Chapter 12: More Falsehoods.—Resurrection-Witnesses Multiplied.—World's End Predicted.—to Save Credit, Antichrist Invented
Section 4: Paul's Remedy for the Disorder, and Salvo for Himself. Antichrist Must First Come
We have seen the disorder: we had before that seen the causes of it. We now come to the remedy—the remedy provided by the practitioner for a disease of his own creating. Of the shape given to this remedy, the ingenuity will be seen to be truly worthy of the author of the disease. It consists in the announcement made, of an intermediate state of things, of the commencement of which, any more than of the termination, nothing is said: except that it was to take place, antecedently to that originally announced state of things, by the expectation of which the disorder had been produced. Of the time of its commencement, no: except as above, on that point no information is given. But of its duration, though no determinate information, yet such a description is given, as suffices for giving his disciples to understand, that in the nature of things, it could not be a short one: and that thus, before the principal state of things took place, there would be a proportionate quantity of time for preparation. Satisfied of this, they would see the necessity of conforming themselves to those reiterated "commands," with which his prediction had from the first been accomplished; and to which he had so erroneously trusted, when he regarded them as composing a sufficient antidote to the poison he had infused. That the warning thus provided for them would be a very short one, he left them, it will be seen, no great reason to apprehend. A sort of spiritual monster,—a sort of an ape of Satan, a rival to the Almighty,—and that by no means a contemptible one—was to enter upon the stage.
What with force and what with fraud, such would be his power,—that the fate of the Almighty would have appeared too precarious, had not the spirits of his partisans been kept up, by the assurance, that when all was over, the Almighty would remain master of the field.
The time, originally fixed, by him for the aerial voyage, was too near. By the hourly expectation of it, had been produced all those disastrous effects which had ensued. After what had been said, an adjournment presented the only possible remedy. But this adjournment, after what had been said, by what imaginable means could it be produced? One only means was left by the nature of the case.
To this rival of his God—God and rival—both of them of his own creation, the creator has not, we see, given any name. By this omission, he has, perhaps, as perhaps he thought to do, rendered the bugbear but the more terrible. The deficiency, such as it is, the Church of England translators of the English official translation of the Bible, have filled up: they have taken it in hand—this bantling of Paul's—and christened it Antichrist. "He," Paul, "showeth," say they, "a discovery of Antichrist, before the day of the Lord come." Such is the discovery, communicated in the heading, prefixed to the second chapter of the second of the two Epistles: and, of the readers of this so abundantly and gratuitously distributed Bible, how few are there, by whom any such distinction as that between the headings and the text is borne in mind! The right reverend divines in question,—were they the first authors of this discovery, or was it ready-made to their hands?—made by that church, from the errors of which their own has been so felicitously purified? To this question, let those look out for, and find, the answer,—in whose eyes the profit is worth the trouble.
Not a few are the divines, who have discovered Antichrist sitting in St. Peter's chair, with a triple crown on his head. In the chair of Luther, or in that of Calvin, would the triple monarch be disposed to discover the hobgoblin, if he thought it worth while to look for him. Has he ever, or has he not, made this discovery already?
"Oh, but," says somebody, "we does not here mean we only who are alive at this present writing; it means, we Christians of all ages:—any number of ages after this, as well as this, included. In the designation thus given, neither the individuals he was addressing, nor he himself, were necessarily comprehended." This accordingly, if anything, must be said, or the title of the self-constituted Apostle, to the appellation of false prophet, must be admitted. Oh, yes! this may be said, and must be said: but what will it avail him? In no such comprehensive sense did he use it; for, in that sense, it would not have answered his purposes: not even his spiritual and declared purposes, much less his temporal, selfish, and concealed purposes. Why was it that these disciples of his, as well as he, were to be so incessantly upon the watch!(1st Thessalonians 5:6-8.) Why, but because he says,
Any man that has been reading these Epistles,—let him suppose, in his own breast, any the most anxious desire to raise an expectation, such as that in question: and then let him ask himself, whether it be in the power of that desire to suggest language, that would afford any considerably better promise of giving effect to it.
Of the nature of the disorder, as well as of the cause of it,—the persons, to whom the world is indebted for the preservation of these remains of the self-constituted Apostle,—have given us, as above, some conception. Of the effect of the remedy, it would have been amusing to be informed: unfortunately, this portion of his history is not comprised in the labours of his historiographer.76
66 Here we have a sort of retractation. This shows how he was frightened.
67 Here he gives the intermediate warning; thence the respite.
68 Here we see the rival of Paul's god: and we see how dangerous an one.
69 Like enough; but in the same unintelligible style, in which he tells all men all things.
70 All's well that ends well: the friends of the Almighty may now dismiss their fears.
71 Here we see the rival of the Almighty sunk into the ape of Satan. What if he and Satan had made an alliance? Happily they could not agree, or time was wanting for settling the conditions.
