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On all the future there rests a veil, which no eye can piercewhich no hand can lift. Keen and penetrating as human sagacity may be, it can determine nothing beyond the present little moment. Philosophical as it may be to affirm, that the same antecedent will invariably be followed by the same sequence; and correct as may be the calculations which are founded on this philosophy, still no one can anticipate at what point, in the great series of cause and effect, a new antecedent may be introduced, nor how its introduction may bear on the evolutions which eternity still conceals. No finite intelligence can even conceive, far less comprehend, the workings of mind universally, and no finite power is adequate to control their effects. Foreknowledge is the prerogative of no creature; and therefore it is literally impossible that any creature can anticipate what contingencies may arise; and if there be any limit to impossibility, it is still more impossible, let him possess what power he may,-even with omnipotence, that he can provide against these contingencies.
But while we are thus, from the very limits of our nature, prohibited from penetrating into the future, and determining what shall or shall not take place;—while a check is thus imposed on our imagination, and our curiosity is rebuked, still there are certain data on which we may proceed, in reference to distant time and events, and on which we may rest, not some bold conjectures or happier guesses, but the highest and the greatest certainties. We have not to depend on the mere workings of a heated imagination, nor the extravagances of a luxurious fancy, but on “a sure word of prophecy;"— on the record of inspired and infallible
truth. In this record we have some remarkably distinct and unequivocal intimations of what eye hath not yet seen, nor ear heard, though it may have entered into the hearts of many to conceive it. In the devout study and investigation of ancient prophecy, we are, as it were, borne on the chariot of inspiration through the duration of ages, and are set down amid the glories and felicities of the later years of the reign of grace. And connecting with the great symbols of prophecy, what is daily transpiring around us,—the events which are so deeply marking the history of our world, we arrive at conclusions which approach as near as possible to absolute certainty. We may not be able to determine the exact date of each event, or in what manner it may come to pass; still there are results which we anticipate, or for which we look with as much confidence as we do for any sequence in the great series of cause and effect.
But to deal with prophecy, even sparingly, requires a mind preeminently enlightened and sober. To be successful in the pursuit, a man must bring to the task-depth of judgment,--penetration and profoundness of thought,-niceness of discrimination,--and quickness of apprehension, with an utter renunciation of all
preconceived notions and attachment to system,-in the spirit of elevated devotion, distrust of himself, and of implicit dependance on divine illumination. And even then, he still ought to hold his opinions with diffidence and humility. Freedom from error results only from infallibility; and as no man of sound mind would venture to lay claim to this attribute, he will rather be jealous over himself, than bitter and uncharitable towards others. We may differ from them in our reasonings and conclusions, but still their opinions are entitled to consideration and respect. And it is only when those who differ shall be led favourably to regard the opinions and sentiments of each other,-and to seek, as their high and ultimate end, to evolve and establish truth,—that the human mind will be in a fit state for the investigation of prophecy; and the interpretation of its lofty symbols, be determined by a canon, if not universally yet generally received and satisfactory..
Now it will not be denied, that almost all the prophecies of the ancient scriptures have an ultimate reference to the present dispensation, in the progress of which only we are to look for full completion. Many of these prophecies indeed relate to events which are past, but still not a few remain yet to be accomplished. Besides the same predictions have frequently a double meaning, and refer to different events,—the one near, the other remote,- the one temporal, the other spiritual, or perhaps eternal ; and, consequently, for their accomplishment we must still look forward to later times. Nor is it to be expected, that in every particular they should be clearly understood, before they are fulfilled. There may be circumstances connected with them, which will remain obscure, till rendered plain and obvious by their actual accomplishment. Such obscurity is designed. Still there are predictions which we can trace to their ultimate point, and clearly discover how their fulfilment will either deepen the gloom of impending night, or brighten the beams of that light, which is to illumine and bless the world.
Connecting, then, the symbols of prophecy with the events which are now transpiring, there is reason to apprehend, that “perilous times will come:”-before the reign of peace is finally and permanently established. “The end is not yet :”--the time has not yet arrived for the adjustment of all those differences which divide the family of man, nor for the settlement of those questions which disturb and complicate human affairs. The balance of power still remains to be struck among the nations of the earth. There is, and there will be, a mighty conflict among the princes and potentates of this world, for precedence and supremacy. Each will seek to conquer and subjugate another. A ground of hostility-and, consequently, a ground of attack—will be sought and found on the most trivial occasion. It will therefore be no strange thing if we hear of wars, and rumours of wars;” nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and multitudes returning from the fight with garments rolled in blood. There are states and empires whose calendar of crime is deep and long; and we can easily understand how “ He that sitteth in the heavens,” may employ other and opposing nations as a scourge to afflict and punish them in righteous retribution. It has been so in the past history of the world, and it may be so in the future. The proudest nations have been made drunk with their own blood, and been entombed in their own ashes.
