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most splendid hopes which are founded on the present discoveries of heaven, may be ultimately blasted and destroyed for ever. Perish the thought!
I have been naturally led to this train of observation by the subject assigned me for this morning's discussion.-" The character of the present dispensation.” Had this been a detached subject, I should have felt greatly at a loss in what form to present the topics which a field so extensive as “ the present dispensation" at once presents. But from the connexion in which it stands with other subjects in the first part of the plan of these monthly lectures, I apprehend, I shall be justified in confining my attention to a narrower range. From its connexion with the principles, facts and aspects of prophecy, I suppose I shall be expected to illustrate the influence of certain views of the dispensation under which we live on the prospects of the church, and the intimations of prophecy on which those prospects are founded. Not only do our views of the present influence the future; but so intimate is the relation between certain views of the future state of things, and the state which now exists, that it will generally be found, that where particular opinions of certain unfulfilled predictions respecting the future state of the kingdom of God are entertained, extensive and important differences of opinion from the generality of christians, respecting the very nature of that kingdom, and of the economy under which we at present live, will be found to exist.
As evidence and illustration of this, I may mention that it has come to be maintained, that the present is only a “dispensation of witness or testimony;"_“the latter half of the earthly things of which Moses had delivered the former half, and that the heavenly things are still to come;"_" that we are not yet put in possession of the new covenant described in Jeremiah and Ezekiel ;"_" that we have a prophet and a priest, but have as yet obtained no king, because we have not yet obtained the kingdom which cannot be removed, but look for it.” It is therefore maintained that there is to be "an intermediate and defined condition of the church, between its state as now existing, and eternally glorified-at once terrestrial and heavenly, temporal and spiritual, legal and evangelical, local and universal.” *
The language which I have now employed, will appear strange to many; but I beg it may be observed that, it is not my interpretation of the sentiments of others, or inferences drawn by me from their reasonings or phraseology; but the precise words of some of those who have been most zealous of late in the investigation of the meaning of prophecy, and who most strenuously maintain that the views of the church both respecting her present privileges and the expected state of millennial glory are exceedingly erroneous and unscriptural.
* See Note B.
It will readily be granted, if the sentiments expressed in the language I have quoted be correct, that not only the great body of the present race of believers are most egregiously mistaken in their views of the kingdom of Christ, but that the vast majority of believers ever since the days of the apostles have laboured under the most unaccountable misapprehensions. That it has been matter of assured belief with them, that the kingdom of God has been set up, that the Redeemer has taken possession of his throne, that the new covenant has been ratified by his blood, that all its privileges may now be enjoyed, and that in its spiritual character it stands contrasted with the former dispensation, and is destined to last till earth shall give place to heaven-it would be a waste of time to shew. These topics have constituted a large portion of the common faith of the church of Christ from the beginning until now.
I am perfectly aware that the mere circumstance, that a certain sentiment, or class of
sentiments, has been matter of current and general belief, does not necessarily prove that it is correct. I know well that some errors are of very ancient date, and still exert a wide and injurious influence. But I contend, that if error has almost universally prevailed on subjects so plain and important as those to which I have adverted, involving, as I believe, the very substance of christianity, and the plainest parts of the New Testament revelation, then is the religion of Jesus no longer adapted to the mass of its professors, the scriptures have not been an intelligible revelation of the mind of God, and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the dispensation, has not guided into the meaning or design of its fundamental truths.
That such sentiments should exert a powerful influence over the present feelings and future expectations of the parties who entertain them, cannot be matter of surprise. They naturally induce very low ideas of what the gospel has already done, and of what its preaching is destined yet to do for the world. Reduced enjoyment, and relaxed exertion, must be the inevitable result. Misconstruction of present arrangements of providence, disaffection to various plans of christian usefulness, and fearful forebodings of future evil may be expected to take place. That which is matter of gratitude and joy to others, such individuals will be likely to regret and deplore. The indications of the progress of truth, and the march of principle, and the triumph of religion, will be considered only as vulgar errors, or the evidences of the decay of truth and godliness. The dawning of a brighter and happier day, on a world which has long been the empire of darkness and of sin, will be viewed but as the harbinger of heavier woes than it has ever before experienced. The ministers of the cross, instead of employing themselves as messengers of mercy, having the everlasting gospel to preach to every creature, will come to regard themselves as properly “ the angels of the vials
aving the wrath of God to pour out upon the earth.” As christians multiply, it will be contended, that their number is decreasing; as faith waxes strong, and knowledge advances, and effort extends, it will be maintained, that the former times were better than these, and that there is neither faith, nor knowledge, nor christian exertion on the earth. As the kingdom of Christ rises from the slumber, and shakes off the ruin of ages, and appears to be extending its heaven-born energies, and its benign and holy influences-it will be argued that its boundaries are gradually shrinking within narrower dimensions, and that its light is about to expire. Instead of our being on the verge of a new era, when the knowledge of the Lord shall