Evidence from Scripture and History of the Second Coming of Christ, by William Miller, , at sacred-texts.com
IN my former lectures I have given my views of four of the churches spoken of in the text. Three more remain, which will complete the prophetic history of the church through all the ages of the New Testament times until the state of trial shall be fulfilled, and the church shall enter her glorified kingdom in triumph. You have undoubtedly been led, by the comparison of the churches with the history thus far, to admire the agreement of the prophecy of the four churches with the history of the times; and truly this is one of the greatest evidences we have of the truth of the divine inspiration of revelation, and this evidence fixes the authenticity of the Scriptures beyond a reasonable doubt. I shall now claim a few moments' indulgence while I attempt to show where and when the other three churches have been or will be fulfilled. See Rev. iii.
1, "And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write." Song of joy, or that which remains, is the signification of Sardis. The last signification is the one which the heavenly Instructor has affixed himself to this church in the second verse, "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain." The church preceding this had passed a long, dark, and benighted age of the world, and every writer of these times calls them the dark ages; and truly it was an age of superstition, bigotry, and ignorance; therefore we must reasonably suppose that but few were the true worshippers of God, and those few enjoying but a faint knowledge of divine things. But we will pursue our course. "These things saith he that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars, I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead." The same character that has addressed the other churches, still gives himself a quality by which we may know that it is he who is called God man, having the spirit of God, and as man governing his church as the star of Bethlehem. This church began about the tenth century, and lasted until the Reformation under Luther, Calvin, and others. They had a name, were called Waldenses, Valdenses, &c., "and art dead;" that is, she was or would be of little use to the rest of the world, hiding her influence within her own sphere, and of course did not manifest her light to the world, was inactive, idle, not performing the work which God had commanded them to perform, to set their light on the candlestand, that it might give light to all. This was the case with the church in the valleys of Piedmont during the time of the crusades to the Holy Land; and while the Pope had the command of all the armies of Europe, the church lived in these valleys of the Pyrenees, nearly in the centre of Europe, unknowing and unknown.
2d verse, "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die; for I have not found thy works perfect before God." Although the church in this age retained some of the leading principles of the gospel, the ordinances were in part retained among them, yet towards the close of this Sardis age, the Papal monks and priests were sent in among them, and many of the Waldenses became corrupted by the Papal beast and her doctrine. Therefore the admonition, "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain."
3d verse, "Remember how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent. If, therefore, thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." The judgment threatened in this verse, "I will come upon thee," is undoubtedly a prophecy of the persecution of the Waldenses and Lollards, by the Papal authority, and through the inquisition, as an instrument, about the close of the fourteenth century, when, for their departure from the true doctrine of the gospel, and the commands of God, they were persecuted and scattered among all nations, so that by the judgments of God, for their transgressions, they were made instruments in the hands of God of spreading the knowledge of the gospel among the nations, which they ought to have done in obedience to his word, and for the love of souls. And these judgments served the double purpose of punishment for sin, and opening a door for a more general display of salvation.
4th verse, "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy." There were a few even in this age of moral darkness who followed Christ in his laws and ordinances, and they receive the promise of justification before God, "walk with me in white."
5th verse, "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment, and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life; but I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels." Whenever the phrase, "he that overcometh," is used, it always implies, I think, in the Scriptures, that the persons addressed are, or will pass through a time of persecution; and in this text the church in this age is shown that those only who can endure tribulation and persecution will be acknowledged at the bar of God as the children of faith. And then this church is again warned to hear and believe what the Spirit saith to the churches.
6th verse, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches."
I shall now attempt to show to what age we may calculate the Philadelphia church should answer, and when this prophecy was fulfilled.
7th verse, "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth." This verse is a description of the character addressing the church and gives an account of his holiness, his veracity, authority, and power, and leaves us without a doubt that it is Jesus the son of David, the Holy One of Israel, the faithful and true witness, he that hath all power in heaven and in earth. And he thus addresses them, 8th verse, "I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it, for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name." The signification of the name of this church, Philadelphia, is brotherly love, and this age began about the time of the Reformation; for then God opened an effectual door for the gospel to be spread which no man or set of men has been able to shut. And the early reformers displayed a zeal and fearlessness in their cause which astonished their friends and confounded their enemies. At this time, too, Christian love and fellowship was evidently one of the strongest marks of the day and manifested that the work was of God.