72 All power, with lying to boot. But for the above-mentioned assurance, who would not have trembled for Paul's God?
73 This was fighting the ape of Satan with his own weapons. But—this God of Paul's creation—in what, except an ultimate superiority of power, is he distinguishable from Satan and his ape? Those, who have been so quicksighted of late in the discovery of blasphemy, and so bent on punishing it,—have they ever found so clear a case as this which is before us? Would not they have begun at the more proper end, had they begun with the editors of these Epistles?
74 For this damnation,—on the present as on so many other occasions, those who are so eager to believe, that all who differ from them on a question of evidence, will be consigned to everlasting torments, are indebted to the right reverend translators: the original says condemned. This may be understood to mean—damned in the ordinary sense of the word damned, or whatever less unpleasant result may be more agreeable.
75 Of this child of the self-appointed Apostle's brain, it seems not altogether improbable, that, in case of need, some further use was in contemplation to be made: with the skin of this bugbear, might, upon occasion, be invested, any person, to whom, either in the character of a declared adversary, or in that of a rival, it might happen, to have become in a certain degree troublesome: a declared adversary,—that is, either a Gentile or an unbelieving Jew: a rival,—that is, one who, believing in the religion of Jesus, adhered to that edition of it, which had the Apostles of Jesus for its publishers, or followed any other edition which was not his: one of those, for example, upon whom we have seen him making such bitter war in his Epistle to his Galatians. Of the two, the believing rival would of course be much more troublesome, than the non-believing adversary, from whom, if let alone, he would not experience an annoyance. Of this rival class were they whose "unrighteousness," (2nd Thessalonians 2:10.) had recourse to "deceivableness:" for as to non-believers, no need could they have of deceivableness; to foil him, they had but to turn aside from him, and stand as they were. Those men, whose unrighteousness had recourse to deceivableness, who could they be, but the men of the same description in this respect as those, whom in chapter third of his Epistle to his Galatians, he complains of as having "bewitched" them; and that in such sort, as to have made him so far lose his temper as to call them "foolish:" and that they were rivals, is a matter altogether out of doubt. In a word, rivals were the only troublesome sort of men, who, at the writing of this Epistle, could, with the nameless monster since named Antichrist, be yet to come.
76 As for that "helmet of faith," which, in the passage first quoted, he has been seen commanding his disciples to put on—of that faith, which is the everlasting object of his so indefatigably repeated "command," and which is always faith in Paul,—for of Jesus scarcely is so much as a word, except the name, to be found in any of his Epistles,—as to this helmet, it is the sort of cap, which a man learned how to put on, when he had made himself perfect, in what may be called the self-deceptive exercise, or in a word the exercise of faith. It is composed of two very simple operations: at the word of command, the recruit turns its face to the arguments on one side; at the word of command, it turns its back to those on the other side. The test of perfection is—its being able to hold in its embrace, for any length of time, both parts together of a self-contradictory proposition; such as, that three man's-persons,—to use the German word, or if any other sorts of persons there are three others,—are but one. When the helmet sits close enough on his head to enable him to do this, there is no fear of its falling off. Holding fast to improbabilities, how absurd and extravagant soever, is thenceforward but child's play to him:—for example, belief in the future existence of Paul's Antichrist: including, the coming on of those scenes, in which that raw-head and bloody bones is to be the principal performer.
To this, as to anything else, the mind of man is capable of being brought, by assurances of infinite enjoyment, in case of his having made himself perfect in this exercise, or of infinite torment in case of his neglecting it: of course, still more effectually, by both assurances put together; and, considering the facility of both operations, easier terms could not very easily be imagined. A capital convenience is—that, for producing faith in this way, not a particle of anything in the shape of evidence is necessary: the place of evidence is supplied by assurance:—by the intensity, real or apparent, of the persuasion, to which expression has been given, by what the preacher has said or done. The more intense the apparent assurance on the one part, the greater the apparent safety, obtained by yielding to it, on the other: and thus it is, that no absurdity can be so flagrant, that the side on which it is found may not be embraced, under the notion of its being the safe side. When Paul, with his accustomed vehemence, was preaching the world's end, so many of his Thessalonians as believed in it, believed, that believing in it was being on the safe side. On the part of the preacher, the more vehement and impudent the assurance, the greater on the part of the disciple, the apparent danger on the disbelieving, the apparent safety on the believing side.
By this means are produced the signs and wonders we read of in the Epistles of our modern missionaries; for, how conclusive soever the evidence may be, which the assertions they employ might call in for their support,—conclusive to every reasonable mind by which it was received,—assuredly it is not by the evidence, but by the unsupported assertion, that, on the occasion of those exploits of theirs,—whatever credence has place, is produced.