In order to describe this part, I would speak, first, of the prosperous state of the church through the greatest part of this period; and, secondly, of the great apostacy there shall be towards the close of it.
I. I would speak of the prosperous state of the church through the greater part of this period. And in the general, I would observe two things,
1. That this is most properly the time of the kingdom of heaven upon earth. Though the kingdom of heaven was in a degree set up soon after Christ’s resurrection, and in a further degree in the time of Constantine; and though the christian church in all ages of it is called the kingdom of heaven; yet this is the principal time of the kingdom of heaven upon earth, the time principally intended by the prophecies of Daniel whence the Jews took the name of the kingdom of heaven.
2. Now is the principal fulfilment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament which speak of the glorious times of the gospel in the latter days. Though there has been a glorious fulfilment of those prophecies already, in the times of the apostles, and of Constantine; yet the expressions are too high to suit any other time entirely, but that which is to succeed the fall of Antichrist. This is most properly the glorious day of the gospel. Other times are only forerunners and preparatory to this: those were the seed-time, but this is the harvest. But more particularly,
(1.) It will be a time of great light and knowledge. The present, are days of darkness, in comparison of those days.—The light of that glorious time shall be so great, that it is represented as though there should then be no night, but only day; no evening nor darkness. So Zechariah xiv 6, 7. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark. But it shall be one day, which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night; but it shall come to pass, that at evening-time it shall be light.”—It is further represented, as though God would then give such light to his church, that it should so much exceed the glory of the light of the sun and moon, that they should be ashamed: Isaiah 24:23. “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.”
There is a kind of vail now cast over the greater part of the world, which keeps them in darkness; but then this vail shall be destroyed: Isaiah 25:7. “And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations.” Then all countries and nations, even those which are now most ignorant, shall be full of light and knowledge. Great knowledge shall prevail every where. It may be hoped, that then many of the Negroes and Indians will be divines, and that excellent books will be published in Africa, in Ethiopia, in Tartary, and other now the most barbarous countries; and not only learned men, but others of more ordinary education, shall then be very knowing in religion: Isaiah 32:3, 4. “The eyes of them that see, shall not be dim; and the ears of them that hear, shall hearken. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge.” Knowledge then shall be very universal among all sorts of persons; Jeremiah 31:34. “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them.”
There shall then be a wonderful unravelling of the difficulties in the doctrines of religion, and clearing up of seeming inconsistencies: Isaiah 40:4.“So crooked things shall be made straight, and rough places shall be made plain, and darkness shall become light before God’s people.” Difficulties in Scripture shall then be cleared up, and wonderful things shall be discovered in the word of God, which were never discovered before. The great discovery of those things in religion which had been before kept hid, seems to be compared to removing the vail, and discovering the ark of the testimony to the people, which before used to be kept in the secret part of the temple, and was never seen by them. Thus at the sounding of the seventh angel, when it is proclaimed, “that the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, 649 “ it is added, that “the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament. 650 “ So great shall be the increase of knowledge in this time, that heaven shall be as it were opened to the church of God on earth.
(2.) It shall be a time of great holiness. Now vital religion shall every where prevail and reign. Religion shall not be an empty profession, as it now mostly is, but holiness of heart and life shall abundantly prevail. Those times shall be an exception from what Christ says of the ordinary state of the church, viz. that there shall be but few saved; for now holiness shall become general: Isaiah 60:21. “Thy people also shall be all righteous.” Not that there will be none remaining in a Christless condition; but that visible wickedness shall be suppressed every where, and true holiness shall become general, though not universal. It shall be a wonderful time, not only for the multitude of godly men, but for eminency of grace: Isaiah 65:20. “There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old, but the sinner being an hundred years old, shall be accursed.” Zechariah 12:8. “He that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the Lord before them.” And holiness shall then be as it were inscribed on every thing, on all men’s common business and employments, and the common utensils of life: all shall be dedicated to God, and applied to holy purposes: every thing shall then be done to the glory of God: Isaiah 23:18. “And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the Lord.” (And so Zechariah 14:20, 21.)—And as God’s people then shall be eminent in holiness of heart, so they shall be also in holiness of life and practice.
