« PreviousContinue »
sufficient to foretell the Usurpation of an Antichristian Tyranny, which was to arise many ages after, within the Church of Christ itself; a species of blasphemous Dominion, which the world had never seen before, and of which, not the least conception could be formed either from example, similitude, or analogy. But the Apostle foreseeing that when this flood of light should break in upon a longbenighted world, the imagination would be, now, as apt to extravagate, as before, when it was bewildered amidst the surrounding darkness, He thought proper to add this important caution-Knowing this first, that no Prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation; i. e. "When you sit down to study the Apocalypse, let it ever be under the guidance of this great Truth, That it is not in the department of man to interpret unfulfilled Prophecies, by pretending to fix the natures and seasons of Events, clearly indeed predicted, but obscurely described. For that the Interpreter of Prophecy is not Man, but God; who, by bringing events to pass, affords to Man the only true interpretation."
That this is the meaning of the Apostle's words, so long wrested to absurd and licentious purposes, is evident from the reason he assigns of his caution-for the Prophecy came not in the old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost: i. e. "for Prophecy, under the old Law, was not the effect of human conceit, but of divine influence." Therefore both the prediction, and the interpretation, which is the accomplishment of the prediction, are equally the word and work of God, and become manifest in the course of his Providence.-Nor did the Prophets themselves always understand the full or even the true import of what they delivered, being only the Organs of the Holy Spirit. Much less then can we suppose the common Ministers of the word to be qualified for the office of Interpreters of unfulfilled Prophecies. How necessary it was to give this caution, appears from what he himself observes in this very Epistle, of certain unlearned and unstable men, who wrested those hard places in St. Paul, where the man of sin is mentioned, to their own destruction.*
This dangerous ABUSE, which began so early, and lasted so long, hath infected every age of the Church; especially these LATTER TIMES; when the wonderful accomplishment of several of the Prophecies concerning Antichrist, having set Divines upon a more accurate study of the Apocalypse, the men of warmer imaginations, forgetting this apostolic caution, instead of confining their contemplations to the Prophecies already fulfilled, for the support of their Faith, and the consolation of their Hopes, have erected themselves into PROPHETS; and, taking the work out of the hands of Provi
Chap. iii. 3, 4.
dence, have dared to predict of what is yet in the womb of Time, and still remains in a dark place.
But how extravagant soever some Protestant Interpreters have been, when they gave a loose to their Imaginations, yet the soberest of them have universally concurred with the wildest, that this man of sin, this Antichrist, could be no other than the Man who fills the PAPAL CHAIR: Whose usurpation in Christ's Kingdom, and Tyranny over Conscience, by intoxicating the Kings of the earth with the cup of his enchantments, and Himself, with the blood of the saints, so eminently distinguishes Him from all other unjust Powers, that the various Churches who broke loose from his Enchantments, agreed in supporting the vindication of their Liberty, on this common Principle, that the POPE or CHURCH OF ROME WAS THE VERY ANTI
On this was the REFORMATION begun and carried on: On this, was the great SEPARATION from the Church of Rome conceived and perfected: For, though Persecution for Opinion would acquit those of schism, whom the Church of Rome had driven from her Communion; yet, on the principle that She is Antichrist, they had not only a right, but lay under the obligation of a command, to come out of this spiritual Babylon.*
On this Principle (the common ground, as we say, of Reformation) the several Protestant Churches, how different soever in their various models, were all erected: though, in course of time, some of the less stable have slipped beside their foundation, and now stand aslant from the common building. For as the zeal of the Reformed kept abating, the Principle came to he deserted; and at length laughed at as the fancy of brain-sick visionaries.
Therefore, before we proceed to the vindication of this important Truth, it may be proper to inquire into the chief causes of so general a Desertion-I mean, as it is now seen amongst ourselves.
The first occasion of discredit began very early. Some of the first Reformers, even in the days of ELIZABETH, suffered themselves to entertain scruples concerning the further use of whatever, in the Roman Ritual, had been abused to superstition. These scruples were fostered by the Mosaic Law, ill understood: in which, whatever had been abused to Idolatry, was (as they conceived) condemned and desecrated. Now the force of this analogy (such as it had) arose from the Principle, that THE POPE WAS ANTICHRIST, and the CHURCH OF ROME THE SPIRITUAL BABYLON: from whence the People of Christ being commanded to come out, as the People of God
Rev. xviii. 4.
had been, from Egypt, it seemed congruous to reason that PAPAL and EGYPTIAN Rites were equally abhorred by the God of purity.
I will not stay at present, as it is a matter foreign to the subject, to discriminate the natures of the TWO DISPENSATIONS, by which the folly of applying the Laws of One to the administration of the Other, might be made apparent.
It is more to the purpose to observe, that these scrupulous men (from thenceforth called PURITANS) by their obstinacy, which ended in a Separation, soon grew very troublesome, and even formidable to Government. And ANTICHRIST, and the WHORE OF BABYLON, being now become the watchword, as well on account of its being the general ground of Reformation, as because they deemed it the particular support of their Puritanism; it is not at all strange, that what, till now, had been a common Principle, should, from henceforth, be considered by the Established Church, in no other light than the support of separation, and the badge of separatists. But, as a support, those who were most attached to the national worship would be forward to bring the Principle into discredit; and as the badge, they would be ashamed to have it appear upon themselves.
