Page images

begin till the eighth century, or about A.D. 750 ; so that even the incarnation itself we are unable to determine to the very year, and with absolute certainty. And for all other periods, such as the commencement or termination of the captivity in Babylon, or the exact time of Daniel's several visions, we are still more at a loss, since another element of confusion is brought in through the enormous discrepancies between the different standards of computation—the ancient Hebrew and the modern Rabbinical dates differing so widely from each other, and the Septuagint differing from both of these, and all of them from the Persian and Babylonian reckonings. We cannot cut the knot of this difficulty in the way that some have done, by assuming triumphantly three little points, which we should require proof of, and could not receive instanter, or allow any advocate of the Septuagint chronology to take thus for granted. It is assumed that the Evangelists quoted uniformly from the Septuagint; and, secondly, it is assumed that this use of the Septuagint by inspired men has given to the dates of the Septuagint the sanction of inspiration, or the seal of the Holy Ghost; and, thirdly, that this version, being in the hands of the Church, has therefore come down uncorrupted to us, and is worthy of the most entire confidence. We demur, and ask for proof of these assertions.

Moreover, it does not seem to have been the way of God, at any time, to reveal beforehand the exact period in which the measure of iniquity would become full, and he should be constrained to visit a people in judgment. In this respect it has always been observable, that it is not in man to know the times and the seasons which God has kept in his own power. A period could scarcely be named with greater precision than was that of the bondage of the Israelites in the land of Egypt, and an individual could scarcely be named more likely to be correctly informed when those four hundred and thirty years commenced, and when, by necessary consequence, they would terminate, than Moses, who recorded all these transactions. Yet it is manifest that Moses had miscalculated the termination of this period, and sought to deliver the Israelites forty years too soon; and when, after forty years sojourn in Midian, he, on the second attempt, did deliver them, it is recorded they came up out of Egypt on the self-same day that the four hundred and thirty years expired which God had prophesied of to Abram. How Moses came to know it then, though he knew it not at first, we are not told; and we only adduce it as an instance of what we mean to avow, namely, that we think it quite possible for all the great epochs to have been determined with the most strict exactness from the beginning in the mind of God, and to have been spoken of to man with such clearness as to secure belief in them as coming events, and produce watchfulness and preparation; and yet so guardedly spoken of as to hide pride from man, and keep all alike and continually dependent upon God until his purposes are accomplished : and man cannot meddle or mar, but is constrained to acknowledge the hand of the ONLY BEING who knows the end from the beginning.

And when we think of a still more important event than the Exode-the most important event, not to one nation only, but to all mankind-the incarnation of the Son of God, and find that this most important and ever memorable act of God, which was prophesied of from the very fall of man, with more and more minuteness and exactness as the time drew near; the line in which he should come and the place in which he should be born being declared, and the time fixed with the greatest appearance of precision by the prophecy of Daniel of the seventy weeks ; and yet, notwithstanding the paramount importance of the event, and the extraordinary number of particulars given beforehand, in order to rivet attention and prevent mistake, we find that men did not know the time beforehand, and could not say that this or that is the year in which Messiah must needs appear, and that we cannot from such data even now demonstrate the very year in which his birth took place; we greatly doubt whether men will ever be enabled confidently to assert beforehand the exact time of the events affecting the Church, all of which are confessedly of far inferior importance to that great event from whence the Church derives its origin.

We have no doubt of the fact that God has appointed fixed times for all things, just as he created the earth in six days; and we also believe that every great event is foreseen, and that with such accuracy that it must needs take place on the selfsame day to which, by this prescience of God, it has been prophetically fixed. Yet God himself is not bound by a fate, and it must be resolved into the full and perfect omniscience which we must ever ascribe unto God; and as, in the very terms of the proposition, it is God's sole prerogative, and the ascription of it to any creature is excluded, so the mode of its operation is also known only to God-is a point of faith like omniscience itself; and the highest order of created beings will never be able to comprehend how exact prescience in God and moral responsibility in man, as resulting from the exercise of the will, are reconciled. We believe it—we experience the comfort

of this faith—we care not to understand it. And so, while we are perfectly sure that there are grand periods during which the several operations of God are being effected, and are further convinced that seven is the primary number which forms the root and basis for calculating all the other periods, as it begins with creation, and expands into the jubilean and other typical seasons, till it enlarges into Mr. Faber's grand period of seven times, and so runs on to the completion of the purpose of God; yet we doubt whether, while these great events are in course of operation, any man will be able to fix and appropriate these subdivisions of time to their several events with perfect certainty. We think that for such certainty we must wait for the final accomplishment of the whole, and look back upon the whole as a past, a completed thing; not as partly past, partly present and future, and so in an unperfected condition. And to this we attribute, and by this principle we justify, the changes which Mr. Faber and every other interpreter has been occasionally constrained to make in some of the applications of their systems-changes rather ascribable to the imperfection of man than to the defective principle of the system. And Mr. Faber is entitled to every praise for his boldness in retracting an opinion when no longer sure of its truth.