(3.) It shall be a time wherein religion shall in every respect be uppermost in the world. It shall be had in great esteem and honour. The saints have hitherto for the most part been kept under, and wicked men have governed. But now they will be uppermost. The kingdom shall be given into the hands of the saints of the “most high God,” Daniel 7:27. And “they shall reign on earth,” Revelation 5:10. They shall live and “reign with Christ a thousand years,” Revelation 20:4. In that day, such persons as are eminent for true piety and religion, shall be chiefly promoted to places of trust and authority. Vital religion shall then take possession of kings’ palaces and thrones; and those who are in highest advancement shall be holy men: Isaiah 49:23. “And kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and their queens thy nursing-mothers.” Kings shall employ all their power, and glory, and riches, for the advancement of the honour and glory of Christ, and the good of his church: Isaiah 60:16. “Thou shalt also suck the milk of the Gentiles, and shalt suck the breasts of kings.” And the great men of the world, and the rich merchants, and others who have great wealth and influence, shall devote all to Christ and his church: Psalm 45:12. “The daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift, even the rich among the people shall entreat thy favour.”
(4.) Those will be times of great peace and love. There shall then be universal peace and a good understanding among the nations of the world, instead of confusion, wars, and bloodshed. Isaiah 2:4. “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plough-shares, and their spears into pruning-hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” It is represented as if all instruments of war should be destroyed, having become useless: Psalms 46:9. “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth: he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder, he burneth the chariot in the fire.” (See also Zechariah 9:10.) Then shall all nations dwell quietly and safely, without fear of any enemy. Isaiah 32:18. “And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places.” (Also Zechariah 8:10, 11.)
Then shall malice, and envy, and wrath, and revenge, be suppressed every where; and peace and love shall prevail between one man and another; which is most elegantly set forth in Isaiah 11:6-10. Then shall there be peace and love between rulers and ruled. Rulers shall love their people, and with all their might seek their best good; and the people shall love their rulers, shall joyfully submit to them, and give them that honour which is their due. So shall there be happy love between ministers and their people: Malachi 4:6. “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.” Then shall flourish in an eminent manner those christian virtues of meekness, forgiveness, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, and brotherly-kindness, those excellent fruits of the Spirit. Men, in their temper and disposition, shall then be like the Lamb of God, the lovely Jesus. The body shall be conformed to the head.
Then shall all the world be united in one amiable society. All nations, in all parts of the world, on every side of the globe, shall then be knit together in sweet harmony. All parts of God’s church shall assist and promote the spiritual good of one another. A communication shall then be upheld between all parts of the world to that end; and the art of navigation, which is now applied so much to favour men’s covetousness and pride, and is used so much by wicked debauched men, shall then be consecrated to God, and applied to holy uses. (See Isaiah 60:5-9.) And then men will be abundant in expressing their love one to another, not only in words, but in deeds of charity, Isaiah 32:5. “The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful;” but (Isaiah 32:8.) “the liberal deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things shall he stand.”
(5.) It will be a time of excellent order in the church of Christ. The true government and discipline of the church will then be settled and put into practice. All the world shall then be as one church, one orderly, regular, beautiful society. And as the body shall be one, so the members shall be in beautiful proportion to each other. Then shall that be verified in Psalm 122:3. “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together.”
(6.) The church of God shall then be beautiful and glorious on these accounts; yea, it will appear in the perfection of beauty: Isaiah 60:1. “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Isaiah 61:10. “He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” On these accounts, the church will then be the greatest image of heaven itself.
