Editor's Note: John Hargrove (1750–1839). The practice of delivering sermons in the Capitol in Washington began in Thomas Jefferson's administration and continued for decades until after the Civil War (see Anson Stokes, Church and State in the United States, 1:499–507). All denominations were included in the invitations to preach, and the President, cabinet members, senators, representatives, and the general public attended. The sermon reprinted here, A Sermon, on the Second Coming of Christ and on the Last Judgment, delivered on Christmas Day, 1804, was at least the third sermon preached by John Hargrove in the Capitol. He had preached on the day after Christmas in 1802, with President Jefferson and about forty senators and representatives and sixty other people in attendance. Interest was such that he was invited to preach again the following evening. The mystical and eschatological teachings of the Church of the New Jerusalem, a denomination sprung from the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), were of evident interest to Hargrove's audience. The Baltimore church where he was pastor was the first of the denomination founded in the country (1792). Dr. Joseph Priestly, Jefferson's mentor in things religious, was attracted to the Swedenborgian doctrines of final things, and the matter of Christ's divinity and resurrection were points of debate between him and Jefferson. (See Robert Hindmarsh, Letters to Dr. Priestly ; and D. W. Adams, ed., Jefferson's Extracts from the Gospels , pp. 14–25, in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Second Series.) In general, all this was in line with the newly aroused interest in the relationship between republicanism and religion.
John Hargrove was born in Ireland and came to America in 1769. He worked as a land surveyor and as a master weaver, and he published The Weavers Draft Book and Clothiers Assistant (1792; repr. 1979), the first book of its kind published in America. He was ordained a minister in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1776 and became a member of the first faculty of Cokesbury College in Abington, Maryland, in 1788. While few details of his life are known, it appears that he converted to the Swedenborgian sect after going to Baltimore to study these teachings with the intention of refuting them. In any event, in 1799 he became the first Swedenborgian minister ordained in the United States and was the pastor of the Church of the New Jerusalem in Baltimore until 1830. He died there in 1839.
The numerous and valuable improvements in all the arts and sciences, which have so rapidly succeeded each other during the last half century, contribute to convince the men of the Lord's New Church that a new order of things has taken place in the spiritual world, and is thence daily manifesting its happy effects in the natural world; for the natural world is only a world of effects; but the spiritual world is a world of causes.
It is likewise a pleasing and sure presage of increasing knowledge and liberality, that on all such occasions, it is seldom enquired whether these improvements were first suggested by a Whig or a Tory, a Jew or a gentile: To which we may also add, that the bloody and infernal swords of religious intolerance and persecution, are now, probably, for ever sheathed, through the mild, but extensive climates of these United States; for here we have no Inquisition—no Bastile.
And yet it is a fact, that whenever any theological idea or system which is apparently new is announced, or submitted to the consideration of the christian world, "a hue and cry" of heretic, and blasphemer is immediately resounded and reverberated; and the most hostile and illiberal opposition manifested against all such annunciations, even by many who positively refuse to examine the premisses!
Such ignorant and bigoted opposers to the growing state of gospel knowledge, should reflect, however, that there is a sure promise left unto the church of God, that "The path of the just shall be as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day"; or as it is elsewhere expressed, that in the latter days "The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun shall be seven fold, even as the light of seven days." Hence, when he who was the "Light of the World" appeared on earth "in the likeness of sinful flesh," he plainly and positively declared that (over and above what he then had revealed) he had "many more things" to announce, which, at that period they were "not able to bear"; but that nevertheless, the time should come, when a brighter dispensation of gospel truths should be afforded us, particularly respecting the true nature of the holy trinity, or object of Christian worship. (See St. John's Gospel xxi. chapter, 12th and th verses.)
Now this blessed period the men of the New Jerusalem Church are fully persuaded hath already taken place: A period which in its future progress will effect the happy downfall of mystic Babylon; and a full and final judgment and rejection of those principles of superstition and infidelity which have brought the church to the consummation of its first period.
Whatever effect the following discourse may have, towards hastening the progress of the period alluded unto, is not for me to determine; but this I can say, that it would not have made its appearance so soon from the press, had I not received the following letter, from a member of congress a few days ago; which on this occasion I have respectfully solicited and also obtained leave to insert, without any alteration.
Washington, 30th January, 1805.
Sir, I have to lament that when you was lately in Washington, I was unable to procure an introduction to you; and consequently had not the pleasure of a conversation, which might have superceded the necessity of this application: I attended at the Capitol when you preached the last sermon at that place, when I was ravished and delighted with your expositions of the doctrines of the gospel; but being as novel as reasonable, I was unable to impress them on my mind in such a way as to be able to systematize them; I have therefore to request (if it can be done without inconvenience to yourself), that you would furnish me with a copy of the sermon. I shall leave this place about the 4th of March for the southward, previous to which, I should be gratified to hear from you. Meanwhile I beg leave to subscribe myself, with sentiments of high consideration your obedient humble servant,
J. B. Earle The receipt of this letter, I say, produced in my mind, not only a desire to comply with the request of my honorable though unknown correspondent; but impressed me also, with a presumption, that were I to print off and circulate an ample edition of the discourse alluded to, it would probably prove equally pleasing to many other sincere inquirers after religious knowledge. Such as it is, therefore, it is now presented before a candid and enlightened people; not to court contention however, God is my witness; but with the fond hope that I may contribute, in some small degree, to arrest infidelity, and dissipate superstition; and that it may have this happy influence, is, and ever shall be, the fervent and sincere prayer of Baltimore, 14th Feb. 1805.
