THE word "Antichrist" is not to be found in Holy Scripture, save in the first and second epistles of St. John; but there is such a consensus of opinion in applying the title to the Beast of the Apocalypse, to one at least of the false kings of Daniel, and to the Man of Sin of 2 Thess., that I will here assume without discussion that this is legitimate and right.
If the writings of the Fathers may be trusted, belief in a personal Antichrist was universal in the early church. This belief indeed appears to have held undisputed sway for more than 1,000 years. It was but natural, however, when the history of Christendom disclosed the appalling iniquity of the Apostate Church, and its intense hatred to God and His people, that men should raise the question whether the prophecies of the Antichrist might not find their fulfilment in Papal Rome. Certain it is that, until a comparatively recent date, such was the general belief of Evangelical Christians.
But during the last quarter of a century a very remarkable change has taken place in this regard. This Prophetical Investigation Society is, I believe, a fairly representative body ; and I am assured that in its early days these views were held and taught by the overwhelming majority of its members, but that at present those who advocate them are in a minority. Be this as it may, however, I venture to assert that in this respect spiritual Christians have largely returned to the belief of the Fathers. What has produced that change? My own case is probably a typical one. In early life I heard but one voice on this subject. Well do I remember the saying, "If a warrant were issued for the Antichrist, any constable that knew his business would arrest the Pope"
But when, after my conversion, I began to study the Bible, one of the first discoveries I made was as to the place which the earthly people hold in the divine economy. I came to see that Jerusalem is the centre of God's purposes for earth. I came to recognise the identity of the Antichrist of the New Testament with the Antichrist of the Old ; and as a corollary from this, that he is primarily an oppressor and a persecutor of Daniel's city and people. Then again, when the temporal power of the Papacy was destroyed, and Rome became the peaceful capital of the Italian kingdom, the event seemed to me to remove the keystone of the arch on which my discarded belief had rested. This one fact, I submit, has utterly discredited the once received interpretation of the 17th chapter of Revelation. Nothing can be clearer than that the harlot is distinct from the Beast, and every addition that can be made to the weight of proof that the scarlet woman is the Apostate Church only serves to deepen our conviction that the Apostate Church, is not the Beast.
I am not assuming that all accept this conclusion: I am merely giving in brief outline the grounds which have, led so many of us to change our views upon the subject. And here I would say that if 1 thought this change of opinion were calculated to modify our hostility to Rome, I for one would have no heart in urging even what I believe to be the plain teaching of Scripture. But I think it will be found that - in the Church of England, at all events - they who are looking for a personal Antichrist are precisely the men who are opposing most strenuously the sinister and insidious encroachments of Popery, while as earnestly adhering to the old beliefs now being undermined by the no less disastrous influence of rapidly advancing scepticism.
And this is as it should be. If these discussions are not to be purely academic, if the study of prophecy is to influence our faith and conduct, we shall learn thereby to judge rightly of prevailing currents of thought in the day we live in. And when we find some who still call themselves Evangelicals, pandering to innovations such as vestments, and ornaments, and posturings, we refuse to go a single step with them on the road they are thus entering upon, because, by the light of divine prophecy, we can see the end to which it leads. If the Apostate Church be indeed the harlot, then let us remember the divine precept, "Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house " (Prov. v. 8). But here I pause to say this: We yield to none in the intensity of our Protestantism; and a religion which trades in priestcraft and millinery we regard, as Christian men, with abhorrence, and, as intellectual men, with contempt. But we prize our Protestantism first and most because it places the Word of God in our hands, and beats back every influence that would rob us of it; and, therefore, while refusing to pander to Rome in any way, we are not blind to the meaning of the sustained attack now directed against the Bible.
The position, of Popery is akin to that of Judaism in Messianic times; it. has not renounced the truth, but it holds it down in unrighteousness. The great dogmas of the Christian faith remain - the divinity of Christ, redemption through His blood, the authenticity and divine authority of Holy Scripture - but their practical worth, their spiritual power, are destroyed by the mass of human tradition and error by which they are corrupted and concealed. We rejoice, therefore, in believing that many a pious Romanist may be numbered among God's elect.
But infidelity absolutely separates from Christ: it is not a perversion of the faith, but an unequivocal denial of it. Most true it is that superstition is one of the surest roads to unbelief; but yet of the superstitious we may have hope, whereas the infidel is beyond redemption. In assuming, as I do, a future personal Antichrist, I would guard against the idea that I base my belief upon, the writings of the Fathers. My belief is based upon the plain language of Scripture; and the only value I here claim for the judgment of the early church is the proof it gives that Scripture seems at least to teach that the man of prophecy will not be a system, but a person. This much, indeed, I presume no one will be so perverse as to deny.
