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A Dissertation on the Phrases, End of the World, Last Days, Last Time, & c. as used in the New Testament.
I. There are many passages in the New Testament, which seem plainly to intimate, and indeed expressly to assert, that the age in which the apostles lived, was the last time, or the end of the world. How difficult soever it may be, to account for the circumstance, the fact itself is unquestionable, as the reader will perceive by the following instances.
St. Paul tells his brethren at Corinth, that certain events which he had just adduced from the ancient Jewish history, happened 'for examples ; and they were written,' adds he, for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the world are come :' an expression which shows that, in his view, they were then living under what he termed the end of
That this was not an inconsiderate remark, on his part, and that it was a truth familiar to his mind, is evident from the easy and unsuspecting manner, in which he reminds the Hebrews, that now, once in the end of the world, hath he [Christ) appeared, to put away sin, by the sacrifice of himself.' 2 Here he was speaking of our Saviour's life and crucifixion; and of course, he took it for granted, that the time of his minis
try upon earth was near the end of the world, so called. Accordingly, in another place, he refers to that time, by the corresponding term of the last days : 'God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners, spake in time past, unto the fathers by the prophets, hath, in these last days, spoken unto us by his son.?3
Lest it should be supposed, that the apostle here used the expression merely as a truism, meaning only that those days were among the last which had as yet appeared, we must remark, that St. Peter represents the ancient prophets to have spoken of that period, ages beforehand, under the same appellation, of the last days; so that the phraseology in question, was appropriated on some other ground than that just suggested: This ' says St. Peter, concerning the gift of the holy spirit, on the day of Pentecost, this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel, And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh,' &c.1 To the same point again, St. Peter, speaking in his own person, tells his brethren that Christ was indeed ' ordained before the foundation of the world ; but was manifest in these last days for you.' He warns the Christians of that age, in the following remarkable words : 'the end of all things is at hand, 3 or, draws nigh. St. John likewise assures his brethren, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.'4 Jude
8 Heb. i. 1, 2.
2 1 Pet. i. 20.
describes certain men who had already crept in unawares, who were filthy dreamers, spots in
their feasts of charity, murmurers and complainof
ers; and in reference to them, he calls on the Christians of his time, to remember the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, how that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.'5 Here, it is
plain,Jude supposes the men who had crept in unabe
wares, to be the mockers foretold by the apostles, # and the days in which he wrote, to be those called
by them the last time. Thirty or forty years previ
ously, our Saviour, while upon earth, taught his disi ciples that the end of the world would take place e before the generation, then living, should pass
away. For when his followers came to him priIvately on the mount of Olives, and asked, among
other things, “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?' he replied to them in the following manner, concerning the end: “Ye shall hear of wars,' said he ; be not troubled,
the end is not yet.' They shall deliver you up to e be afflicted, and shall kill you : and then shall
5 Jude 4-17, 18,
6 If Jude here referred, as seems probable, to certain warnings which the apostles had left in their writings, he must have ei alluded to the following passages : 1 Tim. iv. 1. . Now, the
spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall de. part from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines
of devils,' &c. And 2 Tim. iii. 1. • This know also, that in the 1
last days perilous times shall come ; for men shall be lovers of their own selves,' &c. Also 2 Pet. iji 3. Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts.' Admitting that Jude referred to these passages, we must, on bis authority, apply them likewise to the saine period.
many be offended; but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.' At length, when the gospel shall have been preached throughout the habitable world, added he, then shall the end come;' and he immediately proceeded to describe the scene, in what is almost universally considered a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem; concluding the whole with this solemn affirmation, Verily, I say unto you, this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.'1
From all these examples, it appears that both our Saviour, and the writers of the New Testament, looked forward to some great revolution then near at hand, which they denominated the end of the world, the end of all things; and that, in conformity to this remarkable appellation, they called their own age the last days, or the last time, because it immediately preceded that approaching and momentous change.
II. But how shall we account for their having used such phraseology ?
We know that, according to our modern acceptation of the terms, theirs were not the last days, nor that period the end of the world; and why did they call them such ? Several eminent Christians, among whom are Grotius, Locke, Whiston, Priestly, and some of the german divines, have felt themselves driven to the conclusion, that the apostles, if not Christ himself, absolutely mistook so egregiously, as to think that the material world would be actually destroyed, about the close of their own
1 Matt. xxiv. 3-34 ; particularly 3, 6, 13, 14, 34.
age. Other commentators, again, have passed in marked silence over part of the passages now before us; and then, taking a sudden leap, with the utmost gravity, over all the obstacles of common sense and manifest fact, they have applied the rest, on their own authority, to a period yet future. But a very common course with Orthodox, as well as Liberal critics, has been to explain the subject by the consideration, that the prominent expression ought to have been translated, not 'end of the world, but end of the age, or dispensation. Here let us pause.
That the latter is the strict, literal rendering of the original, no one at all acquainted with the Greek language, will deny. It is a fact worthy of special attention, that in every instance of the phrase, 'end of the world,' in our version of the New Testament, the term rendered world, is [aion); which signifies, in its primary sense, and according to its general though not invariable usage,' a period of time, a duration, of greater
1 There are, perhaps, two exceptions to its common signification :
1. It was used, rarely by the Grecian writers, and frequently by the Oriental, to denote the high angelic beings, the Eons of the Gnostic philosophers. Whether, in this sense, it ever occurs in the New Testament, is somewhat doubtful ; since many
have suspected that an instance may be found in Eph. ii. 2, where the term is translated, course.
2 Some of the best critics think that it was sometimes used, according to a certain Hebrew idiom, to denote this material world. Professor Stuart has given (Spirit of the Pilgrims, No. 8, Aug. 1829, pp. 422—424) a list of eleven passages from the New Testament, in which he pronounces it to be used in this sense. But, with deference to the learned Professor's philological a uthority, to us there appears no reason whatever for his interpretation in most of theso cases and in the rest there