For he cometh, for he cometh, to judge the earth:—He shall judge the world with righteousness, and the people with his truth.
Psalms XCVI. 13
Various and voluminous are the treatises, with which the christian world has been burdened for ages past, respecting the two grand and interesting doctrines evidently involved in the text before us: I say burdened, because it is an acknowledged fact that after all which has been said, or written on the subject, "clouds and darkness" still rest upon it.
And yet, there are few articles, I presume, within the ample and sacred circle of Christian theology, which appear to have a more solemn and irresistible claim to our pious attention than the doctrines here alluded to—viz.
I. The Lord's second advent into the world; and II. The general or last Judgment.
Feeling, therefore, as I do at present, far more anxious to satisfy the sincere enquirer after truth, than to display any singular talents for extempore oratory, I have concluded to deviate from my usual mode of public speaking, and avail myself of some prepared notes on this occasion, in order to aid a declining memory, and thereby do the more justice to my subject.
The aggregate number of all who are justly entitled to the appellation of believers in divine revelation, may, with considerable propriety, be arranged under three distinct classes: To wit, the Jewish church, the past or former Christian church, and the New Jerusalem church; which latter church, is now forming, by the Lord, in various parts of the earth, through the medium of the theological writings of that profound philosopher and heaven-taught-seer, Baron Emanuel Swedenborg. And, notwithstanding each of these churches, equally and cordially subscribe to the divine authority and inspiration of the book of Psalms; yet it is equally certain that each of them has adopted some leading sentiments upon the subject, now before us, peculiar to themselves and distinct from each other.
The Jews still contend that the Messiah (promised by the antient prophets) has never yet made his appearance in this world; but, at the same time admit, that he will come, at some future period, in all the grandeur of an earthly prince, and prowess of a mighty conqueror: when he will establish the antient city of Jerusalem, as the centre of his future kingdom and glory.
The former Christian church, has always, to the present period, taught, that the promised Messiah did come into the world, in the days of Augustus Cæsar, and, that Jesus Christ, who was crucified on Mount Calvary, near Jerusalem, was that Messiah; who, though now exalted unto the right hand of God in the heavens, will, nevertheless, make his personal appearance again on earth, at some future period—in order to judge all mankind who have ever lived in the world, and assign to each his eternal abode in heaven or in hell according to the deeds done in the body: Immediately after which, the visible universe will be destroyed, and the procreation of the human race cease forever; but that nevertheless, God will afterwards create a new heaven, and a new earth, which shall abide to eternity.
The men of the New Jerusalem church, however, differ very considerably, from each of the former churches, in their ideas of the true meaning of the subject now before us—affirming, that the Messiah, not only came into the world, "in the flesh," in the days of Augustus Cæsar, but also, that he has actually effected his second general advent, "in the spirit," not many years ago—by a gracious revelation of the spiritual sense of his holy word, in which, he may be said to have his more immediate residence; and, that he has thereby effected an exploration, and judgment unto condemnation, upon all those evil and false principles, which have too long obtained, and reigned in the world, and have brought the first period of the Christian church to its consummation; and that this is what is signified in the sacred pages, by the destruction of the former heavens, and the former earth, and the creation of new heavens and a new earth in their place.
The Jews have never ceased to express their astonishment and offence, at the former Christian church, for their weakness, or madness (as they call it) in believing that the Messiah ever yet made his appearance in the world, "in the flesh," and that Jesus of Nazareth was he; while on the other hand, the former Christian church, now seem equally astonished and offended at the men of the Lord's new church, for believing that this promised Messiah, or Jesus Christ, hath already effected his second general advent, "in the spirit."
The New Jerusalem church, however, can perceive no good reasons to be astonished or offended, either at the Jews, or former Christians, for not having as yet, adopted the peculiar faith of the new church, on the subject before us—confident, that a great degree of our religious differences on this and other profound passages of the scriptures, originate in the imperfection, and depravity of our nature, in its present lapsed and fallen state; while at the same time they also think it not improbable that part of these differences may be traced up to the order of divine Providence, whose general design seems to be, that every created thing, but especially the human mind, should gradually advance from lesser states of perfection to greater; thus causing "the path of the just to shine brighter, and brighter unto the perfect day."
