William Miller's Lecture on the 2520
LECTURE 17: On the Punishment of the People of God Seven Times for their Sins (1836)
And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me, then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.
We are in the habit of reading the judgments and threatening in the word of God, as denunciations against some other people but ourselves. We are very fond of throwing back upon the Jews what, upon the principle of equity and justice, would equally belong to us Gentiles. By this mode of reasoning, wicked, unbelieving idolaters, murderers, whoremongers, adulterers, and all liars, may and do resist the force of God's word, and flatter themselves, in their lustful career, that the judgment is past, and that they may go on in sin with impunity. But it is not only this abominable class of mankind who pervert the word of God to their own condemnation, but many of those who profess to be pious and even teachers and expounders of the word, do take the same unholy ground to limit the Holy One in his justice and judgment. And by this means they not only wrest the Scriptures to their own condemnation, but others, who follow their pernicious ways, are led into the same errors, and the way of truth is evil spoken of.
This manner of expounding Scripture has been used as the last resort against my appeals to the heart and consciences of sinners to prepare to meet God in judgment. Let me use what passage I please in the Scriptures, whether in the Old or New Testament, these wicked, lustful flatterers of mankind, are ready, with a host of learned commentaries, to show that it was applied to the Jews, and to them only; and then taunt me with their witty saying--"What! you, a unlearned man, think to teach us, contrary to our great and learned commentators!" This, my friends, is the only argument that has ever been produced against my warnings, and proofs of God's near approach to judge the world in righteousness. And here, too, I pledge myself to show that many, and perhaps that, in many cases, a major part, of these commentators are on my side of the question. I know that, in the subject now about to be presented, this argument will be used--"O! that had reference to the Jews only;" and you will, like the wicked Jews, put far off the evil day, until you are caught in the snare, and perish in the pit. The Jews in the days of the prophets said, Ezek. 12:27, "The vision that he seeth is for many days to come, and he prophesieth of the times that are far off." You see, in this sample given us of the Jews, that the same ungodly , wicked perverting, putting off on to others what belongs to us in the visions and threatenings of God against sin, was manifestly the character of the Jews in that day, as it is in ours. The difference is only circumstantial. They put it off a great while to come; we, a great while back. They cast it forward on the backs of the Gentiles; we throw it back into the faces of the Jews. This is the wicked disposition of man in his natural state--self-righteous and self-justificatory. Therefore, use this weapon if you please; it will only discover to angels and men your true character, and God's justice in your condemnation. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy," Prov. 28:13. Yet we shall find some things, at least, true,--that the law of God and punishment for sin are the same in all ages, and will be the same in all eternity. If the sins of the old world brought the flood and destruction upon the ungodly, so will the sins of the present world, if committed in the same ungodly spirit, bring down similar judgments and destruction upon us. If Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities of the plain, were destroyed for their abuse of the blessings which God had given them, so shall we be destroyed for our abuse of similar ones. And if the Jews, for their pride, arrogance, self-sufficiency, idolatry and departure from the known commands of God's house, were punished with the sword, pestilence, captivity and persecution; so, most assuredly, will the people of God, in every age, whether under Jews of Gentiles, suffer the like or similar judgments. This can be proved abundantly in all parts of the word of God, and in the history of the church in every age. And did we not pervert the word of God to support our sectarian principles, and to gratify our lustful appetites, we might foresee the consequence of apostasy from God, his laws and commands; as we can foresee the effects of any or all the laws of nature, with which we are so well acquainted. When leaves put forth we know that summer is nigh. When the wind blows long from the south we know it will bring rain. Just so true are all the moral laws of God. Sin will bring death, and pride must bring a fall. The laws of God's house are equally as permanent as the laws of nature; and grace or mercy, call it which you please, are founded upon the law of cause and effect as strong as the laws of adhesion and repulsion. Go where you will, --climb up to heaven, or dig into the depths of hell, --you will find an immovable, fixed, and an eternal law of cause and effect. Let a man love his Maker, obey his laws, and he is happy. Let him love self only, and disobey the laws and commands of God, and misery is the lot of his inheritance, although the world was at his command. Here, then, is the great secret, that mankind must be reformed, or they can never be happy; in one word, they must be born of the Spirit, or they cannot enter the kingdom of God.