9th verse, "Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan which say they are Jews and are not, but do lie." The characters here spoken of are the same as those who sit in Satan's seat, who profess to be Christians, but are anti-Christians; they are worshippers of the Papal beast, professing to be the mother church, but are only that part which are fallen away, as Paul has told us, "there should come a falling away first, and then the man of sin should be revealed, who opposeth, (or is anti,) and exalteth himself (calling themselves Jews, a figurative expression, or name for Christian) above all that is called God." "Behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." This sentence shows that anti-Christ would be humbled in this age of the church and brought to take the back ground, or in some measure lose her civil power over the Protestant church and be humbled at her feet. Has not this prophecy been accomplished strictly according to the letter? Witness Great Britain, Germany, and other nations. And to this day she has not been able to bring into subjection any of the Protestant states, and is only permitted to dwell among them by toleration. And although within a few years past she seems to be making an effort to regain her lost power and authority, yet it is but a last struggle, a dying gasp; for soon she must and will fall, to rise in civil power no more forever.
10th verse, "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth." This part of the prophecy was fulfilled on or before the French revolution, when Atheism and Deism made such rapid progress through Europe or the Roman government, which in prophecy is called the earth. See Rev. xii. 9. And it is a fact, that through this age of profligacy and corruption, the church retained her principles as pure and with as little defection as any age in modern times; although men of the world were led away by the plausible writings of Voltaire, Hume, Tom Paine, and others, yet it had no effect on the Christian church: and the promise, "I will keep thee from the hour of temptation," was fully and faithfully accomplished; and the very means that Satan used to destroy the religion of Jesus Christ, or "the twelve fishermen," was the means of bringing the church out of the wilderness. And those governments of the world which had for more than twelve centuries persecuted the children of God, now granted free toleration for all men to worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience. And from this period we may see the "angel flying through the midst of heaven having the everlasting gospel to preach to them that dwell on the earth." Now the church began to awake to the subject of missions; and while the world was tempted and tried, the kingdoms of the earth shaken to their centre, (yet not destroyed;) while the civil power of the mother of harlots, the inquisition of Spain, and the horrible means of torture, persecution, slavery, and cruelty, were all swept away in one revolution,--the church, by the power of Him who had promised to "keep them," passed through the fiery ordeal without the smell of fire on her garments.
11th verse, "Behold, I come quickly; hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." In this verse we have notice of his second coming, and that it would be quickly; by which I understand that the age of the seventh church, which was yet to come, would be short, and the second coming of him, who will overcome and subdue all things, would be quickly. He likewise admonishes us to hold fast that which we have, giving us, as I understand, warning that the next age of the church would be an age of invention; of lo heres, of departure from the true faith, of denying the crown of the church, the twelve stars, the apostles' doctrine. And amidst the confusion of the doctrines and revelations of the present day, if any one should inquire of me what sentiment it would be best for them to embrace, I would first point them to the Bible, and second, back to the fathers and teachers of the last century, and say, Hold fast that they held; let no man take thy crown. Let us then, my brethren, be watchful, and remember "him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God; and I will write upon him my new name." The blessings promised in this text are to be realized when the New Jerusalem comes down from God out of heaven; then shall the spiritual born child of heaven be a pillar in the temple of God, in that building made without hands; then, too, will he receive that rich inheritance that is laid up in heaven for those that love God, and there obtain that eternal crown, that immortal life which is now hid with Christ in God, and then and there realize that "blessed hope at the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ." "And he shall go no more out" of that glorious temple; no tempting devil there, for he will be chained; no persecuting kingdom, for they will "all be destroyed and carried away like the chaff of the summer threshing-floor." Then will he receive the new name, "The Lord our righteousness," for the Lord is there. Then, too, a citizen of the glorified kingdom, the New Jerusalem, married to the Lamb, and shall live and reign with him forever and forever. "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." This closes the prophecy to the sixth church; and now let us see to it that we do not lose the blessings promised by refusing to hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. Hear, and your souls shall live; disobey, turn a deaf ear, refuse the offered grace, and you will die; for the soul that sinneth shall die.