The reign of JAMES the First gave another and more decisive stroke to the unfashionable doctrine of Antichrist. He abhorred the PURITANS, against whom Elizabeth was contented to be only on her guard; and he feared the PAPISTS, whom Elizabeth set at defiance; so that to countenance the doctrine of Antichrist, was, in his opinion, to give credit to the Puritan, whom he hated, and to make the Papists desperate, whom he feared. The Court-Divines, therefore, sought his favour, by speaking slightly of the doctrine; or by treating it with contempt. And the greatest Divine* and Scholar of that age ruined his fortune at Court by an immortal work in defence of this common Principle. Nor does James's writing a Paraphrase on the Revelations, before he was twenty, to prove the Pope to be Antichrist, or the cutting some lively jokes on the old Gentleman in his more advanced age, at all shew that his sentiments were different from those I have here given to him; for the Paraphrase was apparently the composition of his Puritan Governors; and as for his Jokes, he would at any time sacrifice a Friend to their good reception.
But there was another cause of still more weight, which, at this time, concurred to discredit the doctrine of Antichrist: and that was the effects of the persecutions which the Puritans, at that time, underwent. For, religious Persecution hardens and contracts the Will, and inflates and inflames the Imagination; so that the Puritans, supported under their oppression, by stubbornness and enthusiasm, soon began to fancy that they saw the evils they suffered foretold in
their favourite Prophecies concerning Antichrist: which set them upon interpreting the Apocalypse, not so much to illustrate, by the aid of critical learning, what was past, as to teach, with the air and spirit of Prophets, what was to come: regardless of the sage information of the Apostle, that the unfulfilled Prophecies are not of private interpretation. It will be easily believed, what wild work this spirit must produce in minds thus agitated, when brooding over so mysterious a Book: In which, amongst their other visionary discoveries, they saw all that concerned their own cause and sufferings, together with the happy issue of them, in the glorious triumphs of the Saints: And it will be as easily conceived, what dishonour these extravagances must bring upon the great PRINCIPLE itself. The Court and Comic Poets, who are generally the Pensioners or Creatures of the Great, soon took up the subject; and having it at this advantage, turned these Prophecies and their Interpreters, into mockery and ridicule. From thence, the People catched the infection; and Antichrist and Fanaticism have been ever since synonymous terms.
LAUD (who was bred up in College with an aversion to the Puritans) when under CHARLES THE FIRST he soon became all powerful, encouraged the more rational principles of the Arminians; of which sect GROTIUS and EPISCOPIUS were the two main Pillars. Now the moderation of the One, and a visionary scheme of the Other, indisposed both from pressing Popery with the victorious doctrine of Antichrist. This, which added fresh discredit to it, encouraged one Court-Divine* (afterwards an Archbishop) in an Act at Oxford, to deny publicly, that the Pope was Antichrist; while another of the same fashionable party, though much more able and discreet,† ventured, in pure aversion to Fanaticism, to adopt the System of GROTIUS on this head; a System, to which Popery has been much indebted; and which GROTIUS seems to have invented for the sake only of his darling Project, an Union between the Catholic and Protestant Churches.
The Civil Wars, and the overthrow of the Constitution, soon followed, the glorious atchievement of a rabble of armed Fanatics! whose Enthusiasm was inflamed to its height, by their second project, to destroy Antichrist, and erect the fifth Monarchy of King Jesus. Indeed, these were no other than the various spawn of the first persecuted Puritans. So that when Monarchy was restored, and Churchmen of greatest merit were, by a rare chance, become most in repute at Court, the severity of their sufferings in the late confusions, and their aversion to the fanatic spirit that occasioned those sufferings, enough disposed them to follow the example of the old Court Clergy,
in discountenancing a Doctrine whose abuse had so much contributed to aggravate the preceding mischiefs.
The licentious practices and the Popish, projects of the Favorites and Ministers of CHARLES THE SECOND further concurred to bring this GREAT PROTESTANT PRINCIPLE into discredit: Amongst these, whatever concerned the sublimities of Religion, and the mysterious ways of Providence; whatever disgraced the Church of Rome, or stigmatized her with the brand of ANTICHRIST, was sure to be treated with contempt and aversion.
The REVOLUTION, indeed, removed many of these prejudices; and, by the vindication of religious as well as civil Liberty, abated the rancour of Sects and Parties against one another. Nay, by the recent terror and abhorrence of Popery, from which men were but just recovered, it even produced contrary prejudices, favourable to the cause of truth. So that now one would have hoped, this capital Prophecy might at length have procured a fair and equitable hearing. But, alas! the remedy came too late: The distemper was grown inveterate, and ANTICHRIST and BABYLON were still held to be the language of cant and enthusiasm. So that no eminence of genius, no depth of Science, could secure the Writers on this Prophecy from contempt. Of this we have lately had a portentous instance, respecting the most sublime mind* that ever was; and in whose amazing efforts this nation most justly prides itself: who was no sooner known to have commented on the REVELATIONS, than he was judged† to have fallen into dotage. And this great Expositor, as great when he laid open the mysteries of the Religious System, as when he unveiled those of the Natural, was almost generally condemned to neglect and oblivion.
Notwithstanding all these disadvantages, under which the man must labour who comes to the defence of this SURE WORD OF PROPHECY, yet a full sense of the importance of the case will be sufficient to encourage a Protestant Divine to make the attempt: For, on the Prophecy concerning Antichrist the Protestant Churches were founded; and by the APOCALYPSE in general are they impregnably upheld.
The contempt, in which the Doctrine now lies, hath kept in credit the miserable shifts the Church of Rome hath employed to cure the deadly wound which cannot be healed. For as that Community hold the Apocalypse to be Canonical, they are obliged to own, that the object of the Prophecy is Antichrist, or the Man of sin; and, what is more, that it is in ROME itself where he domineers. For, the place
† By Voltaire and the French Philosophers; a sect sprung from
• NEWTON. our Freethinkers.