The text is a prophecy of God himself, given to Moses, and by him revealed to the people; and is a part of those lively oracles which has been continued as binding upon us, who live under the gospel light, as upon them who lived in the days of the typical priesthood.
It is a
prophecy of what would happen to the people of God as a punishment
for conduct therein specified. I shall, therefore, in explanation of
our subject, show,
1. First, then, we are to examine the cause of their punishment. The text tells us that it is because they "will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me;" that is, unto God.
1st. A perverse will. We should suppose that a man who has had his will subdued by the love and Spirit of God, could not be in possession of a will so diametrically opposed to the will of God. Yet history and facts show us plainly that it is so. David, a man after God's own heart, did perform, by his own will, that which was strictly forbidden in the law and commands of God. Peter, too, after his Lord told him he was every whit clean, and after he boldly asserted that, if all men should forsake Christ, he would not, immediately and willingly, as it is implied, cursed and swore, and said he knew not the man. I am aware that the theory of the present day is contrary to the idea that the Christian has two wills, carnal and spiritual; but, upon this theory, I cannot account for the idea of Christians being punished at all, either on the principle of justice or equity. Therefore I am constrained to believe that, in the heart of a Christian, there are two wills. Sometimes he is in subjection to the will of God, and enjoys the sweets of reconciliation; and again his own will governs and controls his acts, and he must feel the chastising rod of his heavenly Father for his wilful disobedience or neglect of his religious duty. It cannot be the will of God that his people "will not be reformed by him." Here is another idea conveyed in our text, which shows that the heart of a Christian is not wholly pure,--"will not be reformed by God;" showing the same independent spirit that our primitive father an mother did in the fall, "to be as gods." We cannot bear the idea of being dependent on God for our reformation. Let us have the power of doing it ourselves, and we will not reject it; but to say we are wholly dependent on God is a hard doctrine: we will not subscribe to such humiliating terms. How can we tell sinners to reform, if they cannot do it? "Where is my guilt? If I cannot reform myself, surely God would be unjust to condemn me for not doing what I cannot do." And thus you argue, throwing all the blame upon God, when all that God has required in the text, is, that you should be willing that he should do the work of reformation for you. And surely God must be the best workman of the two. God says he punishes us, for "ye will not be reformed by me." This, my Christian friend, is our crime, for which the church has been and will be punished seven times. "And if ye will not be reformed by me by these things." What does God mean by "these things"? I answer, It is God does the work, and he means his people shall give him the glory; and when they have passed through the furnace of affliction, and when seven times has passed over them, as it did over Nebuchadnezzar, then will the church, like the proud monarch, learn that God rules in heaven and earth. But could we be willing to learn this lesson without this punishment, "by these things," that is, by the word of God, by the preached gospel, by the mercies of God, by blessings of heaven from above, by blessings of the earth beneath, by the love of God, by the death of Christ, by the ministry of angels, by the strivings of the Holy Spirit; in one word, by all the means of grace; if all these things could teach us that God was the Author and Finisher of our faith, and make us willing to be reformed by him, --then, indeed, he would not have punished us. But, alas! without chastisement we should be "bastards, and not sons." Therefore the cause why the Christian must be punished,-- to subdue their proud, rebellious wills, to humble their haughty and selfish hearts. They must suffer all that wicked men or devils can heap upon them, they must fill up the measure of Christ's sufferings in his body, which is the church, in order to make them fit for heaven or happiness. They must, like gold, be seven times purified. As I have before said, all the mercies of God,and blessings of heaven and earth, could not save the church without the curse and punishment denounced in the word of God. And these, too, must be managed by that all-powerful Arm, the great Jehovah, who, by his wisdom and power, by his grace and rod, will make all things work for the good of his church, and will finally redound to his glory. And at last it will be said, "These have come through great tribulation, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