The progress of gospel knowledge in the world, has long since been predicted by its blessed author, under the familiar representation of "a grain of wheat," which after it is sown in the earth, makes its first productive appearance "in the blade,"—next "in the ear"—and afterwards, "the full corn in the ear": But notwithstanding we are inclined to view this spiritual grain of wheat (which was cast into the spiritual earth, or church, at our Lord's first advent) as having already progressed on from the tender blade, to the full corn in the ear; yet we must be permitted to view it, as still inclosed within its chaff, from whence we doubt not, it will soon be well threshed out, by the skillful labors of the men of the Lord's new church; so that when "He whose fan is in his hand," shall more evidently appear, he may gather the pure wheat into his garner, there to be reserved for the daily bread of his future church on earth forever.
The acquisition of genuine truth, particularly if it be of a religious nature, is certainly "more to be desired than gold, even much fine gold." Yea, "its price is far above rubies": It restores the image of God unto the human soul, and is the Christian's best shield in all his spiritual conflicts. Hence it is written, "It is a tree of life to all that lay hold on it, and happy is every one that retaineth it."
"Buy the truth, and sell it not," was the advice of the sage and inspired king of Israel; but alas! how few are now willing to purchase it at its stated price, or to seek for it "as forbidden treasure"; for it is to be feared, that oft times it lies buried deep, beneath some stupendous and venerable pile of superstition.
Picture to yourselves my respected hearers, Abraham, upon mount Moriah, just about to offer up his son, his beloved son Isaac at the command of God; or Jeptha, in the very act of sacrificing his beautiful and only daughter, in order to accomplish a rash religious vow! How exquisite, how indescribable must then have been their paternal feelings! Yet what if I say, that feelings still more painful, must probably be experienced by many of us, before ever we become possessed of the genuine truths of the everlasting gospel.
Do you ask, "Is it our very lives then that we must first part with?" I answer, Yes—the very life of all our beloved lusts, and of all our darling prejudices, will God first require at our hands—all—all must be relinquished—perish—die!
Had the many pious and learned commentators who have preceeded us upon the present subject, paid more attention to the sacred and peculiar phraseology of the text, and less unto human creeds and systems, we should not have such an enormous heap of mere fallacies (not to say superstitious rubbish) to remove out of the way to day, in order that you might perceive the goodly foundations of "the holy city, the New Jerusalem," now descending from God out of heaven; but, as the case now stands, the sooner it is done the better, though probably, while we are engaged in the work, superstition may groan out an "anathema," and infidelity "laugh us to scorn": But through the divine mercy of the Lord, these things shall not move or deter us; being prompted by a clear conviction of duty, and viewing it as our peculiar and appointed cross.
And, may I hope my respected hearers, that during our present investigation, and elucidation of the passage now before us, you will not be so much concerned to learn whether what remarks I advance be new or old, as whether they be true or false? In order to this, however, it may be necessary, perhaps, to forget if possible, all our former creeds and catechisms, upon the subject; and while we reject, with manly boldness, all the jargon and learned nonsense of the schools, let us thankfully avail ourselves of the friendly aids of reason and science, which the Almighty hath now so liberally bestowed upon us, as the willing and useful handmaids to true Christian theology; so shall we be enabled to draw such conclusions upon the subject, as shall be worthy of Christian philosophers, and of American freemen.
As Christians, we dare not suppose that there is any unmeaning expression, or needless tautology in the sacred pages of divine inspiration, as this would be no less than an acknowledgment that their divine dictator did not inspire his own chosen scribes, the prophets and apostles, with so correct and happy a phraseology as some of his more enlightened creatures could have suggested, than which no idea that can possibly enter the mind of a Christian can be more impious and preposterous.
Now if the justice of this last remark be granted, its application to our present subject will be found considerably useful, not only in obtaining just perceptions of the nature and number of our Lord's general advents into the world, but also respecting the nature of those respective and general judgments which are evidently declared in the text to be the inseparable and awful effects of each of the aforesaid advents.
For thus it is written, in the text before us—"For he cometh, for he cometh, to judge the earth, He shall judge the world in righteousness, and the people with his truth."
Here then, we may perceive, as in the pure light of heaven, that (unless we admit there is useless tautology or unmeaning expressions in the sacred pages of inspiration) we have three distinct articles laid before us, most worthy of all our serious consideration.
1st. That there were two grand and distinct advents of the Lord-God into this world, plainly announced, even under the Jewish dispensation.
2dly. That each of these general advents was to be accompanied with a grand or general judgment. And
3dly. That each of these grand or general judgments was to be effected by similar means, to wit, "By righteousness and truth."
Previous however, to our particular and singular observations, upon the true nature of these advents and judgments, it may be proper to remark, that it was no less a person than Jehovah-God, whose advents into this world were announced in the text.