A full and systematic review of the passages in question would be impossible in the time allotted to me; but my reference to them, though brief and somewhat desultory, shall be adequate. That the wilful king of Daniel's last vision is identical with the blaspheming persecutor of the 7th chapter, and the "Coming Prince"of the seventy weeks, seems to me to be clear. But, be that as it may, I seize upon the salient fact, admitted by all, that the predicted career of that king found a primary fulfilment in Antiochus Epiphanes - "the Antichrist of the Old Testament." But that it was only a primary fulfilment I do not, in addressing this Society, think it necessary to establish. This being so, the presumption is clear that the ultimate fulfilment will be on similar lines, and, therefore, that the coming Antichrist will be a person. And if this presumption should be confirmed by the teaching of the New Testament, its correctness will be established. But is not this foreshadowed by the words of our blessed Lord Himself: "I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive"? The nation that rejected a personal Christ shall yet accept a personal Antichrist.
I turn now abruptly to the second epistle to the Thessalonians. What gave rise to the teaching of chapter ii. was the misbelief that the Day of the Lord had begun - that terrible period of divine vengeance foretold in the earlier Scriptures. But the Apostle warns them that before the advent of that day the Man of Sin must be revealed. Some, I know, would urge that the apostasy must precede the revelation of the Man of Sin, thus finding a seemingly conclusive argument for the personality of Antichrist. But this I cannot adopt. The acceptance of the Man of Sin is, as it seems to me, itself "the apostasy." But, in rejecting that contrast, I would point to another which is indisputable; namely, the distinction between "the mystery of lawlessness" in ver. 7, and the revelation of the Lawless One in ver. 8. The one may well be a system ; the other must, therefore, be a person : were it otherwise there would be no contrast at all. You must pardon me if I resolutely decline to discuss the crux of the restraining or holding power of vers. 6 and 7. That would lead us away to a controversy which would entirely engross the time of the meeting.
The first question, then, which claims our notice is as to the characteristics of this dreadful personage. That he will be a king or kaiser we have already seen from Daniel's visions ; and this is explicitly confirmed by the visions of St. John, from which we learn that the Beast will be the last occupant of the throne of Gentile supremacy upon earth, the last to hold the delegated sceptre of earthly power, transferred to Nebuchadnezzar twenty-five centuries ago, when Judah passed under servitude to Babylon. I know I shall disappoint some if I ignore all questions relating to his origin and his relation to preceding empires, and to the mystery of his "deadly wound." But I am anxious to deal rather with what is clear and of urgent practical importance.
Daniel tells us that " he shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods" (Dan. xi. 36). Our Lord's words, already quoted, explain this, "He shall come in his own name." And the Holy Spirit's testimony in 2 Thess. ii. 4 and Rev. xiii. 5-8, serves only to amplify it. Those who would apply all this to Rome seem to me to promote the very evil they wish to warn against; for the mental recoil which is the natural result of comparing the facts of Popery with the language they appeal to, is apt to lead many to look with kindlier thoughts upon the Apostate Church. The Man of Prophecy will not be a Vice-Christ, but Antichrist. He will come (I again repeat the words) "in his own name." If one speaks with conventional respect of the so-called Protestant interpretation of 2 Thess. ii. 4, it is only out of consideration for those who champion it. I say deliberately that if anyone could persuade me that the Holy Spirit points to St. Peter's at Rome as "the temple of God," I should instantly make a qualified submission to the Church of Rome, and repair at intervals to the divinely-appointed shrine. In a word, I should regard that edifice as the disciples were taught, to regard the temple in Jerusalem: by divine appointment it was the temple of God, though men had made it a den of thieves. This so-called Protestant interpretation undermines Protestantism altogether.
But more than this, the Pope is not the impersonation of the mystery of lawlessness, but merely its most advanced representative and exponent. He is but primus inter fares. Every Sacerdotalist, every man who takes his stand upon apostolic succession, baptismal regeneration, and such like figments and superstitions of the religion of Christendom - in a word, every man, no matter by what name he calls himself, who "glories in man," or who assumes a position which denies that our Divine Lord is the only Mediator between God and men, is an antichrist in the same sense in which the Pope is an antichrist. The difference is one only of degree. And if we are asked, "What, then, is a bishop? What, then, is a clergyman?" the question can best be answered by another: "What, then, is Apollos ? What, then, is Paul?" And the inspired apostle who asks the question himself supplies the answer: "Ministers through whom ye believed; and each as the Lord gave to him."