2. I am to show how they are punished.
1st. They are punished by their own deeds. David went with broken bones to his grave; and Peter, when his Lord looked upon him, went out a wept bitterly. Paul had a thorn in his flesh lest he should be exalted above measure. The Jews courted an alliance with Babylon, and by that means were led into bondage and captivity many years. They, contrary to God's express command, afterwards made a league with the Romans, and by them was their city and sanctuary destroyed, and their nation scattered to the four winds of heaven. The church, after the Christian era, courted the popular favor of the kings of the earth, and immediately suffered the ten persecutions. She afterwards sought for secular power for her bishops, and by the same power was driven into the wilderness, and passed through a thousand two hundred and sixty years of torture, darkness, and death. The church, recently, has been courting popularity from the world, raising up a learned ministry, worshipping at the shrine of ancient and modern philosophy; and already her ranks are broken, her piety on the wane, her efforts paralyzed, and infidelity gaining ground.
2nd. By wicked and designing men. Let us remember how Balaam taught Balak to cast stumbling-blocks before the children of Israel. Witness the false prophets in the days of the kings of Israel; also the wicked and designing men in the days of Jeremiah and the prophets; and, finally, the division and subdivision by wicked men at the final destruction of Jerusalem. See some, also, in the apostles' days--"false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ, 2 Cor 11:13; some, also, "who subverted whole houses, teaching things they ought not for filthy lucre's sake," Titus 1:11; others, who crept into houses, leading captive silly women laden with divers lusts; some, teaching the doctrines and commandments of men, bringing in damnable heresies, and denying the Lord that bought them. And from that day unto this, in every age, and in every church, division, wounds, and putrefying sores, have been experienced through false, wicked, and designing professors.
3rd. The church has been punished by the kings and rulers of this world. There was a season, in the days of David and Solomon, and after her deliverance from Egyptian bondage under Moses and Joshua, and so on down to the days of Manasseh, when the church, the people of God, were governed by their own rulers and laws in a great measure. But since the days of Manasseh not a moment has she enjoyed of respite, but has been scattered among the kingdoms of the world, as Jeremiah the prophet has prophesied she would. Jer. 15;4, "And I will cause them to be removed into all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem." Here began the "scattering of the power of the holy people," and when seven times shall be accomplished, then all "these things" shall be finished; that is, the church will then have passed the ordeal of trial and chastisement. "Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen." "Wherefore the Lord brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the god of his fathers," 2 Chron. 33:9-12.
We learn in this passage the cause and effect. The cause of their captivity was their errors and wicked conduct. The effect was their captivity to the kings of Babylon, and their humility in their affliction. And although Manasseh was restored to his kingdom again after his humiliation, yet the children of Judah and Jerusalem were never free from the Babylonish yoke again while the kingdom of Babylon stood, but had to pay them tribute until the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon, which was about one hundred and forty years after the first captivity in Babylon of Judah and Jerusalem. Then the Medes and Persians reigned over the Jews, and made them pay tribute, and put a yoke of bondage upon them, until Alexander the Grecian conquered them, about two hundred and two years afterwards; when the Grecians became the masters of Judea, and continued the yoke of bondage, carrying away into captivity many of the principal citizens of Jerusalem, and obliging them to pay tribute, and their young men to serve as soldiers in their armies; destroying their riches, defiling their sanctuary, and compelling them to worship their gods,and sacrifice to their idols. This government lasted one hundred and seventy-seven years, when the Romans made the Grecian general Bacchides withdraw his army from Jerusalem, and never trouble the Jews any more, as Maccabees tells us in his first book, 8:31,32; also, 9:1,72,73. This was one hundred and fifty-eight years before Christ; the Babylonians, Medes and Persians, and Grecians, having each in their turn ruled over and led into captivity, robbed and spoiled the children of Judah and Jerusalem, and scattered them among all the nations of the earth, as Moses and all the prophets had foretold; in all, from the captivity of Manasseh, five hundred and nineteen years.
