« AnteriorContinuar »
the state of the church that then God shall follow. ing of the sixth seal telleth the state of the church in time of Antichrist's time. What is there after this to fall, but that the mystery of the seventh seal be shewed, that he come in his own person that Jesu Christ shall slay with the spirit of his mouth, when the fiend shall shew the utmost persecution that he and his servants may do to Christ's limbs ? and that shall be the third warning that the world shall have to come to this dreadful doom.”
These extracts may suffice to shew how truly, in the general, these confessors understood the prophecies of Antichrist; and little more was done in the way of interpretation by the Reformers themselves. They brought to the controversy a far greater stock of learning than their precursors, but the clearing of the great doctrines of the Apostles from the rubbish with which the Papists had defiled them was the great and sufficient occupation of Luther and his companions. They denounced Antichrist and Babylon, as boldly as Wickliffe, Huss, or Jerome of Prague; but gave all their labour and energy to establish justification by faith, the sole merits of Christ, the sufficiency of Scripture, and such fundamental doctrines. These great points continued also to occupy their successors, and little or no advance was made in the interpretation of prophecy. Commentaries were from time to time written ; but they were, for the most part, detached remarks, without any attempt at system; and therefore, though often right in nearly all the separate parts, are wrong in the whole. Brightman on the Revelations, 1616, should not, however, be passed over without commendation, for it contains much that may even now be perused with advantage, and is the first work we have met with which gives the true interpretation of the two witnesses, Rev. xi. 3. “ We do gather and judge that these two prophets are the Holy Scriptures. “ Now they are two, to answer to the two Testaments, Old and New.” (p. 462). Which interpretation Schmidt also gives 1658:" Duo Testamenta Jesu Christi.....illa duo Vetus et Novum.” (Comm. in Apoc. xi).
In emancipating us from the thraldom of Popery, the Reformers had to break through all the strong shackles of prejudice, and all the holier ties of reverence for a church which had been once pure and Apostolic: and, bold as they were, we doubt whether they would have dared to burst their fetters, had they not seen the Papacy branded with all the characters given to Antichrist in the Scripture, and had not these characters been for nearly a century pointed out, and been but the more confirmed by the endeavour of the Romanists to disavow them. Their knowledge of the Papal Antichrist enabled them first to defy, then to triumph over, this great instrument of Satan. But another, and a still severer trial yet awaits the church; and in preparation for this tribulation we have now to trace out another
unfolding of prophecy. The Scriptures, in many passages, declare that an Infidel Antichrist shall arise in the last days, who shall as much exceed the Pope in enormity, as the Pope himself exceeded all other usurpers. 'We are now able, by the experience of eighteen centuries, to separate between these two Antichrists, and to perceive that this last Infidel, shall be the personal Antichrist which the early Fathers expected, being the “lawless king” of Dan. xi. 36-45, the“ Assyrian" of Isaiah xiv. 25, the“ king.' of Isaiah xxx. 33, and so on. We are now also able to see that, in some of the prophecies, the two Antichrists are blended together, as if they were but one; as in the verses preceding, Dan. xi. 36, and Isaiah xiii., and xiv. 1-22; 2 Thess. ij. 7, 8, &c. And in the Apocalypse, where the Papacy has been represented during its whole period as a woman, this last form of Antichrist is represented xvii. 3), under the complex figure of a woman riding upon a scarlet-coloured beast full of names of blasphemy. This last persecutor does, in fact, spring up in the Papacy before its period expires, and is also made the chief instrument for its destruction; and yet makes use of the Papacy to promote his own ends, and professes to intend its honour. The principles in which the infidel Antichrist shall find his strength have been long at work; long before they found patronage in Frederic of Prussia and his witlings; long before the Encyclopedists trumpeted them forth to the world, and they exploded at the French Revolution, just as a warning of the tremendous convulsion which they shall occasion when again fully prepared, and when God shall give the signal. As early as the time when this principle began to work, means were preparing by which the church might collect the signs of this approaching storm, and be provided with protection when it should come: these means are, in one sentence, The opening of unfulfilled prophecy ;-a