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conception? Nor could he have any rational object in going, and in conducting his disciples to this place, but to show himself to such men as these, and thus to widen the evidence of his resurrection, Matthew and Mark, therefore, virtually confirm the assertion of Paul, that 4 Christ appeared to above five hundred brethren at once :" and we are thus enabled to stamp upon the following assertion of Gamaliel Smith, the same character of audaciousness and falsehood which runs through his book :—“Nothing can be more palpably or irreconcileably inconsistent with every one of them (of the four Evangelists), than the ample and round number thus added by the effrontery of this uninformed stranger," &e.
The last and none of the least charge brought against Paul is the false prophecy delivered to the Thessalonians, that the world would end in the life-time of persons then living. The Apostle's words are the following a Non I wish you not to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are fallen asleep, that ye grieve not as those who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we must believe also that God through Jesus will with him bring those who are fallen asleep. For this we say unto you, in the words of our Lord, that we who are alive and who remain until the appearance of the Lørd, shall not leave behind those who are fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God: and the dead in Christ will rise first, and afterwards those who are alive, and who remain, shah be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and then we shall ever be with the Lord. - Wherefore comfort ye one another with these words. 1 Thess. iv. 18-19. st , ti This passage, it must be allowed, contains a serious difficulty, and requires much sobriety of mind and patient investigation to ascertain its exact import. In the first place. Paul, being sensible that the period at which our
Saviour is to make his second appearance was delicate, uncertain, and much mistaken, gives only the same general information which Jesus himself thought fit to give on the subject, or rather refers to his words : see Luke xxi. 27. “But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, I need not write to you; for ye yourselves correctly know that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.” The Gospel was in the hands of the Thessalonians :, they therefore knew what their divine master himself had said on the subject. As the Apostle refers to the words of Jesus, it is in those words that we are to seek and to obtain some solution of this difficulty.
When, in the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, Lord apprised his disciples of the demolition of the temple, they put the question with great surprise, “ Tell us when shall these things be, and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world ?” Here are two questions proposed to Jesus : the first respects the time in which the catastrophe predicted by him would take place; the second refers to the sign which should precede his second coming or the end of the world. The disciples as yet laboured under the common prejudices of their countrymen respecting the nature of the Messiah's kingdom. They therefore supposed that he was soon to establish an universal empire on the earth; and that his coming for this purpose, namely, the fulfilment of the prophecy just delivered, and the end of the world, were events which should succeed each other with little or no intermission. The end of the world therefore, in their apprehension, as indeed it might be so rendered, was no other than the end of that age, the termination of that oppression and economy introduced by the Romans, and the commencement under Christ of a new and brighter order of things. Now did our Lord partake of the narrow or mistaken prejudices of his disciples on this subject? His own language in the sequel is a decisive proof to the contrary. He knew that his kingdom was to be
of a spiritual nature, and that, between the destruction of the Jewish state, and his coming to establish his empire consequent on the universal diffusion of the Gospel, and thus to bring the world or the ancient order of things tb'an end, there was to be a mighty interval. But he had too much regard to their feelings to tell them in express terms, what at the time would have perplexed and mortified them. He therefore for a moment sacrificed to their weakness and prejudices, and then suddenly leads them, by strong and repeated intimations, to form a more correct judgement on the subject.
The question put by the disciples, What shall be the sign of thy coming ? brings to his mind the pretended signs which certain impostors would promise to the people. Under the impulse of association, he pursues the train of ideas thus excited without adverting to the proposed question; and he predicts the long chain of events before him in its full extent, from the overthrow of the Jewish hierarchy to the dissolution of all the Antichristian kingdoms of the world in his Advent, and in the establishment of his own empire-the empire of peace and righteousness. Having exhausted his ideas, he returns to the proposed questions : and to the first, namely, When was the temple or the Jewish hierarchy to be destroyed ? he gives a direct answer in the 34th verse :“Verily, verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.” To the second, viz. What shall be the sign of thy coming, and the end of the world; he replies in the 36th,—“But of that day and hour, rather of that day and season, no man knoweth, no not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” Here he gently draws aside the veil, which in accommodation to the weakness of his disciples he had hitherto left on the subject. “The evils which I have foretold respecting this community will all be fulfilled before the end of the present age; but as to the period of my coming and the end of the world, which you erroneously imagine to be at hand, I am not able to inform you. And that I might not be tempted to disclose to you an event which you must necessarily have at heart, my Father in his wisdom hath withheld the knowledge of it even from me his only begotten son.” Though Jesus could not tell the exact time when he should come to establish his kingdom, and reward his faithful followers, he proceeds to impress on their minds, in emphatic yet cautious language, that he would not come for this purpose so soon as they expected.-“Watch, therefore, for YE KNOW Not what hour your Lord doth come,” 42. “Therefore be
ye also ready; for in such an hour As Ye THING NOT the son of man cometh,” 44. “The Lord of that servant shall come in A DAY THAT HE LOOKETH NOT FOR HIM, and IN AN HOUR HE IS NOT AWARE OF,” 50. " White the bridegroom TARRIED, they all slumbered and slept: and at MIDNIGHT (the dead time of the night, when all expectation of him was given up) there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh.” chap. xxv. 5. “Watch therefore, FOR YE KNOW NEITHER THE DAY NOR THE season whence the son of man cometh. For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into A FAR COUNTRY.” ver. 13, “ And AFTER A LONG TIME the Lord of those servants cometh."
But it may be asked, If our Lord was sensible that these three great events were separated by such wide intervals, how came he to represent them as consecutive on each other, and thus in some degree to confirn the Apostles in their previous wrong notion ? I answer, By connecting with the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jews, his second coming to raise the dead and judge the world, our Lord has given to that awful event, however remote or improbable, the evidence of fact. In the former part of the 24th chapter, he foretells the subversion of the Jewish hierarchy, and the calamities attendant upon it: in the 29th verse he intimates, in figurative language, that after the tribulation of those
days, i.e. after the destruction of Judea, other states were to be destroyed : and in the 30th he asserts his own coming :-“And they shall see the son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” This was the great event, respecting which the disciples wished to be informed; but thinking that it was soon to take place, Jesus suspends the particulars of it, in order to correct their mistaken views as to the period of his second appearance, and to deliver some necessary caution respecting the character and tenets of those bad men who should corrupt his Gospel. Having done this, he resumes, in the latter part of the 25th chapter, the event of his second coming, which he had abruptly suspended in the 30th verse of the preceding, and then details the transactions attending it. Here then are three things brought together, apparently unconnected, and widely separated in time and place : first, the destruction of Judea ; next, a similar dissolution of other communities; and thirdly, the coming of the son of man to raise the dead, and to reward his faithful servants. These things Jesus holds forth in one view as objects of prediction, as events which he assures us would come to pass: : the first was to be accomplished during the lifetime of many who then existed; the second was immediately after to commence, though it might require the course of ages for its complete fulfilment; and the third is to be fulfilled in a period still more distant, and which is pronounced to be unknown to any but to God himself. But this last, which is thus unknown and distant, and which in itself considered is highly improbable, was the only one of the three that is important to be known, to be believed, to be cherished: it is the grand conşummation in which the value and utility of the Gospel concentrate, and from which the vital influence which animates the good and reforms the wicked, eradiates as from a centre. Jesus therefore, while, from a regard to the truth, and to prevent disappointment, he gently