This will appear irresistibly evident from the whole tenor of the sacred scriptures, particularly the 50th psalm (which indeed seems a literal extract from the 16th chapter of the first book of Chronicles)—but then, it should be known, that in the Deity, whom we call Jehovah-God, there exists a divine Trinity; not of persons however, but of essential principles, which principles, when rightly apprehended, we have no objection to call Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; or, to speak more intelligibly, the Divine Love, the Divine Wisdom, and the Divine proceeding Power, which trinity also, corresponds unto that, in every individual man, to wit, his will, his understanding, and their proceeding affections and perceptions; hence therefore, it is written that "God created man in his own image and in his own likeness."
Neither should we forget, that the holy scriptures, in various places, declare and testify, that all the aforesaid principles of Deity; or "fullness of the Godhead bodily," dwelleth in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour; hence Isaiah assures us, that the "holy child" should be called, "The Everlasting Father" (though it is an established fact, that the men of the New Jerusalem church alone, are yet willing to recognize him as such). And hence also, it was, that when Philip formerly required Jesus Christ (whom he willingly recognized as the Son of God) to shew him the Father, he received this very remarkable answer from our Lord—"Have I been so long with you, and yet hast thou not known me Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; how sayest thou then, shew us the Father?"
Indeed it would appear, that soon after this (when the disciples were more powerfully illuminated) the sole and supreme divinity of Jesus Christ was cordially recognized by them all; insomuch that St. Jude stiles him, "The only wise God, our Saviour"; St. John calls him, "The true God, and Eternal Life"; and St. Paul declares him to be, "The Lord of Glory."
And I may add, that even Thomas—the honest but unbelieving Thomas, was at last so overpowered with this divine conviction, that he cried out in a holy extacy, "My Lord and my God!
To the mere natural man who has never elevated his ideas of the Deity above matter and space, it is probable that this doctrine, of God's descending into this world, and ascending to heaven again, may appear altogether paradoxical, if not futile; such persons, however, with all their boasted attainments in science, and the knowledge of nature, stand in need of still further instruction respecting the God of nature; both as to his divine essence, as well as his divine existence.
For, how silly and absurd would it be, to imagine that the Almighty and Omnipresent Creator of all worlds, is "such a being as ourselves," having a fixed residence, or local abode in any one part of the universe which he has made? seeing, that if it be the work of his hands, and the effect of infinite love, wisdom and power, the Creator himself must have existed before nature, space and time; consequently, must be altogether distinct from nature and space, as to his divine essence, and from time, as to his divine existence.
And yet, illuminated reason may perceive, that the Deity, at the same time, must exist in, and through all matter, and in and through all space, though distinct from both; even as the human soul exists in, and through flesh and blood, and yet is distinct from both; the latter being composed of material particles, the former of spiritual principles.
The essential principles of the divine nature, are the divine love, and the divine wisdom; from whence, the divine power and all other attributes of the Deity originate and flow. The essential or constituent principles of human creatures, are the will and the understanding, from whence not only all their actions, but also all affections and perceptions originate and flow; so that the essential principles of man correspond to the essential principles of God, and are designed by the Creator to be the recipients thereof: The will of man being the designed recipient of the love of God; and the understanding of man being the designed recipient of the wisdom of God.
From this brief view of the nature of the Deity, as well as of the human soul, as not being composed of material particles; but of spiritual principles; and consequently not limited by space, we may obtain some leading and useful ideas, respecting the true nature of the Lord's advents into this world, more accurate perhaps than have obtained for many ages past.
How common it is to hear pious christians say, that at such and such a time, the Lord God graciously drew near, and visited them? By which, they certainly mean nothing more, than that they then experienced a gracious approach and influx of the divine love and wisdom of the Lord into their souls—illuminating their dark understandings, and purifying their corrupt wills; and, whereby also, a judgment was effected, unto condemnation, in the spiritual world of their own mind, upon all those evil and false principles, which had previously reigned there, terminating in their rejection.
Can it be considered unreasonable then, or antichristian, in the men of the New Jerusalem church, to believe, that the general advents of the Lord, alluded to in the text, certainly signify some operations of the divine love and wisdom of the Lord, analogous to those just now alluded to, though carried on upon a more extensive or general scale, in order to effect a more extensive though similar judgment, or blessing unto his church?
For my own part, I freely confess, as a sincere believer in divine revelation, that this opinion has obtained the entire possession of my mind for some years past—as being more consonant to all the adorable attributes of the Deity and the pure principles of uncorrupted reason than, that the second advent of the Lord, should be attended with a total destruction of the visible universe, in order to judge the inhabitants of this little world, and to punish the wicked.
For, I would ask the impartial and scientific Christian, what necessity can there be, in such a case, for all "this wreck of matter, and this crush of worlds"? What affinity can there possibly be, between the guilt and punishment of the men of this world, and the destruction of all other worlds in the universe? Or, by what law are all these stupendous worlds which are scattered through the immensity of space, to gravitate towards this? Can the Deity now make better worlds than he has done? No my beloved, the works of creation are all pronounced "very good"; and we have sufficient reason to believe, that they have always answered every purpose which infinite love, wisdom and power, could possibly have in view, in their creation.
One thing is very certain from the text, that each advent of the Lord was to be attended with similar effects, to wit, "To judge the earth"—and this by similar means—"By righteousness and truth."