comprehensive sentence whose boundless sweep and immeasurable sublimity calls forth an act of adoration while we record it. The first and chief instrument whom God made use of in modern times for explaining unfulfilled prophecy, was Joseph Mede; aman singularly endowed for the work. He was gifted with admirable piety, profound humility, much patience, clear judgment, perfect sincerity, and competent learning. He entered upon the study of prophecy with the deliberation and calmness of one whose aim is not distinction, but to know the will of God; and seeking this first, all other things were added unto him. He soon perceived that the Apocalypse is the key to all the other prophecies, and that it is also the scale by which they are to be adjusted : then, reasoning by analogy, and concluding that the scale must be well understood before it could be applied with advantage to any other thing, he endeavoured to adjust the structure of the Apocalypse from the book alone, and independently of any interpretation. A very important principle this, which serves as a good test of modern commentators, who, we believe, have never succeeded in their interpretations except in proportion as they have adhered to this principle. In adjusting the structure, he endeavoured to fix the synchronisms of the book, by putting together passages which are similar and observing the places they respectively occupy in the visions to which they belong. This led him to the parallelisms between different portions of the book, and gave theoretically a perfect plan of the whole scheme and object of the Apocalypse. With the degree in which Mede perfected his design, we have here no concern ; it will come before us in a future Number: his mistakes were very few, but had they been ever so numerous, they would not have detracted from his principle, which every competent judge will allow was the most important one that had yet been discovered for settling the interpretation of all prophecy. The principles established by Mede were taken up and further illustrated by Maton, Holmes, Henry More, and many others of that age; who did not so much distinguish themselves in interpretation, as in perfecting the means by which their successors were enabled to interpret, when the epoch arrived for unsealing the prophecy. From the time of Mede, in the beginning of the seventeenth century, there has been an uninterrupted succession of commentators, increasing in number as they approach our own times; whom but to enumerate would swell this paper to an unreasonable length; and whom it is not necessary to notice in the present sketch, as they added nothing material to the principles which had been settled by Mede; and who all seem to have had the presage which Sir Isaac Newton expressed, that the “ main revolution” mentioned in all the prophecies must take place before they could be interpreted with certainty :-“ The event will prove the Apocalypse; and this prophecy, thus proved and understood, will open the old prophets ; and all together will make known the true religion, and establish it.” (p. 252.) This “ main revolution” we believe to have been that of 1793, affecting in its consequences not merely France, but the whole of Christendom, and bringing about moreover, by the evil principles it disseminated, that more tremendous second earthquake, spoken of in prophecy, whose shock shall be felt throughout the whole world. Whiston, in his Essay on the Revelation, p. 321, 1744, says that it was a conjecture of Sir Isaac Newton, which he told to Dr. Clark, “ that the overbearing tyranny and power of the Antichristian party, which hath so long corrupted Christianity and enslaved the Christian world, must be put a stop to and broken in pieces by the prevalence of infidelity, for some time before primitive Christianity could be restored; which seems (says he) to be the very means now working in Europe for the same good and great end of Providence.” This conjecture of Newton we saw verified in its first degree and
preliminary form at the French Revolution, at which time infidelity first shewed its open front, and gave demonstration of its tremendous character. But the consequences of this terrible · convulsion to the church were most important and beneficial. She was thereby shaken out of the sloth which had crept over her; was driven in her terror to the Scriptures, her only anchor and pole-star; and found, to her joy, that they were no longer a sealed book, but that the mystery of God was drawing to its close, and that the events of every year explained something previously unknown. Multitudes, no doubt, thus strengthened their faith, who have never published the results ; but many did immediately publish, and the sudden perspicuity of interpretation is very observable. Bicheno began in 1793; the Rev. E. W. Whitaker in 1795 ; Towers's Illustrations of Prophecy 1796 ; the Rev. G. S. Faber