It now remains for me to show the age of the seventh or Laodicean church, and the characteristic marks of that church or age. And if I am right in considering these churches in a mystical sense, as our text more than implies, and our arguments and references strongly prove, in my humble opinion, then, this part of our subject becomes doubly interesting to us, who live in the very age of the fulfilment of this prophecy. Yes, my brethren, we live at the very time when the great head of the church says,
14th verse, "And unto the angel of the church in Laodicea write, These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God." Laodicea signifies the judging of the people, and may have reference to the church in its last stage, when God would pour out his justice and judgment upon a guilty world, and upon a haughty, proud, and self-exalted church, and spue them out of his mouth. This idea may be warranted from the subject in connection. The address to this church begins by showing that it is the closing up of this dispensation, by saying, "These things saith the Amen." It also teaches us that it commences the judgment, or prepares for a judgment, by bringing forward "the faithful and true witness." It also shows the universality of this judgment by the knowledge of the witness being "the beginning of the creation of God."
15th verse, "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot." To be neither cold nor hot in religious things implies a profession of religion without a spiritual life, or the middle way between the world and Christ; taking much pains after worldly things, to the neglect of spiritual things; endeavoring to move between the doctrine of Christ and the doctrine of men; taking the middle ground, as I have often heard it expressed.
16th verse, "So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." For this cause, that is, because they are engaged more for show, honors, or profits of this world than for God, he would spue them out of his mouth. The word spue is used in three places in Scripture, besides the one under consideration; in Levit. xviii. 28, xx. 22, Jer. xxv. 27; and in all these places stands connected with the judgments of God upon Israel, or the nations spoken of, and implies a shaking out or driving from their present standing, either among nations or in the kingdom of Christ, as the case may be. And this passage, I suppose, alludes to the time when God hath promised, saying, "Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven," Heb. xii. 26. So we may expect a shaking of the church of Christ, if this is the age spoken of, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. This, too, is the age when the wise and foolish virgins are sleeping and slumbering together.
17th verse, "Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Our heavenly Instructor has given us in this verse the reason why they are lukewarm; "because thou sayest, I am rich." The church in this Laodicean state, like the rich man, will be laying up goods, or making great calculations for the outward or worldly concerns of the church for many years to come, building places for worship, establishing colleges, high schools, academies, theological institutions, to raise up a popular ministry, that the world may be pleased, the ministry well supported, and they become the most popular sect of the day, "increased with goods." This, too, is the church. What shall be called the goods of the church? It is those contributions which are deposited for charitable and pious uses, such as Paul informed his brethren to lay by them in store on the first day of the week. These will be increased to a great and astonishing degree in this age of the church. Theological writings and publications, too, are the goods of the church: there will be a great increase of these. "Come, see what great things we are doing," will be the general language of the church, and the names of donors and the sums they contribute will be published through the world. "And knowest not that thou art wretched." The corruptions of the church will be kept out of sight; and pride, popularity, self-righteousness, depravity, will be the besetting sins of the members and great body of public professors, and few, very few of the ministers of the churches will be valiant or bold enough to tell them the truth. "And miserable." Real piety will be very little enjoyed; the hopes of a large body of professors will be but the hope of a hypocrite. "And poor." Without a tried faith, suffering but little or no persecution, the church will lack those riches which are more precious than fine gold, the trial of their faith. "And blind," without faith, living by things seen more than on the promises of God. "And naked," having on their own righteousness. "I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire." That is, the Amen, the faithful and true witness, counsels the Laodicean church to buy the gold tried in the fire, which may mean either that faith which will stand the fiery trial of temptation and persecution, or that truth which is like "apples of gold in pictures of silver;" "that thou mayest be rich;" rich in faith or in the knowledge of the truth; "and white raiment that thou mayest be clothed," that raiment which John saw the saints in heaven clothed with, which is the righteousness of the saints, the imputed righteousness of Christ, "the Lord our righteousness." If it is not so, why counsel the church to buy of him? Yes, my brethren, we are counselled to buy a raiment without spot or wrinkle, "and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear." Truly, when Christ comes, and we find we have been trusting in self, although we have called ourselves by his name, we have worn our own clothing, and eat our own bread, and instead of being clothed upon, we shall find ourselves naked. Shall we not be ashamed before him at his coming, if we are in this situation when he comes? O, what an awful thought! Therefore let us now receive the further admonition, "And anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see." To anoint the eyes, in a figurative sense, is to examine the truth and evidences of Scripture, that we may see clearly our state and standing as it respects our character towards God and our hope in his future aid, promises, and blessings. It is to see our sins, and feel the need of help, to know our weakness, and trust in his strength--in one word, it is to repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. For he says, "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore and repent." Here, then, is one comfortable promise to this lukewarm church. If there is any tried, chastened, penitent soul in this church, this Laodicean state or age of the church, they have the promise of his love, his everlasting love, his unchangeable love; his loving kindness he will not take from him, although he should "visit their transgressions with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes." Be zealous, therefore, brethren, and repent.