Nor can we say, that not only Europe, but even the world may become, at no very distant period, the theatre of the most desolating war, hibit the most tragic scenes. Everywhere the earth is disturbed, society is convulsed, and more than volcanic force is threatening
to upheave and overthrow every system of existing things. Nor will the trump of war be hung, the sword of war be sheathed, the calamities of war be terminated, till christianity shall establish her kingdom of peace, and the rebellious will of man is brought into subjection to the controlling will of God.
But whatever may be our apprehensions with regard to civil states and empires, they are stronger far in reference to the Church. A dark cloud has settled on the horizon of the moral world, and is charged with elements neither the safest nor the best. At the very moment, when all the world is in comparative peace, the church is in arms. “ There is war in heaven :”- the church is the scene of the most affecting intestine violence and hostility. Are not our ears and our hearts daily pained by hearing of party rising against party, and sect against sect; each seeking to subjugate the other to their standard; and thus perpetuating their dispute and their strife, without even the shadow of a reason. A contest for great principles is to be maintained,-and, when maintained, to be commended :—to stand forward for the defence of THE TRUTH, is a solemn duty,—but to convert those little differences which exist among those who are one, in all the fundamental and essential doctrines of christianity,—and who, notwithstanding all their sectarian peculiarities, cannot but be ONE,-into a ground for endless debate and division,-what is this but to rend the body of Christ, and for the church to sustain a crusade against herself? They may be ill-founded, but we confess that we have deep and strong apprehensions, in reference to the present state of the church. Such is the position of her ministers and members,—such the spirit of towering supremacy and denomination on the one hand, and of independence and opposition on the other,--such the unsettledness of mind,-such the perversion of judgment, -such the fluctuation of opinion,-such the diversity and variance of sentiment,--such the rifeness and progress of unscriptural dogmas, with the existence of such rancorous and implacable feeling,—that the church is in imminent danger of being either rent asunder by its own internal feuds, or consumed by its own internal fires. Nor is it the least affecting consideration, that in her present state and circumstances, the church is greatly disqualified for accomplishing the very design, for which the Saviour redeemed a people unto himself. As they now exist and act, christians do not exhibit that character and temper, to produce which was one of the high ends of Christ's death: consequently, they are so far unfitted to be his representatives in the world, to set forth correctly and fully the truth of christianity to others,- to develope the power of principle, in the fidelity of practice,--to discharge the obligations of divine grace,-yield implicit obedience to the commands of heaven,-meet the claims of fallen man,-or make that impression on the world, which is to prove, with all the weight and force of demonstration, that " the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.”
With these facts before us, what prospect can we entertain for the future? Were it not that the Scriptures represent a state of things, closely resembling that which we have described, as likely to characterise the church in these latter days, and previous to her final purity and glory on earth, we should look forward with the darkest forebodings, and the dreariest apprehensions. But, as in the natural world, so it may be in the moral ; the very storm which now impends and threatens, after being allowed to expend itself, may clear the horizon, and purify the atmosphere, and counteract some still more deadly agencies. The sun of christianity will burst through these intervening clouds, and diffuse a fuller-clearer light upon the church. This increase of light will so guide the mind and sway the judginent, that ONENESS of principle, and not oneness of sentiment, oneness of faith, (for there is only one faith essential to salvation,) and not oneness of creed, will be held as the only ground of unity, the only bond of brotherhood. Then, the spirit of love and the spirit of peace will descend and abide upon the church. Its unholy strifes shall be at an end ;-its feuds for ever settled; its fires for ever quenched. There will arise a new order of things. There will be a comparative absence of all prejudice and error. The love of system will have given place to a still higher and purer feeling. Whatever differences may still exist, they will neither separate nor divide in heart the holy and the faithful. The only contest then maintained, (and it is the only contest which should ever have been known in the church,) will be with the principalities and powers of darkness, ,
- the enemies of the cross of Christ. It will be, not the church marshalled and armed against the church, but the church against the world! Beneath the banner of the great Captain of salvation, the saints will go forth "fair as the moon, --clear as the sun,- and terrible as an army with banners,”-to make war