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When the author of “the Retrospect” published the first number, he did not contemplate its extension beyond one or two additional pamphlets ; nor did he suppose he should ever be called on to write a preface to an introductory volume. The subject, however, has so enlarged under his hand, and the interest expressed by others in the work has been so unequivocal, that he has not felt at liberty from any motives of personal consideration, , though they have been powerful of their kind (and perhaps to some might have proved overwhelming) to withhold himself from the fuller development of the momentous subject in which he has been imperceptibly and almost irresistibly involved.
If this volume had issued from the press some twenty years ago, any prefatory remarks, as almost a matter of course, would have assumed the shape of a defence on the “ Dissertation of Prophecy,” vindicating any enquiry into the subject of the unfulfilled purposes of God; and any remarks which may now be offered, having such an object in view, may seem to imply either that such an error has not been exploded from the
Church, or that the interpretations the author has himself advanced render it necessary to remind his readers of the legitimacy of such researches into the divine record. But the dispersion of one form of objection does not always imply the extinction of the spirit from which such opposition proceeded, which is too often found to exhibit itself in another shape, perhaps, more dangerous to the Church, because more subtle. The world and alas ! the Church also, frequently manifest the most extraordinary and flagrant anomalies. Among mankind the man most to be dreaded is he who expresses the least evil intentions, and the converse also is true; and we have too frequently found associated in the Church the most extravagant contentions for catholicity of spirit, whilst, at the same time, the most sectarian and bigotted prejudices exist. In the one case, you scarcely dare venture to deny the full benefits of all the covenants of God to the brother of the moon; whilst you are required in the other, almost upon the penalty of excommunication yourself, to yield exclusive precedency to that section of the whole body to which its advocate belongs. The fact is, men have no objection to deal with truth as an abstract principle; but, when they are shown plainly the obvious conclusions to which their own premises inevitably lead, they shrink from the responsibility of an
and unreserved faith in their truth. This remark applies with peculiar force to the subject of the present treatise. As long as men can discuss it at a distance they will throw their energies into the question, and probably not withhold from its leading features a certain measure of credence. But the true standard of our faith in any alleged truth is not to be taken by the mere assent of our understanding, but by the spirit and tenor of our lives; and if the Church herself has not discernment to detect the inconsistencies of her own acts, when compared with her professions, the world is keen enough to discover and expose the flagrant discrepancy between the one and the other. The following sentence appeared in the Times newspaper not many weeks since :-"There have been men who were firmly convinced that a certain approaching day would usher in either the millenium or the last account, and consequently put an end to all outward wealth and secular relations. In no instance, however, have they neglected, or even modified the routine of their business: they have bought and sold, purchased leases, contracted obligations, made eligible investments, with their usual avidity and keenness, up to the very hour that was to render all these transactions nugatory and ridiculous.” It would be waste of words to endeavour to meet the converse of the proposition by maintaining that every position in life has its duties which must be fulfilled up to the instant of the actual appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the spirit, of which we speak, in which these duties are performed, and it is also the spirit too plainly manifested, which originates and adds force to this cutting taunt by its too obvious truth.
Men are very ingenious in devising excuses for their own want of watchfulness. The ignorant clamour which was formerly raised against the study of unfulfilled prophecy has been superseded by a more refined form of objection, though springing from the same evil root of unbelief, and having for its end the same deadly stupor in which Satan seeks to steep the Church as to her grand and glorious hope. We are now told that the “letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” -ergo, the study of unfulfilled prophecy in the letter and through the understanding is an evil and a dangerous thing. Entertaining some doubts as to the soundness of the conclusion from the premises, it may be urged, if the understanding be not the proper medium for the Church's intelligent apprehension of the unfulfilled prophecies, what is? It may be said that the ministries are the only authorised channels through which such instructions should proceed to the people: to which there
may be made this simple reply—and that in the words of One who seldom spoke with