preached his Sermons on the Vials in 1796, but his Dissertation on the Prophecies was not published till 1806. These works we pass without any particular remark, as they have been in all respects superseded by those which follow; for they only prepared the way to the more exact interpretations which began in 1812, and are still proceeding. Among these, Mr. Cuninghame leads the, van, in his Dissertation on the Seals and Trumpets, 1813: in which, though we differ from him in some points, we are prompt to acknowledge the great service he did to the church, particularly in fixing the commencement of the great period of 1260 at the edict of Justinian, A. D.533, and its consequent termination at the French Revolution. A still more important service was rendered to the church by Mr. Frere, who in 1814 published his Combined View of the Prophecies; a work which leaves little to be done in the way of structure-perhaps nothing, but carrying his own principles consistently through into their necessary consequences. In 1816, Mr. Lewis Way was travelling through the Steppes of Russia, and was there led to meditate on the coming kingdom of Messiah; while Mr. Bayford in London was at the same time led into a similar train of reflection; the results of which were afterwards published in Mr. Bayford's “ Messiah's Kingdom," and Mr. Way's “ Letters of Basilicus,” which give perhaps the clearest and neatest exposition of the main points concerning the kingdom, any where to be found. Many other works were published during the next ten years, throwing additional light on the doctrines brought forward in the publications we have named. But a new and more powerful impulse was to be given to the study of prophecy than any it had hitherto received; and for doing this, Mr. Irving was made the instrument, who having been led to investigate the subject by Mr. Frere, brought his convictions before the public in 1825, in a discourse preached before the Continental Society, which was published in an enlarged form in 1826, under the title of “ Babylon and
Infidelity foredoomed of God." We are not now in the character of panegyrists, and would endeavour even to make more than due allowance for the partialities of friendship and affection while expressing our opinion of this work; and we think that it is only cold, strict justice to say, that it has done more towards promoting the study of prophecy, and awakening the church to a sense of the approaching crisis, than any, or all, of the publications which preceded it. Since that time Mr. Irving has been indefatigably employed in spreading the “ good news of the kingdom,” and been made the honoured instrument of bringing thousands and tens of thousands into a state of joyful waiting for the coming and kingdom of their Lord.
Last among the means by which prophecy has been unfolded to us, we have to mention “ the Times and Seasons : ” that is, the typical application of the set times of the Jewish year to the order of events declared in the prophecies. The manner of its application to prophecy was explained in No. I. of this Journal; and, though last in order of discovery, we regard it in importance as among the first and chiefest of the means we possess for understanding prophecy. But it came, most happily, when probability of the highest degree had been attained by other modes of interpretation, and gave to this highest probability the stamp of certainty. If any one think that we are here speaking too confidently, we can only reply, that it is no exaggeration, but our deliberate conviction; and let such an one investigate the system and its application with an unbiassed mind, and we are confident that he will form an estimate of its importance not much lower than
e now possess means amply sufficient for understanding and interpreting all the prophecies which béar on our own times, and which therefore affect our own choice and
practice; and if we obstinately refuse to employ those means, we must take the consequences of our own folly, and, when overtaken by the judgments, stop our mouths and stand self-condemned, confessing to warnings which we have neglected and despised.
And now let anyone, who has heard the popular objections to the interpretation of prophecy, ask himself whether they are not all obviated by the above statement of historic facts, however slight and imperfect it may be. We are thought presumptuous, as if prying into the “ secret things which belong to the Lord our God;" whereas we only endeavour to understand the “ revealed things, which belong to us and to our children.” We are thought arrogant, in expecting to understand more of prophecy than the wise and good men who have lived before us; but this is not the true way of regarding it, for they did seek to understand the prophecies which concerned themselves and their own times, and we do no more. The prophecies now fulfilling
VOL. 1.-NO. IV.