Now we all know that when the Lord God was graciously pleased to make his first grand advent into the world, "in the flesh," through that medium or body which he then assumed, it was not to destroy the world, but that "the world, through him, might be saved," in consequence of that powerful and general influx of divine love and wisdom, which was thereby manifested in the world (or the church); so likewise, it is more than probable, it will be at the Lord's second general advent; not to destroy, but again to save; except it be to destroy our superstitious prejudices, and our sectarian and anti-christian divisions, through the medium of righteousness and truth; or a more powerful opening and revelation of his holy word, in its genuine or spiritual sense.
It is likewise evident, from the phraseology of the text before us, that as certain as the Lord's second advent will be attended with a grand or general judgment; so sure also, was his first advent attended with a similar one.
This is a point highly worthy our most profound attention; as it will doubtless lead to, or enable us to form a correspondent or just idea of the true nature of the grand or general judgment which is also to attend the Lord's second advent.
That a grand or general judgment took place at our Lord's first advent, will appear, if we only attend to his own declarations in the Gospel of St. John (ix. chapter, 39th verse) where he thus expresses himself, "For judgment am I come into this world"; and lest we should have too limited an idea of the nature and extent of this judgment, hear him again in the xii. chapter and 31st verse of the same gospel, adding, "Now is the judgment of this world!" Many passages might also be adduced here, from the prophets, to prove that the first as well as the second advent of the Lord, was to be attended with a grand, or general judgment, but perhaps they might be deemed superfluous.
Yes, my Christian brethren, a grand and general judgment did indeed, and in truth take place at our Lord's first advent and that through the very means predicted in the holy scriptures—"By righteousness and truth"; or by the superior light and grace of the blessed gospel; whereby the long established errors of heathenism, with all the vain traditions of the Jews, were explored and detected as fallacious; and a judgment, a general and final judgment of condemnation and rejection, was then passed upon them forever.
And, if the Lord God be still mindful of his church on earth: If he hath not "forgotten to be gracious["]; and if similar causes will produce similar effects; there is good ground for believing that his second grand or general advent hath already taken place; whereby the true and genuine sense of the holy scriptures, in which the Lord hath his more immediate residence, is now revealed from heaven, in "power and great glory"; dissipating the mere fallacies of the letter, and effecting another general and final judgment, even upon the principles of superstition and infidelity for ever more.
O! My beloved, already "The judgment is set, and the books are opened!" Now, therefore, every man's works (or creeds) shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare them—for now, behold!—"He cometh," making "the clouds his chariot, and riding upon the wings of the wind": that is, approaching the intellectual faculties of the members of his true spiritual church, by and through the medium of the literal sense of the holy scriptures, rightly explained by rational doctrine.
I am well aware, however, that many plausible objections against the doctrines of the New Jerusalem church, on the subject in question, can be urged from the mere letter of the sacred pages; for it may be asked, do not the holy scriptures plainly and positively declare, that previous to the Lord's second coming, or concomitant therewith, "The sun shall be darkened, and the moon turned into blood; and all the stars of heaven fall unto the earth?" And further, that then also "The heavens shall pass away with a great noise—the elements melt with fervent heat, and the earth, and all the works that are therein shall be burnt up?"
To this I answer, that all these things are certainly recorded in the holy scriptures; and all these things, I verily believe have already taken place in the world (or rather in the Christian church)—not in the literal sense, however, but in the spiritual, as every truly illuminated or spiritual Christian may clearly perceive, soon as he looses sight of the mere letter, in the splendor and trancendant glory of its spiritual sense.
I have then to request, upon this particular and solemn occasion, that every impartial and enlightened christian now present, will continue to lend me his entire and most profound attention, while I endeavor to reply to all the most formidable objections that can be urged against us, from the mere surface of the scriptures; after which, I wish no other conclusions to be drawn, than those which your rational faculties, aided by the good spirit of God, may prefer.
In the ii. chapter of the book of Joel we have a very memorable prophecy respecting the first advent of the Lord, and its effects. "Behold" (saith the prophet), "the day of the Lord cometh, it is near at hand: a day of darkness and gloominess, of clouds and thick darkness," &c. "Then" (says he) "the earth shall quake, and the heavens shall tremble, the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining," &c.
Now let us look into the ii. chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, which relates the singular transactions of the day of pentecost; when the Holy Ghost, or divine influence of the Lord's love and wisdom, flowed down upon, or into the apostles, to the astonishment of the multitude, insomuch that some of them cried out, "These men are drunken with wine." But Peter standing up with the eleven lifted up his voice and said unto them, "Ye men of Judea and all ye who dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken unto my words; for these are not drunken as ye suppose, seeing it is yet but the third hour of the day; but this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, (saying) and it shall come to pass in the last days (saith God) I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, &c. And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath, blood, and fire and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come."