And if some one objects that this makes nothing even of an apostle, we remember the added words : "So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth ; but God that giveth the increase " (i Cor. iii. 5-7, K.V.). What room is there here for the priestly dispenser of sacramental grace? The only true successors of the apostles are those who, like the apostles, are called to the ministry by the Lord Himself, the Head of the Church in heaven : what behoves the church on earth is merely to recognise and accredit them.
BUT my assurance of your hearty sympathy with these sentiments only encourages me to turn away from them to notice the second point I wish to press, namely, that the Antichrist will be energized, personally and immediately by Satan. According to 2 Thess. ii. 9, his coming is " after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders." According to Rev. xiii. 2, R.V., " the Dragon gave him his power, and his throne, and great authority." It is no more than an obvious corollary from this that he will exercise miraculous power. That the supernatural is synonymous with the Divine is one of the fallacies of "the Christian argument from miracles." Satan is greater than man, and therefore he can accomplish what to man is miraculous. And connected with this is the further statement that the Beast will command universal worship. The elect of God alone will refuse him homage.
To my own mind these statements formerly presented most serious difficulties. If we adopt any human standard of goodness, we must recognise that there is a vast amount of goodness in human nature. Its hopeless depravity is in the spiritual sphere. It is manifested not by its immoralities, but by utter and universal alienation of heart from God. More, then, is it possible that a being who, if energized by Satan, and therefore, ex hypothesi, a monster of wickedness, will enjoy the respect and command the worship of the pure, the upright, and the good? But these difficulties no longer trouble me. They disappear when we clear our minds from the influence of the Satan myth, and come to understand aright that awful being, the Satan of Scripture. Time forbids my repeating here what I have lately published on this subject. I can but briefly give my conclusions, at the risk of exciting prejudice by the baldness of the statement. The only prefatory word I shall offer is that right views of Satan's personality throw a flood of light upon this subject. No discovery I have made for many a year in my study of the Scripture has equalled it in this respect.
First, then, I maintain that Satan, instead of being a monster of hideous mien and loathsome character, is rather a being whom man in his estrangement from God would admire and emulate. He is the enemy, not of morals, but of faith. Secondly, he claims to be the heir of creation, the true Son of Man, the true Messiah. And this is the whole point of his appeal to our blessed Lord in the temptation. The world and its glories, he maintained, were his by right : if the Lord would only acknowledge this, he would yield the place and withdraw. In Eden he posed as the great philanthropist, and proclaimed the Gospel of humanity. Its characteristics are both simple and charming. "Hath God said?" "Ye shall not surely die": "Ye shall be as gods.?" First distrust of the plain language of the divine revelation; secondly, the denial of the eternal consequence of sin ; and thirdly, the elevation of humanity. The natural man distrusts and dislikes God. But in this gospel there is everything to attract him, nothing to repel. Even here and now, in Christian England, at the close of the nineteenth century of the Christian Era, it is proving itself a successful rival of the Gospel of Christ. Thousands even of real Christians are being corrupted by it. Who then can doubt that when it goes forth accredited by a great display of miraculous power, it will gain the universal acceptance of mankind? If it were possible, the very elect would be deceived by it. And what shall be the character of the miracles? Shall the great philanthropist of Eden not heal the sick, and feed the multitudes? More than this, as the true Messiah died and rose again, the false Messiah shall be brought back from death. More wonderful still is the statement, so mysterious and yet so definite, that even his effigy shall receive life (Rev. xiii. 15).
And this brings me to my next pojnt, that all this will be by Divine permission and appointment. This awful being, the most terrible enemy of God and of His people, God will use to fulfil His will. The almighty fiat which now restrains the power of Satan, and of all the hosts of darkness, shall be suspended in that awful day ; God will blind and harden hearts that shall have rejected Christ. That Jesus is the Christ - this is the truth, and whosoever believes it is born of God (i John v. i). That Satan is the Christ - this is the lie of which he is himself the father. And because men shall have rejected the truth, "God shall send them strong delusion to believe the lie." "Who is the liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, even he that denieth the Father and the Son" (i John ii. 22, K.V.). And God will use this Antichrist to accomplish His vengeance on the scarlet woman, "drunken with the blood of the saints, and. with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus." Nor will this be the act of a despot who, with an army at his back, tramples upon the liberties of mankind. All Christendom shall unite in destroying the Apostate Church. The ten horns, we read, shall be at one with the beast - or in other words, the Confederated powers shall join with the great Kaiser - in this signal act of judgment. "For God hath put in their hearts to fulfil His will" (Rev. xvii. 17).
