By Andrew Lee
Luke xviii. 8.
When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but be that believeth not shall be damned." So certified the risen Savior. Faith is made a condition of salvation. But God requires only a reasonable service. He must then have given evidence of the truth to which He requires assent. He hath given it abundantly; Christians "are compassed about with a cloud of witnesses."
The proofs of Christianity are of two kinds; external and internal. Both are strong. United they leave infidelity without excuse.
Of external, the chief are miracles and prophecy. Miracles carried conviction to beholders; and were designed to give credibility to special messengers. Prophecy is a standing evidence, by which testimony is borne to the truth of revelation; yea, it is a growing evidence, which gains strength by every fulfillment.
Some may envy those who lived in this age of miracles supposing them sufficient to banish every doubt. But the proof arising from the fulfillment of prophecy, which we enjoy above them, is equal if not superior to theirs.
The prophecies contain sketches of the history of man, and of the plan of providence, from their respective dates to the end of the world. Those which relate 'to the declensions of religion, which were to take place under the gospel dispensation', will now only be considered.
From those declensions, arguments are drawn against the truth of Christianity. Was Christianity from God, he would verify the declaration made by him who claimed to be his Son. 'The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it'. But they do prevail. What was once said of its author, 'Behold the world is gone after him,' will now apply to its enemy. This religion is not therefore from God, but of man's device. Propt up as it is, by human laws, and supported by "the powers that be," it totters towards ruin. Left to itself, it would soon fall and come to nought.
Such are the proud vauntings of infidelity, when "iniquity abounds and the love of many waxeth cold." So when Christ hung on the cross, and when he slept in the tomb, ignorant of consequences, his disciples "wept and lamented, and the world rejoiced;" but the time was short. Soon the world was confounded and the "sorrow of his disciples was turned into joy." IF the declensions which we witness, are foretold in scripture, they are no occasion of surprize.
Yea, instead of weakening our faith, they may reasonably increase it. And when we consider the assurances given us, that these declensions were to antecede the universal prevalence of true religion; they may also serve to increase our hope.
To 'shew that these declensions are foretold, and that we may expect yet greater abominations, than have hitherto appeared', is attempted in the following discourse.
When 'the son of man cometh shall he find faith on the earth'?
That Christ is here intended by the Son of man; and that faith will be rare among men at the coming of his, referred to, are not doubtful matters. But what coming of Christ is here referred to? This is first to be ascertained.
The coming of Christ refers in the scripture, to several events. Sometimes to his incarnation; sometimes to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the Jewish polity; sometimes to his coming to judgment; and sometimes to the beginning of that universal dominion which he is to exercise on earth in the latter days. Each of these is the subject of several prophecies.
Christ's incarnation, or his coming to dwell with men, and to obey and suffer for their redemption, was a principal subject of the old testament prophecies. "To him gave all the prophets witness."
The divine justice executed on the Jews, in the destruction of their chief city, and polity, is also termed Christ's coming. This was the subject of several prophecies of old. It was foretold by Moses, and sundry others who lived before the gospel day; but more particularly by Christ, in person just before his sufferings. To this event the desolations foretold in the twenty fourth of Matthew, and its parallels in the other gospels, had a primary reference. The metaphors used to describe it are strong. They have been supposed to refer to the general judgment; and they have, no doubt an ultimate reference to it. But they refer, more immediately to another coming of Christ; his coming to render to the Jews according to their demerits as a people, soon after they should have filled up the measure of their iniquity by his crucifixion; which by the circumstances attending it, became a national act.
That this coming of Christ was particularly intended in those predictions, is, from several considerations apparent. That the Christians of that age, who were conversant with the apostles, and instructed by them, received this to be the meaning of those prophecies, and that they fled at the approach of the Roman armies, and escaped the destruction which came on the Jews, are matters of notoriety. And that this was the primary meaning of those prophecies, is further evident from an express declaration which they contain; "'Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away till all these things be fulfilled'." This closeth the prophecy. The whole must therefore have received a primary accomplishment, "before that generation did pass away." This was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.
Christ's coming to judgment, is often foretold in every part of the new testament, to pass over the intimations given of it in the old. But none of these can be 'the coming of the Son of man', referred to in the text. That it cannot refer to his incarnation is evident, from the time in which the declaration in the text was made. His coming in the flesh had been then accomplished.
Neither can it refer to his coming to punish Jewish apostasy and ingratitude; or to his coming to judge the world in righteousness, because the moral state of the world at neither to those periods, answers to the description here given. 'Shall he find faith on the earth'?
The ruin of the Jews by the Roman armies, happened about thirty six years after Christ's crucifixion. Long ere that time the spirit had been poured out, and many had embraced the gospel. The apostles and evangelists, had gone, not only to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but also into the way of the Gentiles;" had called "those who were afar off, as well as those who were near; their sound had gone into all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." Neither had they labored among the Gentiles in vain. St. Paul spake by the Spirit when he declared to the Jews that the salvation of God was sent unto the Gentiles, and they would hear it. His word was verified. "Many were added to the Lord, and the number of the disciples was multiplied."