Here, then, my attentive hearers, you may perceive St. Peter plainly and positively declares that a fulfilment of all the wonderful antecedents and concomitants of the Lord's first advent into the world, as announced by the prophet Joel, actually took place in the true sense of the words, on the day of pentecost: To wit, That in the last days (that is, doubtless, of the Jewish church), "The sun should be darkened and the moon turned into blood," &c. But, I would ask, did these things actually take place then, in the literal sense? No, my beloved, they did not; they certainly did then in the spiritual sense, or the word of the Lord is not true. Yes, my Christian hearers, they did take place then in the spiritual sense, upon those principles of the church which correspond to these bright luminaries of heaven. The love of God, in that church, was then darkened indeed, by self-love, and the love of the world; and there was no true faith then existing, but what was injured and wounded by their foolish and vain traditions; and hence it was, that the divine mercy of the Lord, constrained him to descend at that time into the world, by a powerful influx of his divine love and wisdom (through the medium he was pleased to assume), in order to redeem mankind, and establish a new church.
When, therefore, we are told in another place, by the same apostle, that at the second coming of the Lord, "The elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth and all the works that are therein shall be burnt up["]; we are not to understand the words in their mere literal sense (for this is forbidden both by the dictates of illuminated reason, and the known principles of science); we can, therefore, only correctly view them in the same sense in which St. Peter understood Joel; to wit, in a spiritual sense.
For, with respect to the natural elements, he could not possibly allude to these; as he must have known, that three out of four, usually called elements, have always been in a fluid state; consequently, there would be no propriety in announcing that air, fire or water should be made to "melt with fervent heat," at the second coming of the Lord; no my beloved, the elements that shall then melt, or pass away, must certainly mean those erroneous elements of theology which have too long obtained in the Christian church, and brought it to its consummation: These shall melt away, I verily believe; yea, they are even now melting fast away, before the increasing influence of the sun of righteousness, which, I am happy to believe, is rising with heavenly rapidity, to the meridian of the human mind—and gradually dissipating, in its blessed progress, those dense clouds of superstition and infidelity, which have too long obscured its sacred beams from the spiritual earth, or church of Christ.
As to the natural earth, on which we live, I am far from believing that it is to be burnt up, or destroyed at the second advent of the Lord; this certainly was not the opinion of the royal and inspired Psalmist, or his wise and learned son Solomon. The last observes, that though "One generation passeth away, and another cometh, yet the earth abideth forever"; and the former declares, in the 78th psalm, and 69th verse, that "The Lord hath built his sanctuary (or church) like the earth which he hath established for ever["]: And again, in the 93d psalm and 1st verse, he assures us, that "the earth is established," so, that "it cannot be moved."
Again, what occasion for the heavens "to pass away with a great noise," in consequence of the inhabitants of this little world having sinned? Or by what medium will the "great noise" which will accompany their dissolution reach us here? And further, if it be the abode of angels that we are to understand by the heavens, it may be asked, where are they to abide when their place of residence is destroyed?
If however, on the other hand, these heavens signify the erroneous principles which have obtained in the Christian church, for many ages past, and from which many fanatics have formed to themselves an imaginary heaven, we may perceive the propriety of the apostle's expression, when he tells us, that they shall pass away "with a great noise"; for this great noise will doubtless take place among the different denominations and sects of Christians, while each will endeavor with loud clamor, to contend unto death, for their favorite but superstitious creeds.
It is true, it is also written, that at the second coming of our Lord, "all the stars of heaven shall fall to the earth"; but if any christian understands these words in the mere literal sense, he betrays his great ignorance of the vast magnitude and indefinite number of those mighty worlds, and systems of worlds, which the Almighty Creator hath exhibited to our wondering view, as well as of the universal and immutable laws of gravity and attraction.
By the "stars of heaven" then, which are to "fall unto the earth," previous to the second advent of the Lord, I understand, that at that period, all illumination, respecting the word of the Lord, will fall into its lowest state, so that the sacred pages of divine inspiration, may be said to cease yielding their heavenly light, and be, as it were, extinct in the firmament of the church.
That the above, is actually the true sense of "the stars of heaven falling unto the earth," will, I presume, appear sufficiently evident to the candid and pious christian, who is conversant with the sacred pages of divine inspiration.
The prophet Daniel in his viii. chapter tells us that he once saw (in the spiritual world no doubt, and not in the natural world) a "He-goat, which waxed great, even unto the host of heaven, and cast down some of the host, and of the stars, and stamped on them!!["]
Again. In the xii. chapter of the Revelations, St. John informs us, that when he was let into the spirit (or spiritual world) he there saw "A great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns"; and that "his tail drew down the third part of the stars of heaven and did cast them to the earth."
Now my christian hearers, what are we to think of this "he-goat," and this "dragon"? Or rather what are we to think of these stars, which they were permitted to draw down from heaven unto the earth, and stamp upon? What can we think, or believe them to be, but divine illumination, or the knowledge of the truths of the word of God? which the antichristian principles of error and of evil—of superstition and of infidelity (signified by this he-goat and this dragon) have been long endeavoring (with too much success I fear) to draw down into contempt, and to extinguish—which is here represented by stamping on them.