No man can read this prophecy, from which our text is taken, and the other prophets who have spoken of these things, and understand them literally, and then read the history of the world, and compare them together carefully, and let reason decide, and be an infidel. It would be impossible. The devil knows this; and, therefore, he uses all the art he is master of to prevent those whom he wishes to destroy from reading the prophecies. He tells them they are dark and intricate. And if this argument succeeds it is well; he is sure of his prey. But if they reason on the subject, and say, "If God has revealed himself by the prophets, it must be for our good; and if God is wise, as all agree he is, if there is a God, then it must be in the best possible manner for man to understand. I will examine and see." He then tells them it is presumption to look into futurity. "If you succeed in discovering the things to come, it will only make you miserable." Should this temptation prevent you from reading and trying to understand, still he is sure of his prey. You "will not be reformed by these things." But suppose you let reason work, and think, "If God is speaking by his prophets to us, surely it would be sin not to hear; for he has a legal right to our ears and attention; and only if our equal speaks to us, on any good or interesting subject, it is a piece of ill manners not to listen. I will read and hear what God says by the mouth of his servants." Then the devil will tell you that it is a sealed book,--not to be understood until it is fulfilled. But reason will tell you, What God has given for our faith and hope cannot be sealed in this sense; for it would all be lost labor in the prophets of God, and perfect folly in the Giver; for the history itself would reveal it as soon and as well as the prophecy could. And, in that case, says reason, faith and hope would have no food; for, without prophecy, neither the one nor the other could be exercised; for in what we know, how can it be said we have faith? or, in what is past, how can it be said we hope for it? Then, if these temptations do not prevent you from reading and trying to understand the prophecies, Satan has one more weapon, and it is his last resort. "But," says the arch enemy, if you are but prepared for happiness or heaven, it is no matter whether you understand prophecy or not." This secures and chains down the hypocrite and Pharisee forever; this is turning things upside down at once. For there never were hypocrites or Pharisees but what vainly imagined that they were, of all men, best prepared for heaven; and so they will neither try their faith, nor examine their hope, if they follow this temptation, until they awake in eternity, forever too late. While, on the other hand, there never were real children of God, but what considered themselves unfit for heaven, the vilest of the vile; and if they should take up with this device of Satan, they must finally end in despair; for they could gain no additional evidence of their faith or hope,only by a diligent study of God's prophetic word. So that I can boldly say, that reason itself would teach us that we ought to apply ourselves diligently and faithfully to try our faith by every word of God, and examine our hope in every possible way in searching deep into the revealed truths, whether promises or prophecies, that the day of vengeance may not overtake us unawares.
But not only the church under the Jewish dispensation must pass thorough her scenes of tribulation, but so, also, must he church under the gospel; for John saw not only the elect Jews in his vision of the glorified state, but also a great number, which no man could number, from among all nations and languages under heaven," who had come through great tribulation, and who had washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb." And, again, it is also evident that, like the Jews, they must suffer persecution from the kings and rulers of the earth, and from spiritual wickedness in high places. For John "saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army," Rev. 19:19. And Daniel saw the same beast, "make war with the saints, and prevailed over 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. Thus he said, "The fourth beast is the fourth kingdom upon earth," Dan. 7:21-23, meaning the Roman kingdom.
We must also notice that, like the Jews, they must be scattered among all the nations of the earth; for here they are to have no continuing city, for they seek one which is to come, whose Builder and Maker is God," Hebrews 11:10; that is, the New Jerusalem, which cometh down from God out of heaven. The proof I bring you that the church among the Gentiles were like the Jews, you will find in the prophecy of the high priest, when our Savior was crucified, John 11:52, "And not for that nation only, (that is, the Jews,) but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." Also it is said, Mark 14:27, "smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered." And when Christ comes to judge the saints, at the resurrection of the just, he sends his angels into the uttermost parts of the earth, and under the uttermost part of heaven, and gathers together his elect, who have been scattered by the kings and beasts of the earth during the dark and cloudy day of persecution, form his crucifixion to his second coming.
