No Attentive reader of the New Testament can fail to be struck with the prominence given by the evangelists and the apostles to the PAROUSIA, or 'coming of the Lord.' That event is the great theme of New Testament prophecy. There is scarcely a single book, from the Gospel of St. Matthew to the Apocalypse of St. John, in which it is not set forth as the glorious promise of God and the blessed hope of the church. It was frequently and solemnly predicted by our Lord; it was incessantly kept before the eyes of the early Christians by the apostles; and it was firmly believed and eagerly expected by the churches of the primitive age.
It cannot be denied that there is a remarkable difference between the attitude of the first Christians in relation to the Parousia and that of Christians now. That glorious hope, to which all eyes and hearts in the apostolic age were eagerly turned, has almost disappeared from the view of modern believers. Whatever may be the theoretical opinions ex- pressed in symbols and creeds, it must in candor be admitted that the 'second coming of Christ' has all but ceased to be a living and practical belief.
Various causes may be assigned in explanation of this state of things. The rash vaticinations of those who have too confidently undertaken to be interpreters of prophecy, and the discredit consequent on the failure of their predictions, have no doubt deterred reverent and soberminded men from entering upon the investigation of 'unfulfilled prophecy.' On the other hand, there is reason to think that rationalistic criticism has engendered doubts whether the predictions of the New Testament were ever intended to have a literal or historical fulfilment.
Between rationalism on the one hand, and irrationalism on the other, there has come to be a widely prevailing state of uncertainty and confusion of thought in regard to New Testament prophecy, which to some extent explains, though it may not justify, the consigning of the whole subject to the region of hopelessly obscure and insoluble problems.
This, however, is only a partial explanation. It deserves consideration whether there may not be a fundamental difference between the relation of the church of the apostolic age to the predicted Parousia and the relation to that event sustained by subsequent ages. The first Christians undoubtedly believed themselves to be standing on the verge of a great catastrophe, and we know what intensity and enthusiasm the expectation of the almost immediate coming of the Lord inspired; but if it cannot be shown that Christians now are similarly placed, there would be a want of truth and reality in affecting the eager anticipation and hope of the primitive church. The same event cannot be imminent at two different periods separated by nearly two thousand years. There must, therefore, be some grave misconception on the part of those who maintain that the Christian church of to-day occupies precisely the same relation, and should maintain the same attitude, towards the 'coming of the Lord' as the church in the days of St. Paul.
The present volume is an attempt, in a candid and reverent spirit, to clear up this misconception, and to ascertain the true meaning of the Word of God on a subject which holds so conspicuous a place in the teaching of our Lord and His apostles. It is the fruit of many years of patient investigation, and the Author has spared no pains to test to the utmost the validity of his conclusions. It has been his single aim to ascertain what saith the Scripture, and his one desire to be governed by a loyal submission to its authority. The ideal of Biblical interpretation which he has kept before him is that so well expressed by a German theologian - 'Explicatio plana non tortuosa, facilis non violenta, eademque et exegeticce et Chistanae conscientium pariter arridens.' (1)
Although the nature of the inquiry necessitates a somewhat frequent reference to the original of the New Testament, and to the laws of grammatical construction and interpretation, it has been the object of the Author to render this work as popular as possible, and such as any man of ordinary education and intelligence may read with ease and interest. The Bible is a book for every man, and the Author has not written for scholars and critics only, but for the many who are deeply interested in Biblical interpretation, and who think, with Locke, 'an impartial search into the true meaning of the sacred Scripture the best employment of all the time they have.' (2) It will be a sufficient recompense of his labour if he succeeds in elucidating in any degree those teachings of divine revelation which have been obscured by traditional prejudices, or misinterpreted by an erroneous exegesis.
1. Donier's tractate, De Oratione Christi Eschatologica, p. 1. Back
2. Locke, Notes on Ephesians i. 10. Back