Yes, my respected audience, this must be the meaning of these passages, and now, even now, are they fulfilled in a very powerful and painful degree; so that, as a certain poet expresses it,
The Sun (of Love) no longer shines,
The Moon withdraws its light,
The Stars (or heavenly truths), decline,
The Church is sunk in night.
Yet I trust it may now also be added with equal truth,
But lo! the mighty God appears,
On clouds behold him ride,
He comes to dry his Zion's tears
And cheer his mourning bride.
Still however, I view the objector to my remarks, advancing with another famous passage from the writings of St. Paul; and which may be considered as his last or dernier resort.
The Apostle, when writing to the Thessalonians, expresses himself as follows.
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep; for the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Now, says the objector to the doctrines of the New Jerusalem church—We have not, as yet, heard this shout, or trump of God alluded to, neither have any christians been "caught up in the air"; therefore it is impossible for us to believe that the Lord's second advent has already taken place in the world, or been effected.
In reply to this, apparently formidable objection, I would beg leave to make the following remarks.
1st. I find that the same Apostle whispers in our ear, in another place, that the mere "natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him, because they are spiritually discerned["]; and I am confident, that every intelligent christian in the world, who can divest himself of the honest prejudices of his former creed, upon this subject, must soon perceive that it is impossible to understand this famous passage of St. Paul to the Thessalonians in its mere natural or literal sense, without first declaring open war against his rational faculty, as well as against the known and acknowledged principles of science.
2dly. As to the trumpet which is to sound an alarm, at the second coming of the Lord, the same Apostle expressly calls it the last trumpet in the 15th chapter of his 1st Epistle to the Corinthians; which evidently implies; that a former or first trumpet had likewise been blown, and also, heard in the world.
But it may be asked, who ever heard this first trumpet, or when was it blown?
The only satisfactory answer that can be given, is, that this first trumpet was not a natural but a spiritual one; which was blown indeed, and in truth, by the first preachers of the everblessed gospel; and heard by thousands, and tens of thousands of pious men and women, who rendered a chearful and humble obedience to its "joyful sound."
Similar to this first trumpet, therefore, do I believe the sound of the last trumpet will be, even a gracious and soul illuminating revelation of the word of God, as to all its profound and holy mysteries, and prophecies; which revelation the Almighty, for wise and gracious purposes, hath hitherto withheld "from ages and generations"; but hath now, in mercy revealed, for the salvation of his future church on earth, from infidelity and superstition, forevermore.
3dly. As to our being "caught up in the air," in order "to meet the Lord at his coming," we all well know that up and down are mere relative terms; and, that the point of the visible heavens, or universe, which is this moment above our heads, will in twelve hours more be beneath our feet; consequently, with respect to space, no part of the heavens or universe can be said, with propriety, to be any more above us, than beneath us.
By a moderate knowledge, however, of the peculiar style of the holy scriptures; or of the science of correspondency, by which they were written, we can easily reconcile this passage of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, with all the principles of reason, analogy and known science.
The antients, were frequently wont to compare the internal and spiritual principles in man, to the external and material universe, calling man, a microcosm, or world in miniature; hence they called the sensual or lowest principle in man, the earth; his rational faculty, the air, and his most internal or spiritual faculty they called heaven.
Agreeably to this peculiar style (which we dare not deny, obtains through all the holy scriptures) by being "caught up in the air, to meet the Lord at his coming," we are to understand that at that happy and long-wished for period of the church, the impartial and scientific christian, whose devout and humble mind is diligently engaged in the study of the sacred pages, shall feel, and experience a blessed elevation of all his ideas respecting the Lord and his holy word, from sensual to rational perceptions, whereby he shall be more intimately conjoined unto his God, above the clouds and mists of superstition and infidelity forever.
Lastly. One thing is certain, that if there be no hidden or spiritual meaning involved in that famous passage to the Thessalonians, St. Paul must have been extremely ignorant indeed, respecting the true figure and diurnal motion of the earth—as well as the omnipresence of that Divine Person whose advent he then predicted, and of whom he writes in another place, that "In him, dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." But for my own part, I have no such mean opinion of the Apostle's knowledge; for, even admitting that his former preceptor Gamaliel suffered him to leave college so very ignorant, I dare not suppose that this ignorance still prevailed after he had received the finishing stroke to his ministerial accomplishments, in the third heavens, which was previous to this.
There, indeed, he informs us that he heard some things, which "it was not lawful for him to utter" (that is, to the then infant church of God). May we not presume then, that if Moses, after he was favored with an extraordinary intercourse with God upon Mount-Sinai, was obliged to put "a vail over his face," while he rehearsed the particulars of what he heard upon the mount, which vail, the Apostle tells us is "still untaken away (from the Jews) in the reading of the Old Testament" (and which, doubtless, signifies the literal sense of the holy scriptures, which vails the lustre and glory of the spiritual sense, from mere sensual or natural men)—may we not, I say, presume, that the Apostle also, when writing to the infant church of Thessalonica, was constrained to use a similar vail, which vail, I fully believe is yet as much "untaken away" from the generality of Christians, while reading Paul's Epistles, as Moses' vail is to the Jews while reading the Old Testament.