20th verse, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock." He that is the "Amen" is now at the door. In this Laodicean age of the church he comes; he knocks by his judgments, by the fulfilment of the signs, by his word, by all the means of grace that God has ever used to alarm the sleepy, slumbering virgins of his approach. He gives the cautionary word, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." In this passage of prophecy we are brought down to the marriage supper of the Lamb--another and a strong testimony that the churches are to be considered in a mystical sense, and the language or subject prophetical. For this is certainly the saying of Jesus, the faithful and true witness; "for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." Rev. xix. 7-9, "Let us rejoice and be glad, and give honor to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God." We see, my friends, by the similarity of the sentiments given in the marriage supper, and those admonitions and prophecies to the Laodicean church, that they must mean one and the same event. To hear the voice of the bridegroom, and to open the door, and go out to meet him, is the way which the bride makes herself ready; and his supping with them and they with him, shows that it is when Christ shall come, and live, and reign with them.
"To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne." Here is another expression which proves we are brought down to the end of time, "to him that overcometh." What can the faithful and true witness mean by this expression? He explains himself, "even as I also overcame." How did Christ overcome when he sat down with his Father? I answer, By bursting the bands of death, by conquering the grave, he arose a glorious conqueror, and was seated at the right hand of God. Then this is the true meaning of the text, to him, that hath part in the first resurrection, will I grant to sit with me in my throne. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power; but they shall be kings and priests of God, and of Christ, and shall reign with him." What light may we not receive from the word of God, when taken together, when explained by its own language, when kept unbroken! "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." This closes what I call, and what Christ, I think, calls, a prophecy. "Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein; for the time is at hand."
This Laodicean church began about A.D. 1798, and will last the forty-five years. When this dispensation will close, the judgment will set, and the books will be opened; the hypocrites will be spued out of the church, and the sanctuary cleansed.
Will the situation of the church, the character of Christians, the doctrines taught, and the signs of the times warrant us to believe that we live in the Laodicean age of the church? Let us for a moment examine the evidence and see.
1st. The situation of the church, enjoying peace in and among the kingdoms of the earth, enjoying all the privileges of citizens without persecution, making great and many improvements in her worldly concerns, rich in this world's goods, having at her command many millions of funds, and almost swaying the destinies of the world; great, learned and rich men enlisting under her banners, controlling the fashions, customs, and laws of the day, swaying a mighty influence over the education of our youth, and giving a general tone to the literature of the world, increasing her demands for power, establishing bishoprics, presbyteries, national and state conventions, conferences, councils, associations, consociations, societies innumerable; and all these controlled almost exclusively by her clergy. May we not say truly, "She is rich and increased in goods?" But is this all? No. Look at her colleges, theological schools, academies, depositories, public edifices, presses, theological writings and publications, in almost every nation, kingdom, state, and territory, and in this country in almost every county and town; and all this by contributions. Well may it be said, she has need of nothing. These things, too, among all sects and denominations, one cannot outdo another apparently, yet each is striving for the mastery.
2d. The characters of Christians generally. In speaking of the character of our brethren, it becomes the speaker to be very careful and unassuming, for God has not made him a judge over his brethren. Therefore, to judge this one is right, and that one wrong, we shall leave for the judgment seat of Christ. But on a general scale surely we may be allowed to examine and compare ourselves with the prophecies. In all ages back, Christians, when living godly, have been a poor, despised, persecuted people, pilgrims and strangers in the world, plainly showing that this is not their continuing city, but that they are seeking one to come. But is it so now? Have not professors generally, for more than thirty years, been seeking for the riches of this life, for the honors of the world, and following the fashions of the times as greedily as men of the world? Yes. And can we distinguish a professor of religion in our public assemblies from a man of the world, except we are informed? No. Where, then, do Christians plainly show they seek a better country? Nowhere. May we not live in the same neighborhood with professors for years, and not hear them recommend the religion they profess? Yes. But do we not hear the same persons talk freely, flippantly, and zealously about the world, the politics and the fashions of the day? Yes. Is it not a general complaint with all of our churches, of coldness, of a want of spiritual life, and a great failure in active spiritual duties? Yes. Has not a spirit of sloth and supineness seized upon professors generally? Do not many think, if they have a hired servant to talk religion, and visit the widow and fatherless, and keep themselves unspotted from the world, for them it is enough? Yes. And does not all this, and much more which might with truth be said on this point, declare loudly that the professors of Christianity, generally, are in a lukewarm state? Yes. We must respond, Yes.