And as in the repeating circle of Borda the multiplication of observations diminishes the chances of error, and makes one inaccuracy to disappear in the process of continuing to investigate, so in the prosecution of the study of prophecy there is a continual correction of preceding errors and a nearer approximation to the truth. Sir Isaac Newton observed in his day, and when but little comparatively had been done in the way of systematic interpretation, that “amongst the interpreters of the last age there is scarce one of note who hath not made some discovery worth knowing; and thence I seem to gather that God is about opening these mysteries.......... But if the last age, the age of opening, these things, be now approaching, as by the great successes of late interpreters it seems to be, we have more encouragement than ever to look into these things.” And then, with a sagacity which is almost prophetic, Newton had observed that the Apocalypse is the key to all other prophecies, and that our understanding of it and them waited for the accomplishment of one great event or revolution referred to in all of them, and apparently near at hand in his day. “For he that will understand the old prophets must begin with this (the Apocalypse); but the time is not come for understanding them perfectly, because the main revolution predicted in them is not yet come to pass. In the days of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God shall be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets....... Then the signal revolutions predicted by all the holy prophets will at once both turn men's eyes upon considering the predictions, and plainly interpret them."

That which the sagacity of Newton led him to expect is become to us matter of fact and subject of history. A revolution, unexampled in atrocity, in extent, and in its consequences, has occurred; the whole aspect of Christendom has taken a new phase; another era has since begun, and that not in Christendom only, but thence extending, so as to compass the earth and give an altered character to the whole worldthe phial seems poured into the air, and all mankind breathe nothing less than juveniscence and all its fancied grand results. And it is also a notorious fact, that on the breaking out of that revolution men's eyes were turned to the prophecies of Scripture in a remarkable degree, and have understood the whole scheme of prophecy far better than before; and many have made, and as we think with much reason, that revolution a salient point of time from whence they might calculate and fix other great epochs belonging to the Christian dispensation.

Among the vast numbers of the champions of prophecy which the French revolution called into the field, the two veterans, Faber and Cuninghame, seem to be the only survivors. And this we suspect will be the case in a literary sense, for the works of these two writers embody the substance of two schools of interpretation, as we may say; give all that can be said in favour of these apparently opposite systems; and put the question far clearer, and better, and more intelligibly than it can be found in any other writings we are acquainted with. We call them opposite, not as contradictory to each other, but as implying an opposite course of study-Mr. Faber having begun with Daniel, and carried the study of Daniel downwards into the Apocalypse; Mr. Cuninghame having begun with the Apocalypse, and ascended to the times of Daniel. And these opposite courses of study have certainly affected some of the views which they have respectively taken of the synchronisms or parallel passages of the Apocalypse, but not materially the general results, as bearing upon the Christian Church generally, and especially upon our own times. Both systems make the Papal power to be designated as Babylon, and the mystery of iniquity, and the little horn, though Mr. Cuninghame dates its rise, or rather its oppression of the saints, from the year of Christ 533, while Mr. Faber does not reckon its commencement till A.D, 604.

This difference of opinion concerning the commencement of the 1,260 years of Papal oppression formed the chief point of the controversy which was amicably carried on for many years between Mr. Cuninghame and Mr. Faber. But the former strongly protests against the inference which some would draw from hence, either that the whole of prophecy is involved in obscurity, or that there is uncertainty in this period, because this difference of opinion concerning its commencement exists. “ Mr. Penn reasons, that because a controversy of some years existed between Mr. Faber and myself on the subject of the com mencement and close of that prophetical period, therefore the period itself is unintelligible in point of fact, and uncertain, hypothetical, and equivocal. This argument would indeed confine the range of intelligible scriptural truth within very narrow limits ; for what parts of the Evangelical system have not, in a similar manner, been the subjects of controversy? And, to quote an example nearer in point, does it follow, because Daniel's prophecy of seventy weeks is still subject of controversy, as to its commencement and end, that therefore the period itself is uncertain, equivocal, and unintelligible ?" (xvi.) And Mr. Faber would agree with Mr. Cuninghame in taking for granted all the great points of prophetic interpretation, and say with him“ I take for granted that the four beasts seen by Daniel in the seventh chapter of his prophesies signify the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Grecian, and Roman monarchies; and that the little horn of the fourth beast is a symbol of the Papal power; and likewise that the Babylon of the Apocalypse is the Church of Rome. These may be considered as first principles in the study of prophecy, of which no well instructed Protestant ought to be ignorant ; and it is not reasonable to expect that every one who takes up his pen on the subject of prophecy should return back to prove anew those first principles which few persons call in question, and which have already been established in the writings of the ablest commentators.” (iv.) This was written in 1813, and has acquired still greater force by the lapse of thirty years.

Taking these first principles for granted, the whole difficulty of interpreting the Apocalypse may be said to lie in rightly adjusting the triple series of sevens—the seals, the trumpets, and the vials—whether they denote twenty-one periods of time and twenty-one events in orderly sequence, or whether they denote seven grand periods of time, with subdivisions in these grand periods denoted by larger subdivisions in the trumpets and smaller subdivisions in the vials; whether, in short, the chapters in the Apocalypse itself follow in orderly succession-the events of one chapter terminating before those

« PreviousContinue »