To the Edition of 1884
The enlightened reader will bear with the seeming arrogance of the title. It is a proposition—not an invective. The question proposed for consideration is a question for critical investigation. Attention is invited to the evidence and the argument. They are strictly within the logical sphere. They can be examined and dismissed if found wanting. What the title affirms is that Christendom, the ostensible repository of revealed truth, is away from that truth.
In reality the title goes further than this. By implication, it asserts certain things to be the truth that are not accepted by Christendom. It offers the proof of the doctrines that are according to truth, as the best demonstration that Christendom is astray from those doctrines. The demonstration is by the Holy Scriptures. To these Christendom is professedly subject, and it is in the light of these (estimated as Christendom estimates them, viz., as divine writings) that the question is considered throughout. It cannot be an unacceptable thing to earnest believers in the Bible to have it debated whether their conceptions of duty and destiny are according to the Bible. This is what is done in the following lectures.
This is not the first time the lectures have appeared. They first saw the light under the name Twelve Lectures, many years ago (Feb., 1862). They came out then in fortnightly parts (one lecture per fortnight) in response to the demand of those who had heard of them. The lectures themselves were in the first instance delivered in Huddersfield in discharge of an individual duty on the part of the lecturer. Since then many thousands of copies have been circulated. The author little imagined at the time he wrote them, that any such fate was in store for them. He wrote them for delivery only, and supposed their work was done when a small Huddersfield audience had heard them. As a matter of fact they have revolutionised the religious convictions of great numbers of people, of which fact much written evidence has appeared in the pages of the monthly Christadelphian during the past sixty years and more.
It will be found upon investigation that the Bible is no more responsible for the views and tenets of Christendom than it is for Mormonism. It propounds a system of doctrine which is compatible with all the evidences of sense, as systemised in the material sciences of the ages, and which at the same time commends itself to the moral instincts of every fully developed mind, as supplying those links, in the absence of which, the human understanding is baffled in its attempts to fathom the mysteries of existence.
Lecture 16 discusses the prophetic bearings of current political events. The result is to show that the times appointed for Gentile ascendency are all either run out, or on the point of running out in the present age of the world. The state of affairs is shown to confirm this conclusion of chronology. Prophetic anticipations have been realised in a way that leaves no doubt of the correctness of the deductions. From the outbreak of European revolution, in 1848, to the British occupation of Egypt, in 1882, and the commencement of the Jewish colonisation of Palestine (on however small a scale), there has been an unbroken series of expected signs of the Lord’s approach. The only point of failure has been as to the place in the programme at which the Lord’s appearing would occur, and this is a failure not of the prophetic word, but of human estimate of probability. It seemed likely that the ending of Papal coercive power would be the time for the Lord to appear. The ending of the Papal coercive power came at the expected time, but not the Lord, and because of this, the thoughtless cry “failure.” True failure there has not been; on the contrary, prophetic expectations that were truly warranted have in all particulars been realised in a very wonderful manner.
Parallel cases in ancient Bible times indicate the nature of the present situation. In the case of the Exodus, Israel left Egypt thirty years after the expiry of the period (of 400 years) specified as the duration of Israel’s sojourning in the land of the stranger. In the case of the restoration from Babylon, it was not accomplished till a generation after the period (70 years) fixed as the duration of their captivity. But in both these cases, events tending to the development of the foretold results SIGNALISED THE EXACT ENDING OF THE PERIOD. In the case of the Exodus, Moses, who was fifty years of age at the end of the 400, had appeared on the scene, and “supposed his brethren would have understood how that God, by his hand, would deliver them” (Acts 7:25). In the case of the restoration from Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar’s dynasty was overthrown by Darius, who belonged to a people favourable to Israel.
In the present case, all we need look for in this respect is transpiring before our eyes. The events prophetically characteristic of the termination of the “times of the Gentiles,” are the facts of contemporary history. Papal ascendancy is at an end in the world of politics, secular and ecclesiastical. The nations are “angry,” and wars and rumours of wars are the order of the day. The Zionist movement among the Jews proclaims the imminence of the national resurrection foretold by the prophets, and therefore heralds also the resurrection of the dead.
Of the exact date of the Lord’s appearing we have no information. We are in the era of that wonderful event, and it may be the occurrence of any day; but “of that day and hour knoweth no man.” We are in the position the disciples occupied in relation to the day of God’s judgment on Jerusalem; we wait in a state of indefinite expectancy, knowing that the event looked for is near, even at the door; but not knowing exactly how long.
The truth developed in a complete form is rapidly creating a people for the name of the Lord at his return. Such a work is a necessary prelude to the advent. The apostolic testimony gives us to understand that Jesus finds a people alive at his coming. Hence, their development is a necessity of the end. It is meet that Christ should have a people contemporary with the developments of the end.
At his coming in the flesh, John the Baptist, by preaching, gathered from Israel a select people, to whom in due course Christ was manifested by the descent of the Holy Spirit, and by means of whom in their ultimate operations, he proclaimed the way of life to the world, vanquished paganism, and enthroned his name traditionally in the high places of the earth. His coming in the Spirit draws near: a people is in preparation, increasing in numbers, faith, zeal, and service, to whom, when their development has reached a certain point, he will be revealed, with the thousands whom he shall bring from the dead by his power. May reader and writer alike have the supreme happiness of being included in their glorious number.
(The author of “Christendom Astray” died in 1898.)