The doctrine taught. Here again your speaker feels a diffidence in speaking on this subject, knowing that many great, learned, and good men differ on this point; but we must all stand or fall to our own Master, and I must answer how I speak or shun to declare the whole counsel of God. Your speaker believes that the depravity of the human heart, our dependence on God, and indebtedness to grace, are abundantly taught in the Scriptures. See Eph. ii. 4-13. But how stands this doctrine with our public proclaimers at the present day? Some few may preach it, but there is more than ten to one who do not preach it, or, if they do, they so cover it up by their plausible and specious reasoning, that the force of the doctrine and the object of the inspired writers are wholly lost. We are now taught that man can make himself a Christian as easily as he can turn about in the highway; that obedience or baptism is regeneration; that works are the medium of acceptance with God, and that the righteousness of Christ is not imputed. How can such doctrine be more clearly pointed out than it is by the "faithful and true witness" to the Laodicean church? "And knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." That is, they know not their depravity. "I counsel thee to buy of me (see here their dependence on God) gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see." Grace, grace, from the foundation to the top stone. Surely, my dear friends, no candid observer of the doctrine taught at the present day, but what must in his heart acknowledge that the doctrine taught by many, among the different sects, is the same described by our divine Master in the prophecy to the Laodicean church.
The signs of the times. In the close of Christ's instructions to the church under consideration, he says, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice," &c. Daniel says, "At that time shall Michael stand up, the great Prince that standeth up for the children of thy people." And Christ says, "For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many." These were particular signs given by Christ and the prophets. And how have these come to pass? Witness the great and many reformations which for thirty years have progressed in our land, in Europe, and the islands of the seas. See also the word of God published, in whole or in part, among all nations. See the missionaries of the gospel running to and fro through the whole earth. Do not these indicate that Christ stands at the door, and that his voice has gone out even unto the ends of the world, and that Michael has stood up for the children of thy people? Yes. Again: how many new sects have arisen, how many false Christs have come in this blaze of gospel light, and are drawing away their hundreds and thousands after them! It is almost incredible, when we take into view the light and knowledge under which we live; but all go to prove that Christ is nigh, even at the door.
In reviewing our subject, we learn by the events of the Sardis church, and by the admonitions given, our duty to guard against the introduction of errors into the church, and to strengthen ourselves in the truth; and likewise of being active in all the duties of religion, that we may not only have a name to live, but have the life and power of the gospel, that we may resist all the temptations and fiery darts of the enemies of the church.
By the church of Philadelphia, we learn that if we keep the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ, he will keep us from those trials and judgments which he sends on an ungodly and rebellious people, and that God has opened a door for the spread of the gospel, which no power on earth will be able to shut, until the angel standing on the sea and on the land, shall swear that time shall be no longer. We also learn the importance of having brotherly love and perseverance in holy things, that no man take from us the crown which is laid up for those that love God, and which will be given to them who remain steadfast in Christ Jesus at his coming, which is promised quickly to this church.
By the Laodicean church, we learn the important lesson that we cannot serve two masters; we cannot love the present evil world, and at the same time be the servants of God; that to be lukewarm in religion is to be cast out of his presence, and call down the vengeance of God's final judgment upon our heads, and, while we may flatter ourselves that we are righteous, find to our everlasting shame, that we are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
Think, O think, my dear friends, you that are trusting in your own goodness, when that day of justice shall come, and the faithful and true witness shall stand against you, when your goodness shall pass away like the morning cloud, and the righteous Judge shall pronounce the dreadful sentence, Depart--what must be your feelings! The world, which you here worshipped, is burning up; the friends with whom you here associated are gone to meet the Lord in the air, or are sinking with you into endless and hopeless misery. The Savior, whose name you are now ashamed to own, or whose righteousness you think you need not, is now your Judge, seated on a great white throne, from whose face the heavens and the earth shall flee away. Think, O sinner! where wilt thou be found!