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“Let no man deceive you by any means : for that Day shall not
come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.
The THESSALONIAN Christians had supposed that the coming of
As long as the world lasts, this passage of Scripture will be full of reverent interest to Christians. It is their duty ever to be watching for the advent of their Lord, to search for the signs of it in all that happens around them; and above all to keep in mind this great and awful sign which the text speaks of. At this season of the year, then, when we turn our thoughts to the coming of Christ, it is not out of place to review the intimations given us in Scripture concerning His precursor: this I shall now do in several Sermons; and, in doing so, I shall follow the exclusive guidance of the ancient Fathers of the Church.
I follow the ancient Fathers, not as thinking that on such a subject they have the weight they possess in the instance of doctrines or ordinances. When they speak of doctrines, they speak of
them as being universally held. They are witnesses to the fact of those doctrines being received, not here or there, but every where. We receive those doctrines which they thus hold, not merely because they hold them, but because they bear witness that all Christians every where then held them. We take them as honest informants, but not as a sufficient authority in themselves, though they are an authority too. If they were to state these very same doctrines, but say, “ These are our opinions : we deduced them from Scripture, and they are true," we might well doubt about receiving them at their hands. We might fairly say, that we had as much right to deduce from Scripture as they had; that deductions of Scripture were mere opinions ; that if our deductions agreed with theirs, that would be a happy coincidence, and increase our confidence in them; but if they did not, it could not be helped—we must follow our own light. Doubtless no man has any right to impose his own deductions upon another, in matters of faith. There is an obvious obligation, indeed, upon the ignorant to submit to those who are better informed ; and there is a fitness in the young submitting implicitly for a time to the teaching of their elders ; but beyond this, one man's opinion is not better than another's. But this is not the state of the case as regards the primitive Fathers. They do not speak of their own private opinion; they do not say, “This is true, because we see it in Scripture "—about which there might be differences of judgments—but, “this is true, because in matter of fact it is held, and has ever been held, by all the Churches, down to our times, without interruption, ever since the Apostles :" where the question is merely one of testimony, whether they had the means of knowing that it had been and was so held; for if it was the belief of so many and independent Churches at once, and that as if from the Apostles, doubtless it cannot but be true and Apostolic.
This, I say, is the mode in which the Fathers speak as regards doctrine ; but it is otherwise when they interpret prophecy. In this matter there seems to have been no Catholic, no universal, no openly declared traditions ; and when they interpret, they are for the most part giving, and profess to be giving, either their own private opinions, or uncertain traditions. This is what might have been expected; for it is not ordinarily the course of Divine Providence to interpret prophecy before the event. What the Apostles disclosed concerning the future, was for the most part disclosed by them in private, to individuals—not committed to writing, not intended for the edifying of the body of Christ, and was soon lost. Thus, in a few verses after the text, St. Paul says, “Remember ye not, that when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" and he writes by hints and allusions, not speaking out. And it shows how little care was taken to discriminate and authenticate his prophetical intimations, that the Thessalonians had taken up an opinion, that he had said—what he had not said that the Day of Christ was immediately at hand.
Yet, though the Fathers do not convey to us the interpretation of prophecy with the same certainty as they convey doctrine, yet in proportion to their agreement, their personal character, and the general reception at the time, or the authority of the sources of the opinions they are stating, they are to be read with deference; for, to say the least, they are as likely to be right as commentators now; in some respects more so, because the interpretation of prophecy has become in these times a matter of controversy and party. And passion and prejudice have so interfered with soundness of judgment, that it is difficult to say who is to be trusted in it, or whether a private Christian may not be as good an expositor as those by whom the office has been assumed.
1. Now to turn to the passage in question, which I shall examine by arguments drawn from Scripture, without being solicitous to agree, or to say why I disagree, from modern commentators : “That Day shall not come, except there come a falling away first.” Here it is said that a certain frightful apostasy, and the appearing of the Man of sin, the son of perdition, i. e. as is commonly called, Antichrist, shall precede the coming of Christ. Our Saviour seems to add, that it will immediately precede Him, or that His coming will follow close upon it; for, after speaking of " false prophets” and “false Christs," "showing signs and wonders," "iniquity abounding," and " love waxing cold,” and the like, He adds, “When ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” Again He says, “When ye shall see the abomination of desolation. . . .stand in the holy place. ....then let them that be in Judea flee into the mountains ?." Indeed, St. Paul implies this also, when he says that Antichrist shall be destroyed by the brightness of Christ's coming.
If, then, Antichrist is to come immediately before Christ, and to be the sign of His coming, it is manifest that he is not come yet, but is still to be expected.
Further, it appears that the time of Antichrist's tyranny will be three years and a half, which is an additional reason for believing he is not come ; for, if so, he must have come quite lately, his time being altogether so short; and this we cannot say he has.
Besides, there are two other attendants on his appearance, which have not been fulfilled. First, a time of unexampled trouble. "Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not from the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be ; and except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved ?." This has not come. Next, the preaching of the Gospel throughout the world—" And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations ; and then shall the end come 3.
Now it may be objected to this conclusion, that St. Paul says, in the passage before us, that "the mystery of iniquity doth already work,” i. e. even in his clay, as if Antichrist had in fact come even then. But he would seem to mean merely this, that in his day there were shadows and forebodings, earnests, and operating elements of that which was one day to come in its fulness. Just as the types of Christ went before Christ, so the shadows of Antichrist precede him. In truth, every event in this world is a type of those that follow, history proceeding forward as a circle ever enlarging. The days of the Apostles typified the last days : there were false Christs and troubles, and the true Christ came in judgment to destroy the Jewish Church. In like manner every age presents its own picture of those future events, which alone are the real fulfilment of the prophecy which stands at the head of all of them. Hence St. John says,
1 Matt. xxiv. 16. 33.
? Ib. 21, 22.
3 Ib. 14.
" Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that the Antichrist shall come, even now are there many Antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time !.” Antichrist was come, and was not come; it was, and it was not the last time. In the sense in which the Apostles' day was the end of the world, it was also the time of Antichrist.—However, a second objection may be made as follows : St. Paul says, “ Now ye know what withholdeth, that he (Antichrist) might be revealed in his time.” Here a something is mentioned as keeping back the manifestation of the enemy of truth. The Apostle proceeds : " He that now withholdeth, will, until he be taken out of the way.” Now this restraining power being generally admitted to be the Roman empire, and the Roman empire (it is argued) having long been taken out of the way, therefore Antichrist has long since come. I grant that “he that withholdeth,” or “letteth," means the power of Rome, for all the ancient writers so speak of it. I grant that as Rome, according to the prophet Daniel's vision succeeded Greece, so Antichrist succeeds Rome, and our Saviour Christ succeeds Antichrist. But it does not hence follow that Antichrist is come: for I do not grant that the Roman empire is gone. Far from it: the Roman empire remains even to this day. It had a very different fate from the other three monsters mentioned by the Prophet; as will be seen by his description of it. “ Behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth : it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns 3.” These ten horns, an Angel informed him,
are ten kings that shall arise out of this kingdom" of Rome. As, then, the ten horns belonged to the beast, and were not separate from it, so are the kingdoms into which the Roman empire has been
11 John ii. 18.
2 Chrysostom in loco.
3 Dan. vii. 7.