? i. e. the overthrow and demolition of the temple of Jerusalem. And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the period ? That this passage contains two distinct questions, any person, I think, who views it with an impartial eye, will not fail of discerning; and it is therefore reasonable to believe, that our Lord would give to them distinct answers. As bp. Newton, however, clearly perceived, that if these promises were granted, the conclusion alleged would follow; he asserts, that the purport of the question plainly is when shall the destruction of Jerusalem be, and what shall be the signs of it-4,'-But this is only part of the purport; and, I believe, this mode of limiting the question is not more contrary to the opinion of the majority of interpreters, than it is at variance with the plain import of the words. “They inquire of him,' says Chrysostom (in loc.), “ these two things, when shall these things be : namely the dissolution of the temple, and what would be the sign of his coming.'
Theophylact (in loc.) has a similar passage. Indeed the learned Maldonatus (in his commentary printed in 1639) says, that no one denies, that the disciples asked of him
14 Vol. II. p. 214.
distinct questions, respecting the destruction of the temple, and his coming. • Christ, if I am capable of discerning any thing,' says Grotius, distinctly answers to distinct questions. The coming of Christ many do not distinguish from the end of the world, being, I apprehend, deceived by the ambiguity of the word; for it is most certain, that the word wapxol (or coming] has a diversity of acceptation. I here interpret it, not of the Judgment, but of THE KINGDOM of the Messiah"5.?
• Our Saviour could not,' says Mr. Taylor of Portsmouth, 'mean to tell his disciples, that his coming would be during that generation and at the time of the desolation, because he had assured them, that the time of his coming was known to God alone, verse 36. Mark xiii. 3216.
In the 24th v. of the xxist ch. of Luke our Lord foretells, that the Jews shall be led into all nations, and that the capital of their country shall continue in possession of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. Now this period is not arrived, but Jerusalem is still trodden down of the Gentiles : and it is therefore reasonable to suppose, from the manner in which the 9 subsequent verses are introduced, that neither are the prophecies contained in them yet accomplished.
It is to Judea and Jerusalem alone, that bp. Newton, and those who follow his hypothesis, of course apply the 25th verse; which, according to the common translation, runs thus, and there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring. But it would, I apprehend, require far greater talents than the bp. of Bristol or any other prelate ever possessed to shew, how orvogn Edwwn, which signifies the distress of the nations or of the Gentiles, and orugrein, which denotes either the habitable earth or the wide extent of the Roman empire, can be applied with any shew of reason and of probability, to the Jewish people and to the narrow limits of Palestine.
15 Grot. in Mat. xxiv. 3.
16 On the Grand Apostacy, p. 52.
With what color of plausibility the encouragement of Jesus to look up, and lift up their heads, on account of an approaching deliverance, can be applied, as bp. Newton and his followers have applied it, to the period when Jerusalem was destroyed, I am, also, altogether unable to discern. They cannot consider it to have been addressed by our Lord to his disciples in the character of Jews, since this was the æra, when the descendants of Abraham sustained a complete overthrow, and encountered the most signal calamities : nor is it agreeable to the veracity of his prophetic character, to suppose him to have foretold, that, at the destruction of Jerusalem, the hour of the deliverance of the Christians would approach, though it is a well-known fact, that they were then exposed, and for a very long period of years subsequent to that time continued to be exposed, to all the frowns and insults of the world; to the powerful enmity of the priesthood, and to the persecutions of the civil magistrate, persecutions cruel in their effects and frequent in their recurrence.
Our Lord says (I am now transcribing from Matthew), and then shall appear the sign of the son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. The expression translated, all the tribes of the earth, bp. Newton asserts, signifies merely the Jewish tribes, inhabiting the province of Judea ; and he maintains, that this passage plainly signifies, that the destruction of Jerusalem will be such a remarkable instance of divine vengeance, such a signal manifestation of Christ's power and glory, that all the Jewish tribes shall mourn!?." But unfortunately for this interpretation, it is completely at variance with the testimony of civil and ecclesiastical history. So far from authorising us to conclude, that the Jews discerned or acknowleged, in the destruction of their city, any display of Christ's power; or that they attributed to their rejection of him, and the cruel death which he
17 Vol. II. p. 283.