PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION.
The issue of a second edition of this book gives an opportunity to notice some objections, and, also, to remove some misapprehensions of its aim which have found expression in various criticisms.
The chief burden of these criticisms is that the book is pessimistic in its tone. It is said by one: "It does not acknowledge that there are any Christian tendencies; everything in our age is antichristian." By another: "It adopts a pessimistic theory of history." By another: "It represents the world as growing worse, rather than better."
A brief examination will show how baseless is all criticism of this kind.
We may assume that these writers accept as true the Lord's words: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth"; and believe that in due time He will manifest this power in a kingdom of righteousness and peace which will embrace all nations. Because Himself immortal, the final victory of Christianity is assured; and we need not dwell upon the signs of its triumph which so many are engaged in pointing out. The objection based upon pessimism is not, therefore, that the glorious goal set before the Church will not be reached; but that the present stage of its progress, and its immediate future, are presented in a pessimistic way. We are told that an Antichrist in the future is an anachronism; he has no place there. The clouds and tempests are behind us; only a cloudless sky and a smooth sea are before us, and the haven is at hand.
In all questions as to the future of humanity, we must either picture this future for ourselves, or accept Divine revelation. Those who reject revelation, and map out the course of human history as pleases them, are of two classes. The first, which embraces not a few names distinguished in science and literature, affirms that so long as men live on the earth there will be a mingling of good and evil, a perpetual struggle between them. They see no kingdom of God in the coming years. With the second class, which embraces many nominal Christians, it is the evolutionary theory which determines for them the future of humanity. Believing in its continual upward progress, they can find no place for any development of evil and an Antichrist. The kingdom must come because it lies in the ever-ascending order of nature.
If we turn to those who believe that all true knowledge of the future of man is based upon Divine revelation, we find two classes: (a) those who hold that Christ will establish His kingdom by the peaceable and gradual diffusion of His principles; (b) those who look for its establishment through His personal acts in the separation of the good and the evil, and in final judgment. These two interpretations of the Divine purpose in Christ, as it is revealed, are radically at variance. One rests upon the conception that the depths of wickedness in man's sinful nature have been already fathomed. There are no lower deeps, no new forms in which the hostility to God and Christ can manifest itself. The other conceives of depths not yet fathomed, of forms of wickedness not yet manifested. It sees actively working a spirit of pride and lawlessness which will find its culmination and highest expression in the man of sin who seats himself in the temple of God, "showing himself that he is God."
Which of these conceptions of the future shall we take? We turn to the parable of the tares and the wheat. Have the tares already ripened and brought forth their perfected fruits, and are they now withering away ?" Let both tares and wheat grow together until the harvest," said the Lord. The harvest is when both are ripe, when righteousness and wickedness have both come to the full.* Is to see this growth of evil pessimistic? Who has so openly and strongly spoken of the evil days to come as our Lord Himself? Not a few in our day call any teaching of the fall of man, of the sinfulness of human nature, of the punishment of sin, pessimistic. They have ears for those only who cry, "Peace, Progress"; and eyes only to see signs of good. But if revelation clearly teaches the contemporaneous development of good and evil, why should we ignore or minimise the evil? The highest form of wickedness is at the end in him "who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or is worshipped."
To call good evil, as the pessimist does, is not so dangerous as to call evil good. In the former case, we are at least kept on our guard ; in the latter, we are taken unawares. If the blind optimist lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Better that the supposed evil should prove to be good, than that the supposed good should prove to be evil. To ignore the Antichrist of whom she has been forewarned, is for the Church to expose herself defenceless to his wiles, deceptions, and attacks.
It may be said in general that all who complain of the development of evil in the future as " a pessimistic theory,"
* In bis comment on this parable it is said by Archbishop Trench: "We learn that evil is not, as so many dream, gradually to wane and disappear before good; but is ever to develop itself more fully, even as on the other side good is to unfold itself more and more mightily also. Thus it will go on until at last they stand face to face, each in its highest manifestation in the persons of Christ and of Antichrist. . . . Both are to grow, evil and good, till they come to a head, till they are ripe, one for destruction, and the other for full salvation."
should direct their attention to these two points: first, whether or not the Scriptures foretell an Antichrist in whom the enmity to God and to His Son will culminate, "the man of sin" ; and, secondly, if they do, whether or not the movements and tendencies, religious, political, social, of the present time give any signs of his appearing. If there is to be no Antichrist, all enquiry respecting him is lost labour; and if he is to come, but only in some remote future, the subject has for us no present interest.
A word may be said of the objection that the doctrine of the Divine transcendence, as here presented, denies the Divine immanence. This is an error. God is immanent in man. "In God we live, and move, and have our being." But what is said is, that the doctrine of the Divine immanence is so presented in many quarters as to be indistinguishable from pantheism. Philosophy and science in many eminent representatives agree in affirming that there is no personal God, only a universal, impersonal Spirit or Energy, of which everything that exists is a part. This, viewed on the material side, is atheism; on the spiritual, is pantheism. If the transcendence of God in His acts of creation, as declared in the Scriptures, is given up, the ordinary mind—whatever some acute metaphysicians may say of themselves—can find no final resting-place but in the humbling negations of atheism, or the deifying affirmations of pantheism.
S. J. A.