Such was the state of the world, at that 'coming of the Son of man. Faith was then to be found on the earth', if not among Jews.
When Christ shall come to judgment, we have reason to believe, that faith will also be found on earth; and more than at that period we have now considered.
The scriptures of both testaments, abound with predictions of the universal prevalence of religion, in the latter days; of the whole worlds rejoicing under the auspicious government of the Prince of Peace; of restraints laid on the powers of darkness, that they should not deceive and seduce mankind. And though we are taught that "the old serpent will afterwards be loosed, for a little season, and go forth to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth," we have no intimation that the main body of the Church will be corrupted by his influence, or injured by his power. His adherents may "compass the camp of the saints, and the beloved city," but will make no attack upon them. "Fire will come down from God out of heaven, and destroy them." By some special, perhaps miraculous interpolation of providence, the people of God will be protected and delivered.
St. john, who gives more particulars of the latter day glory, than those who had gone before him, fixes the term Christ's reign on earth a thousand years, which he represents to be those 'next preceding' the judgment. And agreeably to the statement which he hath made, a numerous body of saints will then be found to welcome their Lord, and rejoice before him at his coming.
To this agree the other prophets who treat of this subject. No other limits the term of Christ's reign; or mentions Satan's being enlarged and permitted any measure of deceptive influence, after the restraints laid upon him at the beginning Christ's reign. But others foretell the happy day, and several seem to dwell delightfully upon it, and represent it as continuing to the end of time; and none give the remotest hint that it is to terminate, and iniquity again to become universally prevalent.
Isaiah often mentions it, and dilates more largely upon it than any other who lived before the gospel day. From his representations we should expect it to terminate 'only with time'. "I will make the an 'eternal' excellency--violence shall 'no more be heard' in thy land; wasting nor destruction within thy borders--the sun shall be 'no more' thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee, but the Lord shall be unto thee 'an everlasting light', and thy God thy glory--the days of thy mourning 'shall be ended'--thy people shall be all righteous; they shall inherit the land 'forever'."
By the little horn in Daniel's vision, Antichrist is doubtless intended. When at his fall Christ is to take the kingdom; or it is to be given to his people, it is to be an abiding kingdom. "And there was given unto him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages, should serve him; 'his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, an his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed'."
This is a prophecy of the universal prevalence of true religion in the last days, after the reign of Antichrist shall have come to an end. By the explanation in the latter part of the chapter, the saints are from that period to have the dominion. It is no more to be taken from them. "The saints of the most high shall take the kingdom, and 'possess the kingdom for ever, even forever and ever'--and the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most high, 'whose kingdom is an ever lasting kingdom', and all dominion shall serve and obey him."
These representations agree with that made to St. John, who saw the church guarded and protected from infernal power and influence, at the close of the millennium. The only difference consists in the mention of a few particulars by the apostle, which were not communicated to the prophets; such as the term of Christ's reign on earth; and some fruitless attempts of the powers of darkness against his people, after that term shall have expired.
The coming to judgment cannot therefore be intended in the text. 'There will then be faith on the earth'. But if we consider "that which is noted in the scripture of truth," respecting the moral state of the world before and at the time of Christ's coming to reign upon it, we shall find it answering to this description.
We will therefore, first take a general view 'of the prophecies respecting the moral state of the world, under the gospel dispensation? Then a more particular view of the great declensions which were to take place, with a special reference to the state of religion at the approach of the latter day glory'.
The Savior, in person, and by his Spirit, gave general intimations to the apostles, of the times which were to pass over them, and over his church. When they were ordered to preach the gospel in all the world, beginning at Jerusalem, they were forewarned that the Jews would reject their testimony, and persecute them, as they had persecuted their Lord--that soon after "there would be great distress in that land, and wrath upon that people--that they would fall by the sword; be led captive into all nations, and that Jerusalem would be trodden down of the Gentiles, till the times of the Gentiles should be fulfilled."
The comforter which was to "teach them all things," not only explaining the nature of Christianity, and causing them to understand it, but also to unveil futurity before them, taught them, that after the Jews had rejected the gospel, the Gentiles would receive it, and the church grow and become great; that a falling away would afterwards follow, which would spread wide, and continue for a longtime, till it became nearly total; that when such was the state of the church, Christ would come, take the kingdom, and reign on earth.
Such were the outlines of futurity, relative to Christianity, as sketched out before the apostles. But if we descend to particulars, and examine the prophecies with attention, we shall find that the defections, which were to take place antecedent to the reign of the Redeemer, were to be of two kinds--that they were to arise at different times, and from different sources--that one was to be a corruption of religion, the other a rejection of it--that the former was to antecede and prepare the way for the latter.
This will be the subject: of another discourse.