(7.) That will be a time of the greatest temporal prosperity. Such a spiritual state as we have just described, has a natural tendency to health and long life; and that this will actually be the case, is evident by Zechariah 8:4. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age.” It has also a natural tendency to procure ease, quietness, pleasantness, and cheerfulness of mind, also wealth, and a great increase of children; as is intimated in Zechariah 8:5. “And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.”—But further, the temporal prosperity of the people of God will also be promoted by a remarkable blessing from heaven: Isaiah 65:21. “They shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.” And in Micah 4:4. “But they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid.” Zechariah 7:12. “For the seed shall be prosperous, the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew, and I will cause the remnant of this people to possess all these things.” (See also Jeremiah 31:12, 13. and Amos ix 13.) Yea then they shall receive all manner of tokens of God’s presence, acceptance, and favour: Jeremiah 33:9 “And it shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and an honour before all the nations of the earth, which shall hear all the good that I do unto them: and they shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it.” Even the days of Solomon were but an image of those days, as to the temporal prosperity which shall be obtained in them.
(8.) It will also be a time of great rejoicing: Isaiah 35:10. “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Isaiah 55:12. “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you.” Isaiah 66:11. “That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations: that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory.” Isaiah 12:3. “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” That will be the church’s glorious wedding-day with Christ upon earth: Revelation 19:7. “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” Revelation 19:9. “Blessed are they which are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb.”
The Scriptures every where represent this prosperity to be of long continuance. The former intervals of rest and prosperity, as we before observed, are represented to be but short; but the representations of this state are quite different: Revelation 20:4. “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus,—and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.“ Isaiah 60:15. “Whereas thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations.“—This may suffice as to the prosperous state of the church through the greater part of the period from the destruction of Satan’s visible kingdom in the world to Christ’s appearing in the clouds of heaven to judgment.
II. I now come to speak of the great apostacy there should be towards the close of this period, and how the church should, for a short time, be threatened by her enemies. And this I shall do under three particulars.
1. A little before the end of the world, a great part of the world shall fall away from Christ and his church. It is said, Revelation 20:3. that Satan should be cast into the bottomless pit, and shut up, and have a seal set upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years should be fulfilled; and that afterward he must be loosed out of his prison for a little season. Accordingly we are told, (Revelation 20:7, 8.) that when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and go forth to deceive the nations, which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog. This intimates, that the apostacy would be very general. The nations of the four quarters of the earth shall be deceived; and the number of those who shall now turn enemies to Christ shall be vastly great, as the army of Gog and Magog is represented in Ezekiel It is said, (Revelation 20:8.) that the number of them is as the sand of the sea, and that they went up on the breadth of the earth, as if they were an army large enough to reach from one side of the earth to the other.
Thus after a happy and glorious season, such a long day of light and holiness, of love and peace, and joy, it shall again be a dark time. Satan shall begin to set up his dominion again in the world; and this world shall again become a scene of darkness and wickedness. The bottomless pit shall be opened, and devils shall come up again out of it, and a dreadful smoke shall ascend to darken the world. And the church of Christ, instead of extending to the utmost bounds of the world, as it did before, shall be reduced to narrow limits. The world of mankind being continued so long in a state of great prosperity shall now begin to abuse their prosperity, to serve their lust and corruption. This we learn from Luke 17:26. &c.
2. Those apostates shall make great opposition to the church of God. The church shall be threatened with a sudden and entire overthrow by them. It is said, Satan shall gather them together to battle, as the sand on the seashore; and they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city. So that this beloved city shall seem just ready to be swallowed up by them: for her enemies shall not only threaten her, but shall actually have gathered together against her; and not only so, but shall have besieged her, shall have compassed her about on every side.—However, there is nothing in the prophecy which seems to hold forth, that the church had actually fallen into their hands, as it had fallen into the hands of Antichrist, to whom it was given to make war with the saints, and to overcome them. God will never suffer this to take place after the fall of Antichrist; for then the day of her mourning shall be ended, alarmingly threatened with utter and sudden destruction.