And this explains a statement in Rev. xiii. 5, by which many are misled into the idea that the predicted career of the Beast is limited to the latter half of Daniel's seventieth week: "power was given unto him to continue forty and two months." This does not refer to the limits even of his regnal era, still less of the era of his influence and triumph. It marks the limit imposed by God upon his career as a persecutor of His people. As the Lord has told us: " For the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" (Matt, xxiv. 22). The word "continue" is the untranslatable iroitir, the LXX. rendering of the still more untranslatable Hebrew word gah-sah in Dan. xi. 2&, 30, 32. And I venture to suggest that in the Apocalypse this impersonal form of expression "was given" always means "was Divinely given." The persecutions of the Great Tribulation shall have a Divine sanction, with a view to Divine judgment upon a Christ-rejecting Christendom; but, "for the elect's sake," their duration shall be definitely limited.
I have thus spoken of what the Antichrist will be in the religious sphere: but a few minutes remain to me to touch upon what he will be in other spheres. As already noticed he will be a great Kaiser. Rev. xiii. 3, 4 indicates that he will be great as a man and as a soldier. "All the world wondered after the Beast . . . and they worshipped the Beast, saying, Who is like unto the Beast? Who is able to make war with him?" This mingling of Kaisership with divinity is as old as classic paganism: indeed, it is not entirely unknown in modern Christendom. But it will be no mere theory in the case of the Man of Prophecy; and if to this be added unrivalled powers of generalship, and personal qualities of the highest order, we have a combination such as earth has never known before. The mystery of the Godhead will be travestied by the trinity of evil - the Dragon, the Beast and the False Prophet. Calvary will be travestied, as we have seen, by the return of this wonderful man from beyond the gates of death.
And if time permitted I would go on to show that in his reign Satan will seek to travesty the promised rule of the heavens upon earth. Of course if we cling to the Satan myth we shall accustom ourselves to think of that reign as a Saturnalian Carnival. But, as already urged, the fact that Divine grace alone will save the elect of God from being overwhelmed by the splendid Lie, should lead us to form a very different forecast. You may remember Lord Salisbury's speech at the Mansion House last Tuesday evening. Speaking of the present European Concert, he said: "This Federation of Europe is the embryo of the only possible structure of Europe which can save civilisation from the desolating effects of a disastrous war." These are striking words. "The embryo," mark you. The coming Federation of Europe will give peace to the world, and possibly inaugurate an era of general prosperity and contentment without precedent in the history of our race. And when the testimony of God shall be silenced, and the gospel of humanity - that gospel which prevails so widely even now - shall be triumphant, then we are told, (Rev. xi. 10,) there will be a time of general congratulation and rejoicing. The rule of the Man of Prophecy will be Satan's travesty of the millennium.
And how if I may venture to add a closing word, it will be again to raise the question: "What is the practical outcome of all this truth?" I am not unmindful that I speak here by your indulgence, and as the guest of your society. But I presume to say that the present attitude and practices of a large section of the Evangelical party imply the severest censure upon the great men who were formerly the leaders of that party and guided its counsels. They took their stand upon principle; they stood apart, and their influence was widely felt - they were a power in England. But in our day it would seem as though the effort and tendency were to efface the clear line of demarcation between Evangelicalism on the one hand and Ritualism and Rationalism on the other. To not a few of us, the services in many a so-called Evangelical Church, instead of bringing spiritual refreshment, cause only distress and grief. An increasing section of the Evangelicals seem intent on copying, so far as ever they dare to copy, the practices and methods of those whose principles they profess to repudiate and condemn. Would this be tolerated in morals? Why, then, should it be tolerated in a sphere so much higher and more important?
Others, again, seem bent on trifling with the insidious scepticism which is undermining the faith of thousands. And this because the men who lead this movement are pure and good and generous, liberal in mind and huge in heart. With an open Bible before me I dare to assert that the Man of Prophecy will excel in all these qualities, and to hazard the opinion that there are certain popular religious books by well-known church dignitaries and Nonconformist preachers, which are doing more to prepare the way for his advent even than the Roman Apostasy itself. In a word then, I would say, let us either abandon the study of these prophecies, or else let us give proof by our attitude and conduct that it is more to us than a mere recreation or a pastime.