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The common doctrine of the Christian Church, grounded on the plain declarations of Scripture, has always been, that at some time or other an Apostasy must take place, promoted and headed by some person or power who is variously designated in the Scripture as the LITTLE HORN, the BEAST, the MAN OF Sin, the SON OF PERDITION, and the WICKED ONE—and who has been commonly known in the church under the title of ANTICHRIST.
Thus far the Early Church, and the Protestant Church of the present day, are agreed; but, when they come to particulars, they differ on three very important points.
It is impossible where so many writers, with so many varieties of opinion are concerned to speak with perfect accuracy; but I believe that the doctrines which I am about to state as those of the Early Church, were held by all Christian writers for at least twelve centuries ; and that those which I ascribe to the Protestant Church, have been maintained by most protestant divines, and
are held by most protestant writers on prophecy in the present day. The three points of difference are these :
(1.) As to the NATURE of the Apostasy.
The Early Church conceived of it as an actual departure from Christianity. Not merely a falling off from the purity of the Christian faith by professed Christians; but as a renunciation of that faith, and a falling away from all profession of it, into open, blasphemous, and persecuting idolatry.
The Protestant Church understands the Apostasy to mean the impure Christianity of a corrupt part of the Christian Church; or a hypocritical profession of Christianity, by a body falsely pretending to be a Christian church.
(2.) As to the DURATION of the Apostasy.
The Early Church expected that the Apostasy would not take place until a few years before the Advent of our Lord to judgment; and that the persecution arising out of the apostasy would not last more than three years and a half.
The Protestant Church maintains that the Apostasy has long since taken place; and has already existed during many centuries.
(3.) As to the LEADER or head of the Apostasy.
The Early Church expected an individual Antichrist, who should be an infidel blasphemer, giving honour to no God, suffering no religious worship to be paid to any but himself, and requiring that worship from all men on pain of death.
The Protestant Church supposes a succession of indi
viduals, or bodies of men, each forming the Antichrist of its own period, being an integral part of an Antichrist to be composed of, and completed in, the whole series; and that the individual (when that is the hypothesis) or leader (when a church is supposed) has been, and is, a Christian bishop, professing to be the Vicar of Christ on earth, and to act in his name and for his glory.
It is needless to say that these opinions are widely different; but it is worth while to enquire which are right. Without repeating what I have elsewhere said on the absurdity of attempting to apply the predictions concerning Antichrist to the Pope, I will at once say, that the doctrine of the Early Church, so far as I have here stated it, appears to me to be correct and scriptural.
Subjects of Prophecy. I believe that much of the obscurity which rests on the predictions of Daniel and St. John has arisen from their having been treated as "chronological” prophecies; that is, prophecies giving an anticipatory history of events which were to take place in the Church, from the time when they were delivered until the consummation of all things.
This I conceive to have been an error. to me that these predictions relate to things which are still future, and that their principal subject (speaking with reference to the space which it occupies) is the HISTORY OF ANTICHRIST-his rise, progress, and de
struction. I have no faith therefore in the applications of prophecy to the ten Gothic Kingdoms, or the delusions of Mahomet, the overthrow of the French Monarchy, or the Turkish Empire. I believe that the Scripture prophecies do not (unless it may be incidentally) throw any light on the state of things either in the church or the world, before the breaking out, or to say the utmost, the introductory circumstances, of the Apostasy. The main subject is, I believe, the great and final conflict between the God of Heaven and the God of this world—between the Redeemer and the Destroyer of man-between Christ and Antichrist.
There is, no doubt, much revealed respecting Antichrist in other prophecies, especially in the Apocalypse. His history, and proceedings, form one great subject or rather perhaps are intimately connected with that which does form the great subject--of that Revelation; but the prediction of Antichrist, his rise, progress, and destruction, appears to be the chief object and subject of the book of Daniel. The triumph of Messiah is, of course, plainly but more briefly and less circumstantially, stated by that Prophet.
It appears to me that the visions recorded in the book of Daniel, which we may distinguish as those of (1.) The IMAGE, ch. ii.-(2.) The Four BEASTS, ch. vii.
-(3.) The HE-Goat, ch. viii. and (4.) The INFIDEL KING, ch. xi, were intended to afford successive developments of the History of Antichrist. To illustrate (I do not venture to say prove) this opinion, I proceed to offer a few remarks on each of these visions.