And if, in view of all that Christ, the prophets, and apostles, have said in relation to this subject, there is one doubt remaining on your mind as to the truth of these remarks, I beg of you to read but the past history of the church, and you cannot but acknowledge, that, thus far, it has been literally fulfilled. How soon after the Romans had crucified the Lord of glory, did they attack his church; and for nearly three hundred years the apostles and eminent servants of Christ suffered all the horrors of persecution by the authority of the Roman emperors and kings of the earth. They suffered in all manner of ways which the prophets had foretold they would--by the sword, by wild beasts, by flame, by captivity and by spoil. This was almost constantly until the days of Constantine, who for a little season put a stop to these bloody scenes; but it was but short; for in the days of Julian the Apostate, it was renewed, and continued until the barbarians of the north overran Italy, and conquered the Roman empire. Then the church suffered the same trials under her new masters, the ten kings, until they were converted to the Christian faith, when she enjoyed another respite of about thirty years after the downfall of Paganism, and before the rise of Papacy, between the years A. D. 508 and 538. But now arose the little horn, (Papacy,) which was to make war against the saints, and prevail over them until the Ancient of days should come, and the judgment should sit. This little horn was to rule over the kings of the earth, a time, times, and a half, or 1260 years; all which has been accomplished to the letter.
3. I shall now
show what is meant by "seven times," in the text.
The proper question would now be, "When did those years begin?" I answer, They must have begun with the first captivity of the tribe of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, in Babylon; for all the prophets agree in this thing, that Babylon would be the kingdom which would carry the Jews into captivity. See Jeremiah 15:4. "And I will cause them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem." Also let those who wish to read more on this subject, read Jeremiah, chapter 21st to the 29th, inclusive; and the prophecy of Ezekiel, from the beginning of the 1st chapter to the end of the 39th chapter; also the chapter in which is our text;--and we cannot for a moment doubt but that Babylon is the nation which was to make desolate Judah and Jerusalem.
Then, if Babylon was the nation which was to scatter the people of God, and this, too, in the days of Manasseh, I ask, When was this captivity? I answer, In the year 677 before Christ; see 2 Chron. 33:9-13; see also the Bible chronology of that event; this being the first captivity of Judah in Babylon. Then take 677 years, which were before Christ, from 2520 years, which includes the whole "seven times," or "seven years," prophetic, and the remainder will be 1843 after Christ; showing that the people of God will be gathered from among all nations, and the kingdom and greatness of the kingdom will be given to the saints of the Most High; mystical Babylon will be destroyed by the brightness of his coming; and sin, and suffering for sin, will be finished to those who look for his coming. "And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad," John 11:51,52
Yes, dear hearer, to them that look for his appearing, Christ will come the second time without sin unto salvation. "And can it be possible," says the dear child of God, "that that day is so near as 1843? it is too good news for me to believe. Yet the evidence is very strong; it seems clear. I really believe I shall watch for it with a good deal of anxiety. And if it should not come, I shall, I feel now, be somewhat disappointed." Yes, I am satisfied, this is the language of every Christian heart.
"But," says another, "it is all visionary. I do not believe it. And if I had any idea that it would be so, I could not take another moment's comfort of my life. What, the judgment day within seven years? I cannot bear the thought? I will drive such thoughts from my mind. To you, whoever you are, whether professor or non-professor, who in your heart think such thoughts as these, I have one word to say. Your standing is desperate indeed. I am bold to tell you, you love not Jesus. Every moment, then, you delay coming to God through Jesus Christ, may be big with eternal consequences, even as the day of judgment, for aught you or I can tell. For instance, this may be the last moment the Holy Spirit will ever strive; it may be the last moment of reason; it may be the last moment of life; it may be the last moment of time; and you unprepared! O God, reform these blinded souls, "Who will not be reformed by thee, nor by these things," or everlasting punishment will be their doom.