I trust, however, that there will soon be a blessed and general "turning unto the Lord," when this vail of the letter will be taken away, from both Jews and Christians, and when the heaven-inspired pages will again be esteemed "precious," as they were in the days of Samuel.
Yes my beloved, let us indulge the pleasing hope, that God hath at length "avenged his own elect that cry unto him night and day"; and that the long expected, and long predicted time, "even the set time to favor Israel is now come."
But, I fear I have intruded too much upon the patient attention of my respected audience; and yet my subject is far—very far from being exhausted; I will, however, close it for the present, after having made a few brief remarks by way of application.
As Christians, we are all happily agreed in believing that the first advent of the Lord has actually taken place in the world, even eighteen hundred years ago, though the Jewish church refuse to join us in this article.
Now my beloved, it is worthy your recollection, that at that period, the Jews were the only visible church of God then upon the earth, and the only people who expected and prayed that the Messiah would come: Indeed his coming was particularly described, as to the very time, in the book of Daniel (though in a style peculiar to the prophet). The place of his birth also, together with all the grand or leading circumstances of his life and death; and even of his resurrection are to be found plainly noted down by various prophets; and yet, strange to tell, yet not more strange than true, the Jews were the primary and most powerful rejectors of his first coming!
The reason, (or rather the cause) of this strange conduct in the Jews, is not difficult to point out; for, having then as a church grievously receded and apostatized from the precepts and ordinances of God's holy law; and thereby sunk themselves into the most sensual state, both of affection and perception; they were neither capacitated nor inclined to search out the "wonders of God's holy law": Hence, they only dwelt on the mere surface, and rested in the letter; vainly expecting an earthly prince, and mighty general in the person of their Messiah; being far more anxious to be delivered from the Roman yoke, than from the yoke of sin.
When, therefore, he came, even "the desire of nations," they could perceive "no form or comeliness in him that they should desire him," but rejected all his gracious councils against their own souls.
I cannot now take notice of the wicked conduct of the Jews, on this occasion; suffice it to say, in the language of an Apostle, they ceased not to persecute and defame him, until, at last, "They crucified the Lord of Glory."
O! Horrid impiety, do you say? O! miserable, unhappy, infatuated people!
But, I have another word to add, and I trust you will consider it until you pardon me for declaring it; to me, it now appears not improbable that the Christian world at the Lord's second coming will exhibit the second act of the same tragedy.
When this takes place (and as a man of the New Jerusalem church I verily believe it already has), the scenery, and the performers, will be doubtless new, but the grand plot will be the same.
It is true, we can no more crucify him "in the flesh," but we may "in the spirit"; and, whatever Christian rejects the spiritual sense of the word of God, may be truly said to reject that holy spirit which dictated it, and dwells therein.
As to the different sects and denominations of the former Christian church, I bear them witness that "they have a zeal for God"; but (I must be permitted to add) "not according to knowledge." For, if it was idle and vain in the Jews, to expect, and look for an earthly prince and conqueror; it is no less so for the Christian world to look for, and expect an exterior and personal appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, in a circumscribed form, or in any particular part of outward creation; in the room of looking for his spiritual and glorious appearance in his church, and the man of his church, by a gracious and powerful descent of his divine principles of love and wisdom therein.
To conclude. Should the honest, but fallacious prejudices of former creeds and teachings, prevent any of my enlightened audience from instantaneously subscribing to the doctrines of the new church upon the present subject, I can assure them they will not thereby offend me; neither shall I the less esteem them on that account. God forbid. The grand point, in my opinion, is, to be obedient and faithful to our best perceptions of God's holy word; the inhabitants of heaven can do no more.
But in order to be faithful, and give every one here "his portion in due season," I must be permitted to add one word more: Should there be now before me, any Christian, high or low, rich or poor, whose enlightened and scientific mind compels his interior assent to the doctrines just delivered, and yet—will be such a wretch as to affect to reject or not to believe them, because they are yet unpopular; or, that they fear their candid avowal of them may subject them to some persecution or censure, and perhaps block up their way to some future contemplated and desired perferment; what shall I say to such a character?
I could say much, but I trust that conscience can, and will say much more. O! then conscience, thou agent of the Most High and monitor of man, I adjure thee to do thine office faithfully and impartially in every breast that is before me! That superstition and infidelity, the love of self, and of the world may no more assume the reins of government; but that God may be glorified, in the rational reception of the spiritual sense of his holy word, and that precious and immortal souls may be saved, with an everlasting salvation!
"Now unto the King eternal, immortal and invisible, the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and dominion forever and ever." Amen!