3. Now the state of things will seem most remarkably to call for Christ’s immediate appearance to judgment. For then the world shall be filled with the most aggravated wickedness. For much the greater part of the world shall have become visibly wicked and open enemies to Christ, and their wickedness shall be dreadfully aggravated by their apostacy. Before the fall of Antichrist, most of the world was full of visibly wicked men. But the greater part of these are poor heathens, who never enjoyed the light of the gospel; and others are those that have been bred up in the Mahometan or popish darkness. But these have apostatized from the christian church, the visible kingdom of Christ, in which they enjoyed the great light and privileges of glorious times, which shall be incomparably greater than the light and privileges which the church of God enjoys now. This apostacy will be most like the apostacy of the devils of any that ever had before been: for the devils apostatized, and turned enemies to Christ, though they enjoyed the light of heaven; and these will apostatize, and turn enemies to him, though they have enjoyed the light and privileges of the glorious times of the church. That such should turn open and avowed enemies to Christ, and should seek the ruin of his church, will cry aloud for such immediate vengeance as was executed on the devils when they fell.
The wickedness of the world will remarkably call for Christ’s immediate appearing in flaming fire to take vengeance on them, because of the way in which they shall manifest their wickedness. This will be by scoffing and blaspheming Christ and his holy religion; and particularly, they will scoff at the notion of Christ’s coming to judgment, of which the church shall be in expectation. For now doubtless will be the greatest fulfilment of 2 Peter 3:3, 4. “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” They shall be in no expectation of the coming of Christ to judgment, and shall laugh at the notion. They shall trample all such things under foot, and shall give up themselves to their lusts, or to eat and drink, and wallow in sensual delights, as though they were to be here for ever. They shall despise the warnings the church shall give them of the coming of Christ to judgment, as the people of the old world despised what Noah told them of the approaching flood, and as the people of Sodom did when Lot said to them, The Lord will destroy this city. Their wickedness on this account will cry aloud to heaven for Christ’s appearing in flaming fire to take vengeance of his enemies; and because they shall exercise their wickedness in a wicked design and violent attempt against the holy city of God, wherein, for so long a time, so much of the religion of Christ had been seen.
And the great number of the wicked is another thing which shall especially call for Christ’s coming: for the world then will doubtless be exceeding full of people, having continued so long in so great a state of prosperity, without such terrible desolating extremities, as wars, pestilences, and the like, to diminish them. And the major part of this world, which shall be so populous, will be wicked contemptuous apostates from God. Undoubtedly the world then will be by far fuller of wickedness than ever it was before, from its foundation. And if the wickedness of the old world, when men began to multiply on the earth, called for the destruction of the world by a deluge of water, this wickedness will as much call for its destruction by a deluge of fire.
Again, the circumstances of the church at that day will also eminently call for the immediate appearing of Christ, as they will be compassed about by their blasphemous murderous enemies, just ready to be swallowed up by them. And it will be a most distressing time with the church, excepting the comfort they will have in the hope of deliverance from God: for all other help will seem to fail. The case will be come to the last extremity, and there will be an immediate need that Christ should come to their deliverance. And though the church shall be so eminently threatened, yet so will Providence order it, that it shall be preserved till Christ shall appear in his immediate presence, coming in the glory of his Father with all his holy angels. And then will come the time when all the elect shall be gathered in. That work of conversion which has been carried on from the beginning of the church after the fall through all those ages, shall be carried on no more. There never shall another soul be converted. Every one of those many millions, whose names were written in the book of life before the foundation of the world, shall be brought in; not one soul shall be lost. And the mystical body of Christ, which has been growing since it first began in the days of Adam, will be complete as to the number of parts, having every one of its members. In this respect, the work of redemption will now be finished. And now the end for which the means of grace have been instituted shall be obtained.—All that effect which was intended, shall now be accomplished.