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The Prophecy concerning the two Witnesses improved
REVELATION xi. 3–
And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophecy a thousand two hundred and threescore days clothed in sackcloth, &c.
I HAVE endeavored, in a preceding discourse, to open to you the scheme of prophecy contained in the words, which have been read, and to shew its purport and intention. I shall now make some remarks and observations upon it. 1. The prophecy under consideration gives us an undeniable evidence of the divinity and truth of the gospel.
A little after the gospel was introduced by its Author, and preached by his Apostles, this book was written. And though it is, in some respects, a dark book, as prophecy in the nature of it will be dark, until it is enlightened by its correspondent events; yet so much we easily learn from it, that the church of Christ should meet with great opposition and violent persecution from the powers of the world, and still should be maintained and preserved. Both
these predictions we see verified, and yet both of them to human reason were utterly improbable.
In the first place, who would have imagined, that the gospel should meet with such terrible opposition? What is there in it to provoke the malice and rage of mankind?-It never meddles with forms of government, or with affairs of state, farther than to inculcate justice and fidelity on rulers, and obedience and peaceableness on subjects, and to recommend those virtues which make society happy. It breathes benevolence in all its precepts. It urges its precepts by doctrines of the most serious importance. It confirms men's natural apprehensions of a future state. It removes their doubts concerning the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul. It relieves the anxious fears of conscious guilt; points out a way, in which sinners may obtain a gracious pardon, and escape the merited punishment of all their sins. It marks the path, in which mortals may arrive to eternal glory. What harm then has it done? If there may be such stupidity in men as to treat this gospel with indifference, yet who could have foreseen, that there would be in them such malignity as to oppose it with violence? But this, in fact, has been the case. And it was early foretold, that this would be the case. The prophet, who foretold this, must have been instructed by him, who knew what was in man, better than man knew what was in himself.
Or, secondly, if it had been foreknown, what powerful opposition awaited the gospel, who would have thought, that it could live through it? Its first preachers were few in number; they were aided by no civil authority, and defended by no military pow. er; they had nothing to recommend them, but the purity of their doctrines, the virtue of their lives, the energy of their reasoning, and the evidence of VOL. IV.
their miracles. The civil arm was, every where, stretched out against them. They collected Christian assemblies, here and there, in all countries whither they went ;, but these were surrounded with enemies, who sought their destruction: And yet the church, under all these disadvantages, grew and increased. In its best times, however, it has been only a small part of the world, and has possessed no exterior worldly power. It has often been violently persecuted, but never wholly destroyed. Had half the opposition, which the church has felt, been made to any earthly kingdom, its very remembrance would have been extinguished. Many ancient and powerful kingdoms have been destroyed. The Assyrian, Persian, and Grecian empires, which once were formidable, exist no more. The Roman empire retains little more than its name. The papal dominion, which once gave terror to kings, has sunk into impotence, exactly according to the predictions of scrip ture. When worldly empires have been overturned and demolished, what has supported the church of God?-It can be nothing less than the power of that Being, who has promised, that, though he make a full end of all nations, he will not make a full end of her; and though he leave her not wholly unpunished, he will save her from utter destruction.
If we were to examine prophecy minutely, and compare it with subsequent history, we should find, that all the great changes, which have befallen the church, and all the signal judgments, which have been executed on her enemies, were long before announced, as they have since taken place.
In the first age of the gospel, there was the evidence of miracles. This evidence we cannot have directly; we take it only from authentic history; for miracles have ceased. But we have the sure word of prophecy. This is a standing testimony to
the truth of the gospel. The remarkable coincidence of predictions and events, in a long course of years, can be accounted for only on the supposition, that the former were dictated by divine inspiration, and the latter directed by divine providence. From the past care of providence to preserve the Christian church, we have a confirmation of Christ's promise, that the gates of hell will never prevail against her, but will finally yield trophies to adorn her triumph.
2. The prophecy under consideration assures us of the continuance of the gospel ministry.
The great head of the church "will give power to his witnesses, and they shall prophecy."
When Christ purchased the church with his blood, he gave pastors and teachers for the work of the ministry, in order to the edifying of his body, until we all come in the unity of faith and knowledge unto perfect men in him; and he has promised, that he will be with them always, even unto the end of the world.
The gospel ministry, which is a manifest institu tion of Christ, is essential to the support and preservation of the church: If that were to be discontinued, this would cease of course. It is the stated preaching of the gospel, which preserves the knowledge, and maintains the influence of it among men. Were it never preached in public, few would read it in private; fewer would regard it in their hearts, and be governed by it in their lives; youth would grow up in ignorance and vice; they seldom would hear private instruction; or feel it, if they heard it. There are those promises of the divine blessing to accompany a faithful attendance on this institution, which are never made to other means, while this is neglected. The communications of the divine spirit, of which we have an account in scripture, were made in consequence of an observance of public res
ligious instructions. These two cautions stand together: "Quench not the Spirit: Despise not prophecying." To neglect the preaching of the word, is to quench the Spirit. If we put away the former, God withdraws the latter.
3. We are here taught, what is the character of Christ's approved ministers, and what are the duties which he requires of them.
They, as witnesses, are to bear testimony to the gospel by professing their own faith in it, by exhibiting the evidences of its divinity, by defending it against the cavils of unbelievers, by exemplifying the virtues of it in their conversation, and by sacrificing, in its cause, their worldly interest, and even their lives, if occasion should require.
They, as prophets, must preach the word with plainness of speech, adapting themselves to common capacities: They must speak with demonstration of the spirit and with power, commending themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God: They must declare the whole counsel of God, however disgustful any part of it may be to vicious and corrupt minds: They must reprove prevailing iniquities, and confute licentious errors, whoever may practise the former, or patronize the latter. They must hold up to view the threatenings of scripture, and apply them to the proper characters, on whomsoever the censure may fall. These things belonged to the duty of the ancient prophets; and they equally belong to the office of Christian prophets.
Ministers are here called candlesticks, and, elsewhere, lights; because they are to enlighten man. kind by their doctrine and example-to shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of lifeso to display the light of truth, and the beauty of holiness, that others, perceiving the energy of the form