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1 John iv. 3: This is that spirit of Antichrist, whereof ye have
heard that it should come. The Creator of the world is the author of Christianity; and the history of nature bears a striking analogy to that of revelation. When the earth was formed, and the heavens were stretched abroad, and light, life, and reason were produced, the Father of the universe blessed his work, and pronounced it good. All was magnificent, lovely, and harmonious; a'vast theatre for holy deeds and high enjoyments; where man was to perform his allotted part of good, and reap his recompence of bliss; or be prepared for some still nobler abode in his heavenly Parent's mansion. Soon this sunshine faded into darkness. Evil, both natural and moral, advanced to a conflict, apparently successful, with human virtue and happiness, and gained a triumphant and extensive prevalence. Yet evil is of temporary duration, admitted into the plans of God on
account of the good to which it is subservient, destined to destruction, and to be succeeded by an otherwise unattainable degree of universal felicity. So when the new creation, the moral world of Christianity, was formed, it exhibited a scene of surpassing loveliness. There was the light of truth, the life of godliness, the joy of immortality. It was a system of knowledge and devotion, of purity, liberty, and benevolence. But no sooner was the gospel widely diffused, than it began to be corrupted. A spurious philosophy transformed its doctrines into mysteries : false shame attempted to wipe away the reproach of the cross, by elevating the lowly prophet of Nazareth to the honours of deification; while avarice and ambition superseded its godly discipline to make way for wealth, splendour, tyranny, and persecution. Apostacy in the church, like evil in the universe, is permitted of God for wise and good purposes; its limits are fixed; its termination certain ; and its destruction preparatory to the final prevalence of pure religion, the reign of Christ, in truth, peace, and piety, over all nations. To illustrate this fact, is the design of the Course of Lectures which has been announced to you. They will exhibit error and evil, rising, prevailing, declining, and perishing, in Christianity, thus leaving room for the free operations of its original principles in destroying evil in the world, and providing for the extent, facility and success of those operations, that the bright visions of goodness and glory, connected by the prophets with the Messiah whose coming they foretold, may at length be realized. Pursuing this object, we shall naturally pass from a general view of the corruptions of the gospel, which reached their greatest height in Popery, to a consideration of the dominant religion of our own country; from Church-of-Englandism to Nonconformity and Religious Liberty, which are the atmosphere in which inquiry breathes most freely, and where truth has revived; and, having attempted to delineate Unitarianism, the genuine doctrine (according to our convictions) of Christ and Revelation, and shewn the obstacles to its progress, the means by which, if at all, it must succeed, and the probability of their being effectual, we shall pass on to evince the power of renovated Christianity to reach the universality for which it is adapted and designed ; to destroy in its triumphal career, Superstition, Slavery, and War; and to conduct mankind to that high state of improvement, which, as it is promised by prophecy, shall be secured by the resistless agency of Divine Providence. It is therefore by no means my intention that each Lecture should contain a full and distinct consideration of the subject announced, but only such a view of it as belongs to the general design of the whole Course. That design embraces topics of great interest, importance, and utility, which are well calculated to strengthen our piety towards God, expand our benevolence to man, and multiply our purest enjoyments, by filling the mind with animating anticipations of futurity.
The religion which was taught by the apostles, consisting of a few plain facts relative to the character of God, the mission of Jesus, and a judgment to come; together with a refined code of morals, and a judicious employment of the social principle for the purposes of instruction and correction, was remarkable for its power : and it was powerful only for good. To render it mischievous a previous corruption was indispensable. They foresaw such a corruption, and shuddered at the already nascent existence, and future dominion and enormities of Antichrist. Our first inquiry is into the meaning of that term, and the marks and extent of the apostacy designated by it in the New Testament,
The interpretation of prophecy is now attended with many difficulties which seem not to have been felt by the early Christians. This fact may be attributable not only to their familiarity with the language and emblematic style in which the prophecies were delivered, but probably also to their possessing traditionary expositions of high authority, and having the advantage besides of the oral commentaries of many who were themselves occasionally gifted with inspiration. Hence
certain parts of Scripture are now considered obscure, and generally neglected, which then were commonly read, and readily understood. Some of the predictions of Daniel belong to this class. The assumption by Christ of the title of Son of Man, from that book, would recommend it to the attention of the apostles and first disciples. They read there the promise of his spiritual sovereignty over the whole earth : (Dan. vii. 14:) “And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should serve him : his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” And thence also they derived the idea of a hostile ecclesiastical power, which was the subject of general attention and expectation even before it was more clearly predicted by Paul and John. This power was to rise out of the Roman empire. He (vers. 21, 22) “made war with the saints, and prevailed against them until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the Most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom.” It is also said, (vers. 25, 26,) “ And he shall speak great words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and think to change times and laws; and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. But the judgment