Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The glory of the millennium

Thomas Ridgely, Body of Divinity

So far as scripture plainly gives countenance to the doctrine in general, that the administration of Christ's government, in this world, shall be attended with great glory, and shall abundantly tend to the advantage of his church, it is a subject of too great importance to be passed over with neglect, as if we had no manner of concern in it, or as if it were a matter of mere speculation; for certainly all scripture is written for our learning, and ought to be studied and improved by us, to the glory of God, and our own edification.

As to those texts which speak of Christ's government as exercised in this world, not only do they contain matters awful and sublime, but our having just ideas of these will be a direction to our faith, when we pray for the farther advancement of Christ's kingdom, as we are bound daily to do. We must take heed, however, that we do not give too great scope to our fancy, by framing imaginary schemes of our own, and then bringing in scripture, not without some violence offered to the sense of it, to give countenance to them. Nor ought we to acquiesce in such a sense of scripture, brought to support this doctrine, as is evidently contrary to other scriptures, or to the nature and spirituality of Christ's government. We must also take it for granted, that some of those scriptures which relate to this matter are hard to be understood, and that, therefore, a humble modesty becomes us in treating it, rather than to censure those who differ from us, as if they had departed from that faith which is founded on the most obvious and plain sense of scripture, especially if they maintain nothing which is derogatory to the glory of Christ. This rule we shall endeavour to observe, in what remains to be considered on this subject.

As most allow that there is a sense in which Christ's kingdom shall be attended with greater circumstances of glory than it is at present, we shall proceed to show how it shall be advanced, in this lower world, beyond what it is at present; and we shall show this in a way which agrees very well with the sense of several scriptures relating to the subject, without going into some extremes which many have run into who plead for Christ's personal reign on earth in a way in which it cannot easily be defended. We freely own, as what we think agreeable to scripture, that as Christ has, in all ages, displayed his glory as King of the church, so we have ground to conclude, from scripture, that the administration of his government in this world, before his coming to judgment, will be attended with greater magnificence, more visible marks of glory, and various occurrences of providence, which shall tend to the welfare and happiness of his church, in a greater degree than has been beheld or experienced by it, since it was planted by the ministry of the apostles after his ascension into heaven. This we think to be the sense, in general, of those scriptures, both in the Old and in the New Testament, which speak of the latter-day glory.

Some of the prophets seem to look farther than the first preaching of the gospel, and the glorious display of Christ's government which attended it. These were, in part, an accomplishment of some of their predictions, but they were not wholly so; for there are some expressions made use of by them which seem as yet not to have had their accomplishment. Of the former kind are the expressions of the prophet Isaiah, when he speaks of 'the glory of the Lord, as arising,' and being 'seen upon' the church, and of the 'Gentiles coming to this light,' and 'kings to the brightness of it;'' and many other things to the same purpose, which denote the glorious privileges that the gospel-church should enjoy. Though these, in a spiritual sense, may, in a great measure, be supposed to be already accomplished ; yet there are other things which he foretells concerning the church which do not yet appear to have had their accomplishment.

He says, for example,' Thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night,' as denoting the church's being perfectly free from all those afflictive dispensations of providence which should tend to hinder the preaching and success of the gospel. He says, also, ' Violence shall be no more heard in thy land, wasting nor destruction within thy borders; by which he intends the church's perfect freedom from all persecution. He says farther, 'The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.' This is so far from having been yet accomplished, that it seems to refer to the same thing which is mentioned concerning the New Jerusalem, and almost expressed in the same words: which, if it be not a metaphorical description of the heavenly state, has a peculiar reference to the latter-day glory. The prophet again adds, 'Thy people shall be all righteous,' denoting that holiness should almost universally obtain in the world, as much as iniquity has abounded in it,—an event which does not appear to have yet taken place. Again, when the prophet Micah speaks of ' the mountain of the house of the Lord being established in the top of the mountains, and exalted above the hills,' and says, that 'people should flow unto it,' though this, and some other things which he there mentions, may refer to the first preaching of the gospel, and the success of it; yet the words which follow cannot be so understood: ' They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; and nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall sit every man under his vine, and under his fig-tree, and none shall make them afraid.' This prophecy, so far as it may be taken otherwise than in a spiritual sense, seems to imply a greater degree of peace and tranquillity than the gospel-church has hitherto enjoyed. Hence, when he says that this shall be ' in the last days, 'we have reason to conclude that he does not mean merely the last or gospel-dispensation, which commenced on our Saviour's ascension into heaven, but the last period of that dispensation, or the time which we are now considering.

As to the account we have of this period in the New Testament, especially in many places in the Book of Revelation, which speak of' the kingdoms of the world becoming the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ,' and of his ' taking to himself his great power and reigning, and of the thousand years' reign; whatever be the sense of these passages, as to some circumstances of glory which shall attend this administration of the affairs of his kingdom, they certainly have not yet had their accomplishment; and they, therefore, lead us to expect that Christ's kingdom shall be attended with greater degrees of glory redounding to himself, which we call the latter-day glory.

When this period of greater glory shall arrive, many privileges will redound to the church. As Christ is said to reign on earth, so the saints are represented as reigning with him. They say,' Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth; and elsewhere, when the apostle speaks of Christ's reigning ' a thousand years,' he adds, that 'they shall reign with him.' This cannot be understood in any other sense than that of a spiritual reign, agreeably to the nature of Christ's kingdom, which is not of this world. We have, hence, sufficient ground to conclude, that, when these prophecies shall have their accomplishment, the interest of Christ shall be the prevailing interest in the world, which it has never yet been in all respects ; so that godliness shall be as much and as universally valued and esteemed, as it has hitherto been decried, and it shall be reckoned as great an honour to be a Christian, as it has, in the most degenerate age of the church, been matter of reproach. We may add, that the church shall have a perfect freedom from persecution in all parts of the world ; that a greater glory shall be put on the ordinances; and that more success shall attend them thau has hitherto been experienced. In short, there shall be, as it were, an universal spread of religion and holiness to the Lord, throughout the world.

When this glorious dispensation shall commence, we have sufficient ground to conclude, that, the anti-christian powers having been wholly subdued, the Jews shall be converted. This may be inferred from the order in which this event is foretold in the book of Revelation. The fall and utter ruin of Babylon are first predicted. Afterwards we read of 'the marriage of the Lamb being come,'of ' his wife having made herself ready,' and of others, who are styled 'blessed,' being 'called to tho marriage-supper.' This, as an ingenious and learned writer observes, seems to be a prediction of the call of the Jews, and of the saints and faithful, namelv, the gospel-church, who were converted before this time, being, together with the Jews, made partakers of the spiritual privileges of Christ's kingdom, and so invited to the marriage-supper. Accordingly, by 'the Lamb's wife,'is intended the converted Jews, who are considered as espoused to him. As their being ' ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, and not submitting themselves to the righteousness of God,'m occasioned their being rejected ; so, when they are converted, and their new espousals are celebrated, it is particularly observed that this righteousness shall be their greatest glory, the robe that they shall be adorned with. Hence, when the bride is said to have made herself ready, it is added, ' To her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.'" This prophecy, being placed immediately before the account of the thousand years' reign, gives ground to conclude that the conversion of the Jews shall be before it, or an introduction to it.